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.


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Ivan Samstein joins University of Chicago as vice president and chief financial officer

Current CFO for Cook County, Ivan Samstein, will now be VP and CFO for the University of Chicago which will take effect June 26th.

Ivan Samstein joins University as vice president and chief financial officer

Ivan Samstein, the current chief financial officer for Cook County and a longtime leader in public finance, has been appointed vice president and chief financial officer for the University of Chicago, following a national search. His appointment is effective June 26.

As CFO for Cook County, Samstein has had primary responsibility for the budget, capital and debt structure for the second-largest county government and associated health system in the country. During Samstein’s tenure, he has successfully designed and led several transformative projects in financial operations, technology, program-based budgeting and performance metric-driven management. He previously held positions as an investment banker and a financial analyst.

At UChicago, Samstein will help lead integrated strategic financial planning and provide oversight for the execution of the University’s work in financial analysis and functions, information technology and human resources.

“Ivan will work to ensure that ongoing analysis, discipline and appropriate organization best support and serve the ambitious academic mission and priorities of the University,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “He will work closely with the provost and me, as well as with deans, officers and the board of trustees.”

Before he joined Cook County in 2012, Samstein was a director in the public finance department at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where he served as lead banker on a large portfolio of fixed-income securities from 2004-11. As assistant vice president in public finance for Moody’s Investors Service from 1999-2004, he evaluated fiscal, debt, budgetary, and risk management policies and procedures of municipalities across the Midwest.

“The University of Chicago is not only one of the world’s leading academic institutions, but is also an anchor for the greater Chicago economy and has an active commitment to that role. That is one of the things that attracted me to this position,” Samstein said. “I look forward to taking on this exciting new challenge and continuing to build out the University’s financial administrative function.”

Samstein holds a bachelor of arts in economics, magna cum laude, from Hunter College of the City University of New York, and he earned an MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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TED-Style Talks at University of Chicago

The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge is introducing itself to the University of Chicago this academic year through TED-style talks and a scholarly journal, a full roster of classes and an inaugural lecture by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

“Our main focus right now is building up momentum and creating a community of scholars who are interested in the value of dialogue outside disciplinary guidelines and constraints,” said the institute’s director, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, the Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics.

The Stevanovich Institute opened at the University in fall 2015 and became fully operational this October. It unites scholars from different fields to study the process of knowledge formation and transmittal from antiquity to the present day, including looking at how that process shapes modern thinking and scholarship.

“If we really want to explore the process of how bodies of knowledge become authoritative throughout time, we need to come at the question from many different angles—historical, sociological, scientific, economic, cultural and so forth,” Bartsch-Zimmer said. “We emphasize that our research goals have to do with knowledge in context—nothing floats around on its own like a Platonic Idea, not even a Platonic Idea.”

The institute supports the research of UChicago faculty and visiting scholars as well as affiliated doctoral and postdoctoral scholars. It draws faculty from across campus and has brought on board its first postdoctoral researcher.

Later this month, some institute faculty will take part in the University’s Discovery Series, which features faculty engaging in panel discussions or short talks geared to a general audience. Although the series typically explores major scientific advances and research, the institute will present a program that explores broader questions about knowledge, said Macol Stewart Cerda, the institute’s executive director.

The free public event, “Against the Norm: Body, Citizen, Constitution, State,” will be held from 6-8 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Logan Center Performance Hall. Moderator Robert J. Richards, the Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, will engage speakers Bartsch-Zimmer (citizen); Judith Farquhar, the Max Palevsky Professor of Anthropology Emerita and of Social Sciences (body); Tom Ginsburg, the Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar, and Professor of Political Science (constitution); and James A. Robinson, University Professor, Harris School of Public Policy (state).

This fall, the institute announced its flagship publication KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge, which the University of Chicago Press will publish with the first issue due out in April 2017.

Bartsch-Zimmer, who serves as lead editor, said the twice-yearly journal will examine research on the contextual, historical, political and social determination of knowledge and critique of paradigms, although the inaugural volume will be different. Instead of asking for traditional articles, she said, “We’ve invited some of the greatest names in a wide range of disciplines to talk in a personal voice about their relationship to knowledge formation in their field.”

The institute is offering a full roster of 15 graduate and undergraduate courses, including three team-taught core seminars. Two of them are offered in conjunction with the Franke Institute for the Humanities’ Center for Disciplinary Innovation.

On April 20, 2017 the institute will host its inaugural lecture featuring Jared Diamond, professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Guns, Germs and Steel. Next summer, the institute hopes to move into a newly renovated space, and it is making plans for its inaugural conference on Nov. 16-18, 2017.

The Stevanovich Center

The Stevanovich Center advances the understanding of the increasingly complex world of financial markets by integrating mathematics, statistics, and economics. The Center brings together leading academic researchers and financial professionals whose insights from daily experience in the markets can help translate theory into improved practice. This interaction will lead to more sophisticated tools to address challenges that range from analyzing, visualizing, and interpreting massive data sets, to building more accurate, tractable, and robust models to measure, price, and hedge risk.

The Center has researchers from the University of Chicago and around the world (People), ranging from senior faculty to Ph.D. students. Both faculty and students are spread around the departments of the university, and the Center is a meeting place for interaction, and for Seminars and Conferences. Our newly refurbished building provides physical space where University of Chicago researchers as well as visitors from academia and the marketplace work, meet, discuss, share and debate ideas that advance our understanding of the mathematical basis of financial markets.

The main focus of the Center is quantitative finance, ranging from mathematical finance via financial econometrics to asset pricing.

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

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

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