August 17, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 20

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    National Humanities Center appoints Elshtain, Wimsatt

    Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor in the Divinity School, and William Wimsatt, Professor in Philosophy, recently have been appointed fellows at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

    As two of 41 fellows selected for the 2000-01 academic year, Elshtain and Wimsatt will work individually on research projects in the humanities and exchange ideas with other scholars through seminars, lectures and conferences.

    Elshtain’s project, “Sovereign God, Sovereign State, Sovereign Self,” examines the historical and conceptual links between alternative understandings of the sovereignty of God with formulations of state sovereignty in the early modern period. She is exploring the understandings of divine sovereignty with which such early “sovereigntists” as Bodin and Hobbes worked. Elshtain also is examining the relationship she believes exists between concepts of state sovereignty and modern concepts of self-sovereignty.

    Finally, Elshtain asks whether one can imagine an alternative, interrelated set of concepts that stresses an understanding of the sovereignty of God that is more relational and less “top-down,” a vision of independent political units that are not sovereign in the classic sense, and a view of individual freedom that is different from contemporary notions of self-sovereignty.

    Wimsatt’s project, titled “Developing Evolution: The Evolution of Generative Structures,” integrates developmental constraints with evolutionary theory. Entities with larger roles in development commonly are more evolutionarily conservative.

    This fact motivates a phenotypically based theory of evolution, complementing population genetic approaches in biology when available and providing a powerful framework for analyzing stasis and change when genetic information is not available or not appropriate as in science, technology and other areas of culture with complex generative structures.

    Such theory also yields explanations for why contingency and history should be crucial to understanding our biological and cultural systems.

    The National Humanities Center annually appoints scholars from the United States, Austria, Canada, England, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland and Switzerland who work in history, literature, philosophy and other humanistic fields of study.