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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - On the Future of the Humanities

2nd March 2011, 17:30 to 18:30, The Ustinov Room, Van Mildert College, Professor Mikhail Epstein (Emory University)

The reaction I often hear on the title of my work in progress is surprise: "Do you really believe that the humanities have a future?"  I do believe in the future of the humanities, yet in order to survive the current crisis they need to not limit themselves to scholarship but  to create their own ways to change what they study, to change the human world.

The creative aspect of the humanities has not yet found its recognition in the established classification and methodology of scientific disciplines. We know that technology serves as the practical extension ("application") of the natural sciences, and politics as the extension of the social sciences. Both technology and politics are designed to transform what their respective disciplines study objectively.  Yet what is the constructive enhancement of the humanities? 

In my lecture, I will argue that we need a practical branch of the humanities which functions similarly to technology and politics, but is specific to the cultural domain. When offering a certain theory, we need to ask ourselves if it has the power to inaugurate a new cultural practice, an artistic movement, a disciplinary field, a new institution, a life style, or an intellectual community. 

Mikhail Epstein is a literary theorist and critical thinker and is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Cultural Theory and Russian Literature at Emory University. His area includes Western and Russian postmodernism; new methods and interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities; semiotics and language evolution; ideas and electronic media.  Professor Epstein is an IAS/Prowse Fellow, hosted by Van Mildert College. For further information please visit:

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