How do people, cultures, and nations come to “know” things?  Is it through science?  Ideology?  The batons passed down in the relay-race of history?  What are the criteria we use to decide something is knowledge?  As one example: how is it that the discovery of prehistoric bones impacted not only our view of religion, but also, in suggesting a buried past, stimulated Freud to create a model of selfhood based on uncovering layers of the self?  Every culture has such moments where a discipline or a point of view emerges out of a confluence of factors--some entirely accidental--and then becomes a form of knowing.  And we in the 21st century are in the grip of those factors too, although like every other time and culture we will insist that what we know is true.  (The value of human rights, for example).

It is the mission of the Stevanovich Institute to understand how these processes work, how knowledge becomes legitimized and then may or may not lose its claim to truth.  Thomas Kuhn did this for the sciences, and Foucault for the social sciences and humanities, both of them in controversial work.  But instead of pointing out their faults, we might ask how these categories (science, social science, humanities) got created in the first place. 

In short, our mission at SIFK is to unite scholars from many different fields to study the process of knowledge formation and transmittal from antiquity to the present day and, in correlation, to explore how this history shapes our modern world.  We aim to provide and support an intellectual environment for graduate students, postdoctoral students, and faculty in which this sort of thinking can take place; and we wish to reach out to the public at large to draw them into the idea that questioning one’s assumed knowledge might be a fruitful activity for our current globalized world.

What are the criteria we use to decide something is knowledge?

Oxford. Photo by Ada Palmer.