UConn Humanities awarded $5.75 million grant


UConn History Professor Peter Zarrow presents his research on Chinese democracy and liberalism in the UConn Humanity Institute in Austin. Arrow’s research covered the period from the late 1800s to early 1900s. (Amar Batra/Daily Campus)

The John Templeton Foundation awarded UConn Humanities a $5.75 million grant last Wednesday for its research on balancing civility in conversations about divisive issues like religion, science and politics.

This is the largest grant ever awarded to UConn Humanities and one of the largest humanities grants in the history of the United States, according to UConn Today.

Michael P. Lynch, the project’s principal investigator, a professor of philosophy and director of the Humanities Institute, said the research could help promote healthier discourse around contentious topics.

“Right now there is plenty of conviction in presidential elections… A lot of people are convinced they have the answers, but what we seem to lack is the ability to be open-minded or humble enough to listen to what others say,” Lynch said. “We can’t have a successful democracy without people having strong views, but we also cant have a true democracy if people aren’t willing to listen to each other. The puzzle is putting those two together.”

The grant will enable the Humanities Institute, which is a part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to sponsor three prominent public forums, including: a series of awareness-raising initiatives, an online course based on the project theme and summer education programs for high school teachers on how to embody civil discourse with their own courses.

Lynch said there has been plenty of research done on how bias and belief factor in to how human beings evaluate each other, but the two groups rarely meet.

“This project brings together our most creative and visionary thinkers with democracy practitioners to look at the real problems people face when talking to those with different religious and political worldviews other than their own,” he said to UConn Today.

The Humanities Institute issued an international call to teams of interdisciplinary researchers to get involved in the process. 

They designated $2 million toward a funding proposal competition to support “interdisciplinary research projects on intellectual humility and its role in promoting meaningful public discourse,” according to the website dedicated to the project.

There are also smaller UConn-only competitions on the website.

The deadline for letters of intent is May 1.

Additionally, applications for both residential and non-residential applicants are being accepted. Residential applications must be submitted by Friday, April 15, and non-residential applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.

Lynch said part of the reason the John Templeton Foundation gave nearly $6 million had to do with the foundation’s interest in putting their resources toward real social change.

“I suggested that we take the Humanities Institute, which already has the infrastructure and ability to build upon current research, to enact the change that they want to see,” he said.

The John Templeton Foundation is a Philadelphia based group that has paid out $966 million in grants and charitable donations since it’s establishment in 1987, according to Templeton.org.

According to the website the average grant size is just over $1 million, and the group paid out $103 million in grants in 2013.

Jon Hull is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at jonathan.hull@uconn.edu.

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