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Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge

The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge unites scholars from a variety of fields to study the process of knowledge formation and transmittal from antiquity to the present day and, in correlation, to explore how this history shapes the modern world. By rigorously exploring the underlying influences on what is accepted as true, the institute aims to understand the basis of human values and provide insights into contemporary issues.

The Institute's Faculty and External Faculty Group are committed to investigating all aspects of the processes by which cultures claim to know what they know.  Where are the boundaries between knowledge and belief?  What techniques do cultures deploy to encode and verify information, and how do technological developments—in forensics and measurement, for example—impinge on these areas?  What awareness do societies show regarding what is contingent about their deepest commitments?  These questions may be put historically and cross-culturally.  They also need urgently to be posed about those who work in notionally rational modern institutions, such as the university and the lab.

The Stevanovich Institute joins these faculty with Fellows at every stage of the career from graduate and post-graduate to senior visiting scholars, in the context of the extraordinary resources of the University of Chicago, to question and enrich each other, in conversation about the past, present and future of human knowledge.

KNOW courses are offered by the faculty (see below) of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at both the graduate and the advanced undergraduate levels. For graduate students, we offer a number of cross-listed seminars as well as an annual core sequence in topics in the formation of knowledge (KNOW 401, 402, 403). These seminars are open to all graduate students regardless of field of study. UChicago PhD students from any division or school who enroll in two quarters of this sequence are eligible to apply for the SIFK Dissertation Research Fellowships.

Graduate Student Fellowship

The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge offers 6th- and 7th-year dissertation research fellowships for graduate students whose work touches on the formation of knowledge. PhD students from any UChicago division or school may apply, provided they have reached candidacy by the application deadline. These awards may not be held later than year seven. 

Awards for the academic year will include a stipend of $20,000, tuition, fees, and health insurance (if elected), as well as the opportunity to apply for reimbursement of conference expenses (up to $700) when presenting papers during the fellowship year. Students can hold no other award while on the SIFK tenure, but the terms of the fellowship do permit students to engage in other remunerative activities (such as teaching), and do not preclude students from applying for dissertation completion grants or other University funding in subsequent years.  The requirements for fellowship recipients are:

  • enrollment in two out of three quarters of the SIFK core seminar (KNOW 401, 402, 403) prior to the beginning of the fellowship (considerations will be made for students who have only completed one, but priority will be given to those who have completed both)
  • residency on campus during the academic year of the fellowship;
  • participation in the SIFK workshop on the theme of Comparing Practices of Knowledge;
  • admittance to candidacy by the application deadline; and
  • reports of ongoing progress and results in dissertation research

For complete application details and a list of graduate courses that meet the SIFK core seminar requirement, visit,

2018-19 Courses

KNOW 40304. Between Nature and Artifice: The Formation of Scientific Knowledge. 100 Units.

This course critically examines concepts of "nature" and "artifice" in the formation of scientific knowledge, from the Babylonians to the Romantics, and the ways that this history has been written and problematized by both canonical and less canonical works in the history of science from the twentieth century to the present. Our course is guided by three overarching questions, approached with historical texts and historiography, that correspond to three modules of investigation: 1) Nature, 2) Artifice, and 3) Liminal: Neither Natural nor Artificial.

Instructor(s): Margaret Carlyle, Eduardo Escobar, Jennifer P. Daly     Terms Offered: Spring
Note(s): This course fulfills part of the KNOW Core Seminar requirement to be eligible to apply for the SIFK Dissertation Research Fellowship. Ph.D. students must register with the KNOW 40304 course number in order for this course to meet the requirement.
Equivalent Course(s): GNSE 40304, CRES 40304, CHSS 40304, HIPS 40304, HIST 34920

KNOW 40103. Censorship, Info Control, & Revolutions in Info Technology from the Printing Press to the Internet. 100 Units.

The digital revolution is triggering a wave of new information control efforts and censorship attempts, ranging from monopolistic copyright laws to the "Great Firewall" of China. The print revolution after 1450 was a moment like our own, when the explosive dissemination of a new information technology triggered a wave of information control efforts. Many of today's attempts at information control closely parallel early responses to the printing press, so the premodern case gives us centuries of data showing how diverse attempts to control or censors information variously incentivized, discouraged, curated, silenced, commodified, or nurtured art, thought, and science. This unique course is part of a collaborative research project funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and is co-organized with digital information expert Cory Doctorow. The course will bring pairs of experts working on the print and digital revolutions to campus to discuss parallels between their research with the class. Classes will be open to the public, filmed, and shared on the Internet to create an international public conversation. This is also a Department of History "Making History" course: rather than writing traditional papers, students will create web resources and publications (print and digital) to contribute to the ongoing collaborative research project.

