2018 Humanities Institute Theme

Transforming Humanity: The Promise and Peril of Gene Editing

For a little more than one hundred dollars today, anyone can purchase a kit for altering the DNA of living bacteria or yeast cells. That same kit could, in principle, be used to modify the DNA of any other type of living cell. Gene editing is a rapidly developing technology with the potential to change plants, animals and human beings, to cure diseases and enhance the capacities of living beings in ways that have only been imagined so far by writers of science fiction. Some people react with enthusiasm and others with dread. Transhumanists look to biotechnology as a means of controlling the future evolution of life on earth, while bioconservatives insist that science must be curbed out of respect for human dignity. In between, there are the more carefully drawn positions of religious and secular ethicists who try to keep pace with new scientific developments.

The 2018 Summer Humanities Institute is an experience at the frontier between biology, philosophy, religion, politics, fiction and art. How does gene editing work? What scientific discoveries made it possible? What are the acceptable limits of this technology? What can we do if the limits are contested or not respected? How well can we imagine the biotechnological future and how can we adjust to a future we may not be able to imagine? How do the humanities help us understand and prepare for a transformation of humanity?
Participants will examine these questions and more from different theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, through works of popular science, cultural studies, literature, philosophy and theology. They will develop plans for further study and share the fruits of their research with the Marymount University community.
This institute is for students who love the humanities and are excited about investigating the implications of scientific discoveries for ethics and our everyday lives. No special knowledge of biology is required or expected!

2018 Faculty Participants
Dr. Susan Agolini, Biology
Dr. Adam Kovach, Philosophy

Guest participants
Dr. Brian Doyle, Theology
Dr. Tonya Howe, Literature & Langauges