Areas of Investigation
The Institute for the Study of Western Civilization will develop scholarly programs organized around a series of intellectual projects, each promoting a particular line of investigation. Implemented over time, these projects will pursue such inquiries as:
- What is Western civilization? When, how, and why did it emerge and in what senses is it unique? What does it owe to classical antiquity and the world’s other great civilizations? How has the West during the past three hundred years transformed, for better and worse, the human condition? Has its metamorphic impact been achieved through a reconstruction of human nature, or by engaging it in an unusual way? How has the West’s self-identity evolved over the last millennium? Is Western civilization still a meaningful concept in a globalized world – and, if so, why? What might be the West’s, and humankind’s, future?
- Liberty, Individualism, and Progress. In what respects are the ideas and ideals of liberty, individualism, and progress distinguishing Western concepts? How have their definitions evolved from the classical age to the present? What, in particular, has been their role in shaping American cultural, legal, political, and economic traditions and practice, as well as class, gender, and ethnic relationships? Are these still living ideals and lived realities in the West, America, and the world today? What are their institutional foundations? Are these being undermined or enhanced?
- The Judeo-Christian Tradition. In what respects, and to what extent, did the “marriage of Athens and Jerusalem”, officiated by Rome, give birth to Western civilization? Is it still at the heart of the Western tradition? Can there be a West in which Judeo-Christian belief is not central? What are the harmonies and tensions among Western religion, philosophy, and science? Can the modern (or postmodern) Western world continue to find high inspirational purpose absent belief in God?
- America in Western Civilization. In what ways can America be thought of as “an exception within an exception,” a place where the most distinguishing features of the West have reached their peak of development? Or is America better conceived as a special amalgam of many cultural and civilizational strains? Is America a place where the West’s identity is in some way being recreated?
- Western Civilization’s "Compact with Reason”. According to Aristotle, “Man is a rational animal,” but in what ways and to what degree has reason been particularly embraced and institutionalized in the West? What are the origins of Western rationalism and science? What do rationalism and science owe to Greco-Roman antiquity? Was there a reason natural science developed in its full modern sense in the West and not elsewhere? What factors threaten the West’s “compact with reason” – and what is the condition of the institutions, such as the university, which exist to champion and defend it? Can there be a West unless these institutions remain faithful to that role?
- Technology and its limits. The West is a technological society par excellence. We bask in the bounties of applied science but are there ways in which human nature is being bent, crimped, and deformed by excessive technological cosseting? Has this in fact been happening in America and the West? Are Western derived technologies endangering natural balances, chewing up resources faster than they can be renewed, and cocooning us in escapist and sterile worlds of virtual reality? If so, is the answer less technology or more and better? And how is that to be decided and directed? Is Western biotech and computerization leading toward the abolition of man?
- The Western Muse. Has Western art, as some claim, been unusually dynamic in its creation of new forms, such as polyphony in music, naturalism in sculpture, perspective in painting, and the deep study of character in the novel and drama? If so, how has this dynamism been related to other dimensions of the West’s cultural, economic, and political experience? To what extent was the Western artistic tradition established in classical antiquity? Has it been distinctive in its willingness to borrow from other traditions? How does the cultural stature of the Western artist, past and present, compare to that of artists elsewhere?
- Western Utopianism. Is the imagining, and attempted establishment, of perfected communities a distinctively Western endeavor? What are this endeavor’s intellectual and social roots? What have been its consequences for the West and the world? What is its relationship to the status and authority of intellectuals and intellectual institutions?
- Western Pluralism.To what extent is the West distinctive in its openness to alternative ways of thinking and acting? Under what circumstances has the West been dogmatic and repressive? What is the relationship between social, cultural and philosophical pluralism and viable community? How did social, religious, and intellectual tolerance evolve, particularly within the Anglo-American tradition, and what attitudes are necessary to sustain it? What is pluralism’s condition in the West, America, and the world today?
- The West in the World. If the technological bonds that now so closely link us mean that we live in a “global village” how does Western civilization relate to the other cultures and intellectual traditions within that “village”? What is the West now absorbing from those cultures and traditions and what has it absorbed from them in the past? What contributions are other civilizations and cultures making to the worldwide edifice of human achievement for which Western civilization provides the global foundation?