Instructor(s): A. Johns & A. Palmer     Terms Offered: Autumn
Note(s): Making History courses forgo traditional paper assignments for innovative projects that develop new skills with professional applications in the working world. Open to students at all levels, but especially recommended for 3rd- and 4th-yr students. This course fulfills part of the KNOW core seminar requirement. PhD students should register for KNOW 40103 to be eligible to apply for the SIFK dissertation fellowship.
Equivalent Course(s): SIGN 26035, HREL 35425, MAAD 15425, HIST 35425, HIPS 25425, KNOW 25425, HIST 25425, CHSS 35425, BPRO 25425

KNOW 27860. History of Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences. 100 Units.

This course will consist in lectures and discussion sessions about the historical and conceptual foundations of evolutionary behavioral sciences (evolutionary anthropology, evolutionary psychology, ethology, comparative behavioral biology), covering the period from the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species up to the present day. Topics will include new theoretical developments, controversies, interdisciplinary expansions, and the relationships between evolutionary behavioral sciences and other disciplines in the sciences and the humanities.

Instructor(s): D. Maestripieri     Terms Offered: Autumn 2018
Prerequisite(s): N/A
Equivalent Course(s): CHDV 37860, HIPS 27860, CHSS 37860, CHDV 27860

KNOW 55100. The Development of Whitehead's Philosophy of Nature. 100 Units.

Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy has seen a resurgence of academic interest in recent years via a line of influence passing through Deleuze and Latour. Meanwhile, Whitehead's Process and Reality (1929) has gained a reputation, not undeserved, as possibly the most challenging English language text in the philosophical canon; it is seldom read in a department of philosophy. This is a pity, since the striking originality and creative potential of the philosophy contained within is unmatched. This course offers an opportunity for a gradual approach to understanding the "philosophy of organism" of Process and Reality by first taking in the foothills of earlier and less obtuse Whitehead texts Concept of Nature and Science and the Modern World. We will supplement these readings with newly discovered notes from Whitehead's Harvard lectures (published just last year). These documents reveal Whitehead in meditative mood, thinking through in real time his philosophical concerns. With their help, this course will explore the striking continuity of his earlier natural philosophy with the mature philosophy of Process and Reality and so provide a more gentle ascent to the heady realms of "actual entities", "concrescence" and "conceptual feelings" described therein. (II)

Instructor(s): T. Pashby     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): PHIL 55100, CHSS 55100

KNOW 40202. Lab, Field, and Clinic: History and Anthropology of Medicine and the Life Sciences. 100 Units.

In this course we will examine the ways in which different groups of people--in different times and places--have understood the nature of life and living things, bodies and bodily processes, and health and disease, among other notions. We will address these issues principally, though not exclusively, through the lens of the changing sets of methods and practices commonly recognizable as science and medicine. We will also pay close attention to the methods through which scholars in history and anthropology have written about these topics, and how current scientific and medical practices affect historical and anthropological studies of science and medicine.

Instructor(s): M. Rossi     Terms Offered: Winter
Note(s): This course fulfills part of the KNOW core seminar requirement. PhD students should register for KNOW 40202 to be eligible to apply for the SIFK dissertation fellowship.
Equivalent Course(s): ANTH 24307, HIST 35308, HIPS 25808, HIST 25308, KNOW 25308, ANTH 34307, CHSS 35308

KNOW 40104. Battle in the Mind Fields. 100 Units.

Course Description TBA

Instructor(s): John Goldsmith     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): LING 36555, LING 26550

KNOW 35000. Winckelmann: Enlightenment Art Historian and Philosopher. 100 Units.

We approach the first great modern art historian through reading his classic early and mature writings and through the art and criticism of his time (and at the end, our own). Reading-intensive, with a field trip to the Art Institute.

Instructor(s): Andrei Pop     Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): German reading competence helpful, but NOT required.
Equivalent Course(s): CLAS 35014, ARTH 25115, GRMN 25015, SCTH 35000, ARTH 35115, GRMN 35015

KNOW 44600. Zion and Zaphon: Biblical Texts from Seventh Century Judah (Chavel) 100 Units.

Students will examine biblical texts on the premise they respond to the astonishing turn of events in the eighth century bce, in which Assyria dissolved the Israelian kingdom and nearly destroyed the Judean, with: theoretical orientation from history and historiography, memory studies, and literary theory; survey of ancient written and image-based sources; archaeological evidence.

Instructor(s): Simeon Chavel     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): BIBL 44600

KNOW 28900. Magic, Science, and Religion. 100 Units.

The relationship between the categories of magic, science, and religion has been a problem for modern social science since its inception in the nineteenth century. In the first half of this course, we will critically examine some of the classical and contemporary approaches to these concepts. In the second half, we will explore a number of detailed historical and ethnographic studies about modern phenomena that call some of the fundamental assumptions behind these categories into question.

