MU ALERT ISSUED

2017 Humanities Institute Theme

2017 Humanities Institute Theme

Authority and Trust: Answering to Power, Knowledge and Propaganda


No one knows the answer to every question or the solution to every problem, so people inevitably place some trust in the authority of experts. Yet trust makes us vulnerable, for trust can be betrayed. Thus we face a familiar, unsettling question: When can and when can’t we trust those with power and knowledge to inform and guide us in improving our individual lives and making decisions about the common good? This question arises from contemporary life and politics, but the humanities can improve our understanding of the terms we use to frame it and our options for answering it. What is authority? Where does it come from? What does it mean to "think for one's self" and is it any better than "trusting authority?" What is trust? How is trust different from mere acceptance or obedience and is it any safer?
 
The 2017 Summer Humanities Research Institute will examine authority and trust from different theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, through works of literature, philosophy and religion. The seminar will explore three overlapping themes.
 
  1. The meaning of authority and trust and their relationship with other concepts. Is authority more than power? How can trust be reasonable? How are authority and trust related to knowledge and the emotions? How does gender shape our understanding of authority and trust?
  2. The relationship between authority, trust and language. How is authority related to authorship, and trust to text? What is the difference between propaganda and other types of persuasion? Why does propaganda work?
  3. Authority, trust and the proper role of expert opinion in a democracy. What does it mean to be an informed citizen? How can we evaluate claims to expert knowledge? What happens when popular and expert opinion conflict?
 
During the six-week program, Institute Scholars will examine these questions in a weekly seminar while working with a faculty mentor to pursue research on a related topic in the humanities field of their choice. Humanities fields of possible research include art history, artistic production, history, literature, philosophy, theology, or religious studies. Each session generally begins with a common reading, followed by free-ranging conversations, with Scholars and faculty participants sharing questions, insights, and further research possibilities raised by the texts. Scholars then pursue further research through the summer, and gather again early in the fall semester to share the results of their research with each other and discuss possibilities for future development and dissemination of their results.
 
 
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