Video: Against the Norm: Body, Citizen, Constitution, State

In this series of short talks, renowned thinkers from the University of Chicago’s new Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge discuss new paradigms for our bodies, government and society.


In Stevanovich Institute lecture, Jared Diamond examines evolution of religion

Jared Diamond discusses the evolution of religion in a lecture at the Stevanovich Institute in Chicago. Diamond is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel. Also included in this article from the University of Chicago, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, the Director of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge interviews the author.


In Stevanovich Institute lecture, Jared Diamond examines evolution of religion

Pulitzer Prize-winning author discusses research, ‘curious beliefs’ of humans

Jared Diamond lecture
Prof. Jared Diamond delivers the inaugural lecture for the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, held April 20 at Kent Hall.
Photo by
Jean Lachat


In delivering the inaugural lecture of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, renowned scholar Jared Diamond pondered the evolution and impact of religion in human society.

“Religion offers lots of power. Religion wasn’t invented from scratch, religion didn’t suddenly appear,” he said. “Religion was something that evolved gradually over the course of modern Homo sapiens.”

In his April 20 address, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel combined astronomy and philosophy to explore the functions and origins of religion in society—asking the same kinds of broad questions that the Stevanovich Institute examines regarding human knowledge.

“His ability to speak, both to academics and to the public, the range of his research beyond disciplinary boundaries, and his support of cross-cultural understanding are skills we admire and hope to emulate,” said Prof. Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, the institute’s director, who introduced Diamond to a packed lecture hall.

A professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, Diamond’s academic research studies society through a variety of lenses. In his lecture, Diamond outlined the core tenets of religion in society—the belief in a divine creator, moral codes and an afterlife. Observing that all human societies have some kind of religion, he concluded that religion must have had functions and advantages that allowed it to persist this long.

“Religion must have evolved gradually over the last 70,000 years,” Diamond said. “Religion is a byproduct of the enlarged human brain, which gives us an enormous advantage by allowing us to deduce what’s called agency, to deduce cause and effect in other humans, to deduce motivations in other humans, and to deduce cause and effect in animals.”

He examined the historical advantages of human religion in the contemporary world, in which Diamond said people increasingly seek explanation of the world from science rather than religion, and where inequality is increasing and religion is a less acceptable justification for war.

Diamond asserted religion’s oldest functions include explaining the world, reducing anxiety in the face of danger, and providing comfort, hope and meaning when life is difficult. A more secular society added other functions—a leader claiming divinity for legitimacy and demanding obedience, creating moral codes and behaviors, and justifying war.

Diamond even pondered what extraterrestrials traveling to Earth might observe about human society. “Put yourself in the position of a visitor from one of those planets, like the Andromeda Nebula,” he said. “These humans have some curious beliefs as well as habits.”

The talk concluded with questions from the audience, ranging from the possibility of life on other planets to Marx’s critique of religion. Diamond emphasized the strength of religion, particularly when asked about repression of religion.

“When societies have attempted to repress religions, as in Communist Russia, religions have gone underground,” Diamond said. In other words, even the possibility of an atheistic society is negated by the tenacity of religious belief.

Formally established in 2016, the institute brings together faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars to work across disciplines. The Stevanovich Institute also offers classes to students, produces a biannual journal and hosts a variety of events. Next fall, the institute will be moving into a newly renovated space and hosting an inaugural conference on Nov. 16-18.


Article found here:

Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge Announcement

Workshop: Comparing Practices of Knowledge

When: Monday, January 9, 2017 4:306:00 p.m.

More information to come.

Picked up from:

Prof. Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer discusses humanities and the Stevanovich Institute

Interlitq interviews Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer in “The Groves of Academe” series. Read it here:

Retrieved from

2016-2018 Research Theme at Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge: Comparing Practices of Knowledge

Excerpt from the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge’s website:

“The SIFK 2016-18 research theme is Comparing Practices of Knowledge.  The intensity of contemporary culture contact is providing dramatic illustration of the potential for confluence between frameworks for knowledge—Scientific?  Indigenous?  Non-western?  Religious? Universalizing? Local?  We invite scholars to do research at the meeting point of these different frameworks, delineating each framework’s particular approach to the legitimization of knowledge and explaining the impact of different knowledge-assumptions.

Knowledge claims require a context of assumptions and purposes in order to make sense.  Different eras and areas often offer different frameworks of explanation, different tacit understandings of how the world works and what it means to give reasons.  What binds or associates different ways of knowing to one another, and what divides them?  How has the existence of these multiple systems been studied in the past, and how should they be studied now?

A long-standing problem arises from the tales that practitioners of one form of knowledge tell about themselves.  These not only justify their asserted facts, but their very ways of acquiring and verifying knowledge:  knowledge not simply as lists of propositions, but knowledge as practice.  These dynamics raise the question of whether any one form of knowledge can easily account for, let alone make room for, any other?

Such situations bring the institutions we know well (fact-finding, archiving, critical assessment, experiment) in contact with institutions that apply different criteria to legitimate knowledge claims. Is it a matter of the majority culture making room for the exception, of confluence between different streams (as if a common denominator could be found), or of such far-reaching incompatibility that only words like alternative can describe the relation among the fields of knowledge?

The notion of rationality and its connection to science may serve as a case in point.  According to a common view, rational activity consists in the derivation of abstract principles from observations or experiments that have been conducted methodically and applied to an extended range of objects or events in order to understand their behavior or predict their dispositions.  This description would fit many different kinds of knowledge systems, which might thus be considered rational. Knowledge systems the world over might therefore be studied as rational or, indeed, claim rationality for themselves.  Many knowledge systems, including those of Plato, medieval Christianity and the post-Cartesian West, claim to have discovered their principles, and not just their facts, out there in the world, or to have received them from some source beyond the human.  They arrogate to themselves a universality and necessity, which sanctions them to judge other claims to knowledge that might look rather different.

Such rationalities also press us to ask what purpose they might serve if not the scientific one of providing predictability about the natural world and improving life quality through the adaptation of technology.  This invites us to ask what exactly those scientific practices are (e.g. experiment, quantification, peer review); how they stand in relationship to other modes of acquiring knowledge; and what claims might be unique to this form of knowledge alone.

These questions broadly underpin the Stevanovich Institute’s 2016-18 research agenda. Our aim is to put different approaches towards knowledge in discourse with each other even as we conduct “deep digs” into those approaches.”