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Theme Project:

Being Human Today

This theme explores two interrelated questions:

What does it mean to be human? And: What is the nature of the world in which we aspire to be human?

To start with the second: What characterizes the context in which individuals and societies find themselves in the first half of the 21st century? It has variously been described as the technological age, as a globalized world, as a network society, as “postmodern”.  All of these descriptors refer to an important aspect, but hardly covers the whole. Perhaps the most striking feature is our growing awareness of the complexity of our world and the realization that developments on the social, economic, political, technological and other fronts interact and affect each other. The piece-meal, sectorial, oversimplified models of society, coupled with our fragmented understanding of science and of the planet have potentially destructive consequences for the world, but also for our humanity. Our context forces us to continue our exploration of the physical and biological world. In doing so we also have to reflect on the first question, namely the fundamental issue of how our humanity is constituted. This gives rise to further questions, for example how our understanding of humanity is influenced by these contextual factors and what kind of human society/societies are emerging from this interaction.

Against this background, STIAS welcomes research proposals aimed at exploring various aspects of this theme. The following are examples of subthemes in need of further investigation.


Questions of human origins

  • Studies in living systems, including human evolution and paleographical research
  • The origins of human language and human cognition
  • Bio-neurological research
  • Studies in human behaviour

Studies in technology

  • The impact of technology on humans and on human society
  • Technology and education, e.g.
    empirical research on the influence of electronic media on levels of literacy, numeracy and logical thinking or on  the possibility of improving quality of life through the use of electronic technology

Demographic studies

  • Research on the demographic profile of the current world population and future trends

Philosophical questions

  • The critical assessment of recent developments in social theory, including the relevance of systems thinking for the understanding of social phenomena
  • The constitution of humanity and the impact of classifications
  • Models for a society “with a human face” such as critical humanism, reflexive humanism, interconnectedness and solidarity, humanity as part of the web of life

The successes/failures of social transitions

  • The notion of progress in descriptors such as “postmodern”, “postcolonial”, “posthuman” and “post-racial”
  • The impact of social transitions as well as the social integration of diverse cultures and value systems in different parts of the world
  • The effect of culture, religion, ethnicity, race and history on processes of identity formation, social relationships, community structures and civic society

Changes in historiography

  • The role of memory and how the past is constructed and interpreted.
  • The challenges of “multifaceted historiography” in a global context

The effects of race

  • Visible and cultural human diversity
  • Linguistic infrastructure of racialism
  • Complexity of multiple identities

Values and values research

  • The genesis of social values
  • The origins of the concept of human dignity and the subsequent development of human rights, especially in the legal domain
  • Empirical studies on values based on longitudinal surveys

Artistic expression

  • The contribution of contemporary literature, theater, music and the visual arts to our understanding of being human