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Being human: past, present and future

Liberation monument on Gellert Hill, Budapest, Hungary

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Being human: past, present and future

This research priority area was established in the university to address areas of research that were concerned with human experience and a sense of heritage and direction. It draws on the riches of the past, with the formative potency of memory, and focuses on engaging with modern thinking about humanity in the cyber-age and considering possible futures. The modern post-secularized situation is one which looks for the recovery of meaning following the profound loss of commonly accepted construals of reality. Within this context, the questioning of what it means to be human is a key imperative underlying the area’s direction of research. This is inseparable from acknowledging how the meaning of the human is continually contested by, and inextricably entwined with, powerful forces of globalization, spectacular advances in technology and scientific knowledge, and conflicts over politics, ideology and resources.  

Heritage and direction

This strand of the research area is related to the preservation, encoding and transference of our collective experience, and what might be called our mimetic inheritance. This inheritance embraces a wide body of work, and research in philosophy, theology, history, English, art, and writing, ranging from literary, film, language and cultural studies to computer science and journalism among others.

Meaning and reality

This strand of the research priority area focuses on artistic, cultural, curatorial, and critical concerns. This includes artistic, philosophical, and spiritual enterprises, and the critical study of textual and visual artefacts, and social and material conditions of the production of such artefacts. Research in this area focuses on the study, questioning, and representation of the nature of our reality, and in finding ways for us to critically examine it, including through the generation of artistic media, and through the reception of such media.

Forces and contests

This strand of the research priority are focuses on the study and representation of the conflicts and contests one finds where powerful forces come into apposition and opposition, and what that means for us as individuals and as a species. Naturally, there is significant cross-fertilization of ideas with the other two strands, and covers a broad range of work in Literary, Historical and Philosophical Studies, while also including work produced in artistic and other media.


Research projects

Ray by Richard Billingham

A 25 minute, looped, black and white single screen video installation (a film for a gallery). It is elliptical, seamlessly looped, and written to enable the spectator to enter / exit the installation at any point, avoiding the linearity of sequential clock time and conveying the more ‘confined’ and homogenous time of a zoo animal or prisoner.

Externalising Evil: The Devil and demonism in Reformation England
by Anna French

The project seeks to explore the ways in which the Devil was represented, symbolised, and understood by early modern communities In particular, how depictions of the fiend enabled society to externalise their fears and anxieties about the proximity of evil in the world.  The research outcomes will be an article, and a short series of seminars involving external partners.  

Building capacity in moral ecologies; exploring conflicting understandings of ‘conservation’: rural Britain c.1790 – 1990
by Iain Robertson

The aim is to build a new archive of oral histories of poaching in the north-west highlands and islands of Scotland and through this ask important questions of the nature/culture binary, and of associations between the non-human and human that will make an important contribution to the recent revival of interest in the spaces and places of conflict and resistance.

Living in the weather-world: cultural influences on the experience of weather
by Arran Stibbe

This project compares cultural representations of weather in meteorology textbooks, weather forecasts, pop songs, everyday conversation, haiku poetry, and nature writing. The aim is to discover ways of representing the weather that inspire us to enjoy and appreciate a greater variety of weathers, and through this help us find our place in nature.

Researchers also contributed to
the Biosemiotics research project and Adventures in becoming histories.

Research centres