CHCI Receives Major A.W. Mellon Foundation Grant

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) a three-year grant of $1.2 million for Integrating the Humanities Across National Boundaries, an initiative designed to foster new forms of collaborative research and partnerships among the organization’s international membership.

The grant will support two large-scale pilot projects through 2015. The two pilot projects initially funded under the grant, Humanities for the Environment and Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging, were selected via an open call for proposals in 2011, and they collectively involve the participation of CHCI organizations from every region of our membership. The major objective of this large-scale experiment is to foster innovative programmatic ideas and new forms of collaborative research across national, regional, and disciplinary boundaries, driven by and involving CHCI's membership of over 180 humanities centers and institutes. The project will help to identify new priorities and potential roles for CHCI, and explore the ways in which a networked consortium can foster scholarly innovation in the humanities on a global scale.

The Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging (RelSec) project will link four CHCI member organizations (at Portland State University, Utrecht University, Tel Aviv University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong) through a mutually coordinated set of research programs. The project’s key research questions are: How are we to understand the contemporary resurgence of religious discourses, social practices and forms of cultural organization in political arenas, civil society and the public sphere? What light do these developments cast on long-standing accounts of “modernity” as a secularizing historical process? How are current formations of religious and secular shaping local, national, transnational and “universal” measures of political belonging? In the three years of the project, each participating CHCI member will convene a research team to conduct investigations anchored to each site along these thematic lines. At the conclusion of that process, the participating organizations will convene in at Tel Aviv University to report their findings and discuss a potential ensuing phase of the project in which new CHCI member organizations would rotate into the project leadership – creating an innovative “passing the baton” model that may be able sustain an intellectual theme by continually attracting new organizational voices and approaches.

The Humanities for the Environment (HfE) project will be animated by questions about the role of the humanities in the Age of the Anthropocene, a concept developed by scientist Paul Crutzen to identify a new era in which human activity is significantly reshaping the geological future of the planet. Participants in the HfE project will ask, in consequence, how, within that moment, we might and should re-apprehend long-standing definitional protocols of the humanities (the epistemological distinction between ‘human’ and ‘natural’ history to take one example), together with the multitude of responses the arts and humanities disciplines have given to the fundamental question of what it means to be human within a moment of planetary crisis and change. Rather than attempting to define a single research agenda adequate to that demand, the HfE project will establish three research ‘observatories’ – one each in Australia, Europe, and North America (in the North American case, the observatory will support three regional clusters, Southeast, West, and Northeast). Each observatory will spend the first two years of the project addressing a particular thematic strain within the Anthropocene humanities. In the final year of the project, representatives from each observatory will convene for an international conference to discuss their research and plan for a possible ensuing phase of the initiative.

CHCI will support the project centrally from its home base at Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. A major CHCI website re-design, currently in process, will provide a platform for disseminating news and information about the projects.