Instructor(s): A. Doostdar     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): ANTH 23906, RLST 28900

KNOW 34112. Screening India: Bollywood and Beyond. 100 Units.

Cinema is, unarguably, the medium most apposite for thinking through the complexities of democratic politics, especially so in a place like India. While Indian cinema has recently gained international currency through the song and dance ensembles of Bollywood, there remains much more to be said about that body of films. Moreover, Bollywood is a small (though very important) part of Indian cinema. Through a close analysis of a wide range of films in Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, and Urdu, this course will ask if Indian cinema can be thought of as a form of knowledge of the twentieth century.

Instructor(s): R.Majumdar     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): CMST 24112, HIST 26808, SALC 30511, SALC 20511, KNOW 24112, HIST 36808, CMST 34112

KNOW 57000. -/+: Molding, Casting, and the Shaping of Knowledge. 100 Units.

Of all technologies of reproduction and resemblance, those of molding and casting are perhaps the most intimate. An object, a sculpture, a creature, a person is slathered in plaster (or some other form-hugging material), and the resulting "negative" image is rendered into a "positive" replica. This course explores the various historically and culturally contingent meanings that have been attached to these technical procedures-despite their ostensibly "styleless" or "anachronistic" character-from the ancient world to the present day. Used in practices ranging from funerary rituals to fine art, natural history to medicine, anthropology to forensics, molding and casting constitute forms of knowledge production that capture at once the real and the enduring, the ephemeral and fleeting, and the authentic and affective. Featuring a diverse set of readings by authors such as Pliny the Elder, Charles Sanders Peirce, Walter Benjamin, Oswald Spengler, Gilbert Simondon, and others, the colloquium will address theoretical and methodological questions pertaining to concepts of materiality, indexicality, tactility, scalability, and seriality. Besides plaster, the objects of our analysis will comprise a diverse range of media including but not limited to wax, metal, photography and film, synthetic polymers, and digital media.

Instructor(s): P. Crowley and M. Rossi     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): HIST 57000, CHSS 57000, ANTH 54835, ARTH 47300

Faculty Members

  • Clifford Ando, David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor; Professor of Classics, History and Law
  • Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics and the Program in Gender Studies; Director, Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge
  • Brian Callendar MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine
  • Karin  Knorr Cetina, Otto Borchert Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and Sociology and Chair of the Department of Sociology
  • Simeon Chavel, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible, Divinity School
  • Adam Cifu MD, Professor of Medicine
  • Whitney Cox, Associate Professor of South Asian Languages and Civilizations
  • Patch Crowley, Assistant Professor of Art History and the College
  • Arnold Davidson, Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and the Divinity School
  • Ahmed El-Shamsy, Assistant Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Literatures
  • Jaś Elsner, Visiting Professor of Art History, and Humfrey Payne Senior Research Fellow in Classical Archaeology and Art, Oxford University
  • James Evans, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Jack Gilbert, Associate Professor Ecology & Evolution, Evolutionary Biology
  • Tom Ginsburg, Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar, and Professor of Political Science
  • Andreas Glaeser, Professor of Sociology
  • John Goldsmith, Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of Linguistics and Computer Science; Senior Fellow, Computation Institute of Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago Committee on Computational Neuroscience 
  • Michael Greenstone, The Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College, and the Harris School; Director of the Becker Friedman Institute; Director of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC); Director of the Energy and Environment Lab at the University of Chicago Urban Labs
  • Lars Peter Hansen, David Rockefeller Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and Statistics
  • William Howell, Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics, Harris School of Public Policy, and Chair of the Department of Political Science
  • Joel Isaac, Associate Professor of Social Thought at the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought
  • Demetra Kasimis, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science
  • Dario Maestripieri, Professor of Comparative Human Development, Evolutionary Biology, and Neurobiology
  • Rochona Majumdar, Associate Professor, Departments of Cinema and Media Studies, and South Asian Languages and Civilizations
  • Ada Palmer, Assistant Professor of History, Associate Faculty of Classics
  • Thomas Pashby, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
  • Kenneth Pomeranz, University Professor of Modern Chinese History
  • Robert J. Richards, Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine
  • James A. Robinson, Reverend Dr. Richard L. Pearson Professor and University Professor, Faculty Director of the Pearson Institute, Harris School of Public Policy
  • Michael Rossi, Assistant Professor of the History of Medicine, Department of History and the College
  • Benoit Roux, Amgen Professor, Departments of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Chemistry, and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics
  • Haun Saussy, University Professor, Department of Comparative Literature

Departmental Contacts

Executive Director
Macol Stewart Cerda

Administrative Manager
Jessica Velazquez