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Durham University News

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Durham's new ‘renaissance-style’ think tank to deliberate on pressing issues of today and the future

(20 October 2006)

A new ideas-driven research institute which plans to become one of the major global centres of interdisciplinary study has opened at Durham University.

The new Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) is gathering together world-class scholars, intellectuals and public figures from around the globe and across all disciplines, to address topics of major intellectual, scientific or public and policy interest, based around an annual theme. The first theme for 2007 is ‘The Legacy of Charles Darwin’. Professor Ash Amin, the Executive Director, explained: “At a time of increased specialisation in both the academic and commercial worlds, the interdisciplinary focus or ‘renaissance’ ethos of the IAS couldn’t be more contrasting or timely. Today there are lots of brilliant people who know everything about one specific area, but many do not have time, energy or incentive to put it into the much bigger picture that has the capacity to bring positive change - the one that emerges when science meets art or when psychology encounters musicology for example. We believe that the IAS will act as just this kind of ‘meeting place for thought’ that has the capacity to effect real change and develop new thinking on some of the big topics affecting the world today and in the future. “The IAS is also going to act as a bridge between universities and public life, acting as a forum for policy-formers and stakeholders to deliberate, in confidence if needs be, on the pressing issues and risks of our time, as well as engaging the general public with ideas through several inspiring, star-studded lectures series.” The IAS’s first fellows include world-leading scholars from the USA, Germany, Australia, Canada and the UK. In addition to these 20 annual three-month funded fellowships, the activities of the IAS will include several public lecture series, seminars, workshops and conferences, all of which will reflect the interdisciplinary approach of the IAS. The programme over the next year will consist of a series of activities related to the annual theme and other inter-disciplinary topics. Some examples include a prestigious interdisciplinary public lecture series on ‘The Legacy of Charles Darwin’, with speakers including AS Byatt, Dame Gillian Beer and Dr Matt Ridley; a high-level seminar series on ‘Earth, Life and Mind’, with speakers including Professors Michael Ruse from Florida State University, David Livingstone from Queen’s University, Belfast, and Neil Shubin from University of Chicago; a lecture series on 'Reading Genesis after Darwin' and on 'Romanticism and Its Legacies'; and colloquia on ‘Communities of Practice and the Knowledge Economy’, ‘Faith and Spirituality in the City’ and ‘The Management and Governance of Housing Wealth’. With an annual budget of £400,000, including a £250,000 contribution from the University, the IAS will be run by a four-strong directorate consisting of some of the most renowned and most experienced of Durham's senior staff. It will be located close to Durham Cathedral on its world heritage site, in Cosin’s Hall, a magnificent historic building which has been fully refurbished for the Institute. Dr Bill Bryson, writer and Chancellor of Durham University commented on the opening: “I have always been fascinated by ideas and especially with their origins. I believe this new venture is a ripe breeding ground, not just for ideas, but for ideas that could change the world.” Science writer and Chairman of Northern Rock Matt Ridley, who sits on the IAS advisory board said: “This new university think-tank will really turn the international spotlight on Durham and the North East. Working on many levels from some fascinating public lectures series to a forum for discussion for regional and national policy formers this is a fantastic new resource for our region“. Chair of the Advisory Board and Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Sir Kenneth Calman commented: “The Institute of Advanced Study is an important new development for Durham. It’s directly in line with what the University wants to be, a research-based internationally focused university. It will raise our profile, and will be a step change in the way in which we operate, whilst providing enormous opportunities for debate, discussion and joint research working”. The IAS was officially opened by the inaugural meeting of the advisory board and an event on 11 October involving Dr Bill Bryson, Durham University's Chancellor and IAS Advisory Council member, discussing 'The Enchantment of Ideas' with fellow IAS Advisory Council members Dr Matt Ridley, science writer and Chairman of Northern Rock and Peter Watson, author and journalist. Their discussion explored how ideas come to matter to an inquiring public emphasised an important aspect of the Institute's work: not only to shape ideas but also to make them accessible to a wide audience. Further details about the IAS can be found on the IAS website.

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