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Renaissances: A Multiplicity of Rebirths



Nalini Bhushan, Philosophy
Jay Garfield, Philosophy


Jay Garfield
Jay Garfield
Nalini Bhushan
Nalini Bhushan


The erm “renaissance,” or some variant thereof, has been used in distinct and intellectually stimulating ways. This term, always recalling—despite enormous differences in detail—the European Renaissance from 1420 to the 1600s, is used both to celebrate cultural recovery and assertion and to challenge regimes of power. This project will consider the concept of “renaissance” as a process of change that involves broad social, scientific, economic, cultural, and philosophical transformations of a society and its traditions in confrontation with modernity.

Renaissances tend to emerge in the context of exchanges between cultures, between tradition and modernity, between schools of thought, or between artistic, political or scientific movements, but it can be difficult to appreciate a renaissance in one area of a society or culture without considering its impact on other aspects. For instance, it is difficult to appreciate a renaissance in art without attention to its influence in science or its effects on economic structure. In this project, Fellows will consider how a renaissance affects the parts and the whole, how the intrusion of a culture, philosophy, or set of ideas in one area can lead to sweeping change in others. The project will analyze how the dominance of one society, school of thought or political system by another can become a source of creative appropriation, and will ask about the complex relations between science and technology, material production and the social, political and artistic dimensions of culture during such a process of sweeping change. Fellows will consider in what circumstances cultural exchange—whether invited or not—can lead to renaissance, what forms such interactions take, and what range of dénouements these periods of transformation deliver. Participants will explore a wide variety of renaissances in different eras and in different parts of the globe, and their impact in a variety of disciplines.

This Kahn project will bring various analytic frameworks to bear in exploring the general phenomenon of renaissance and the similarities and differences between distinct types and instances of them. Fellows will examine case studies ranging from the European Renaissance after the Middle Ages to the revolutionary transformation of Mongolia in recent times. They will address the symbolic dimensions of renaissance, asking how communities represent themselves and their trajectories in the context of cultural upheaval and renewal. They will also explore the complex relationships between modernity and tradition during such transitions, considering when they involve explicit rejection of tradition and when they encompass re-appropriation of it. The group will explore the contribution of science and technology in times of change and the impact of renaissances on the practice of science, on the social construction of knowledge, and on individual scientists and scientific fields. They will also examine material culture and class configurations, considering the economic and technological dimensions of a renaissance. Other topics of interest to participants may include instances and types of change within world cultural history and the influence of those transformations on cultural practices and outputs, such as art and music, and the often vexing questions of authenticity that can arise as a result.

This Kahn project involves scholars from across the college. This range of topics may include historical and cultural connections or affinities between different moments of cultural resurgence (e.g. Young Ireland and Young India; Harlem, Dublin, and Prague; the transcendentalist writers of the “American” renaissance); the impact of renaissances on diaspora consciousness and artistic production in a postcolonial world; religious revival and evolution during periods of rebirth and transformation; the ways in which societal changes, such as those in France, Algeria, and the Caribbean, generate genre fusion in the arts; the economic determinants and effects of societal metamorphosis (for example, the impact of colonialism, capitalism and the impact of global trade); the political structures that are devised in or that emerge from renaissances; the re-emergence of nations, such as Mongolia and former Soviet republics, into the international community as a result of transfiguring change; the class origins of societal transfiguration and their impact on class stratification; and the role of science and mathematics in initiating periods of change, and, conversely, the impact of societal evolution on the scientific process and on the lives of individual scientists (e.g., Galileo, Bose, Ramanujan). These are but a few examples of prospective topics; there are many more areas to explore and all are welcomed with great enthusiasm.



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