ASU receives grant to study transhumanism, religion, innovation


October 31, 2012

Arizona State University will reinforce its position at the forefront of scholarship on transhumanism through a new multidimensional two-year research project focused on the relationship between transhumanism, religion and technological innovation.

The John Templeton Foundation is supporting the project with a $200,000 grant awarded to ASU's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict through the Historical Society at Boston University. Structural diagram of a robot. Download Full Image

Transhumanism is a movement that promotes advanced technology for the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual enhancement of the human species. Though the movement claims to be secular, faculty involved in the newly funded project at ASU contend that it can be understood as a unique hybrid of religious and secular ideas.

“Many transhumanists speak dismissively about traditional religions and ridicule persons of faith as ‘weak-minded,’” says Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, a history professor at ASU and one of the project’s principal investigators. “However, transhumanism shares many elements with traditional religions. The main difference is that traditional believers look to prayer, ritual, meditation and moral discipline for transcendence, whereas the proponents of transhumanism mobilize technology.”

Key goals of the research project are to 1) shed new light on the connection between religion and innovation in the modern world, 2) explore the transformation of traditional Judeo-Christian motifs in the secularist discourse of transhumanism, and 3) offer a critical vantage point from which to assess the significance and cultural impact of transhumanism.

The researchers also will compare how transhumanist visions are translated into distinctive science policies in the United States, the European Union and South Korea. Their aim here is to highlight the link between religion, economics, governance and innovation.

The project encompasses four case studies, an interdisciplinary faculty seminar, an international research symposium in Germany and a series of lectures. Ben Hurlbut, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, joins Tirosh-Samuelson as co-director and co-principal investigator of the project. The project also involves scholars from Harvard, New York University, the University of California-San Diego and Hanyang University in South Korea.

In addition to publishing their findings in scholarly journals, researchers will produce essays for a wider public audience. The December 2012 issue of “Zygon: The Journal of Religion and Science” will feature several articles from an ASU workshop held on this topic last spring, and editors from Slate Magazine and The New Atlantis, a journal of technology and society, have both expressed interest in the project.

Titled “The Transhumanist Imagination: Innovation, Secularization and Eschatology,” the research project will be overseen by ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, an interdisciplinary research center in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that examines the role of religion as a driving force in human affairs.

For more information, see transhumanistimagination.csrc.asu.edu.

Story by Barby Grant

Romanticism conference to explore global crises, scientific breakthroughs


October 31, 2012

How do catastrophes, science and the Romantic era go together?

“While Romanticism is often associated with successful political revolutions – in America and France – social revolutions, such as the elimination of the slave trade and the emergence of women’s rights, or aesthetic revolutions in poetry and painting, the age was also one defined by global war, economic disaster and personal catastrophes for its leading proponents,” says Mark Lussier, a professor of English at Arizona State University. "Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow," Adolf Northern (1828-1876) Download Full Image

“Catastrophes: The 2012 International Conference on Romanticism,” will be held at ASU from Nov. 8-11. Lussier is co-organizer of the conference, along with Ron Broglio, an ASU associate professor of English and senior sustainability scientist. The gathering will explore the important connections between the Romantic era’s darker aspects and endeavor to respond to them, with special emphasis on various scientific revolutions.

The European Romantic period, from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries, is noted for revolutionary thinking about the individual’s place in the world, perceptions of nature and the role of imagination.

Among the conference activities is a free, public plenary session entitled “Romantic Sciences: Crises and Resolutions,” which will take place on Nov. 8 from 5:45-7 p.m. in the Memorial Union Turquoise Room on the Tempe campus.

Leading scholars Marilyn Gaull (The Editorial Institute at Boston University), Alan Richardson (Boston College), Ashton Nichols (Dickinson College), and ASU’s Lussier will discuss the groundbreaking work taking place during the Romantic era in a wide range of physical sciences, including astronomy, chemistry, life sciences, neuroscience, and ecology.

According to Lussier, “The emergence of what is now termed ecology, the birth of incipient theories of evolution, the articulation of ‘deep time’ in geology, or the expansion of the universe through technological innovations via more powerful telescopes . . . began a process that underwrites the modern and even contemporary views of scientific knowledge today.”

This is the second time that the International Conference on Romanticism has been held at ASU (the first was in 2006). The gathering, which attracts top scholars from across the globe, brings high visibility to the university’s achievements, including the national rankings of ASU doctoral programs. Hosting the conference at ASU provides an important opportunity for students to present their work and interact with these renowned scholars from various disciplines. An example of the fruit from such collaborations is the volume “Engaged Romanticism: Romanticism as Praxis” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), a collection of papers from the 2006 conference co-edited by Lussier and Bruce Matsunaga, a doctoral candidate in English at ASU.

Sponsors of the 2012 International Conference on Romanticism include the ASU Department of English, ASU Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, ASU Institute for Humanities Research, and ASU School of International Letters and Cultures (all units in the ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences); as well as the ASU New College and its Division of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies; ASU Graduate College; ASU Project Humanities; and John Arnold, Esq.

For more information on the conference and public plenary session, please visit http://english.clas.asu.edu/icr2012.

Written by Heather Hoyt

Media contact:
Kristen LaRue, Kristen.LaRue@asu.edu
480-965-7611
Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611