Contemporary scholarship tends to proceed by means of specific disciplinary questions that have produced an ever-proliferating expansion of knowledge, with no end in sight. But the need remains to ask ultimate questions, to reflect morally, to relate inquiry about fact and value, and to pose questions about how the vast expanse of different types of knowledge—about the natural world, human behavior, the complex products of human culture, and first-person experiences—are related to one another. Human beings are at once systems of matter-energy, biological organisms in ecosystems, adaptive social beings, makers of laws and institutions, writers of literature and poetry, economic producers and consumers, and historical participants in traditions and civilizations. How are all of these realities connected? How should we seek to understand them in relationship to one another? To raise such questions sets the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study (NDIAS) apart. We are not content with disciplinarily isolated, specialized research.
The NDIAS fosters research that extends beyond the analysis of specialized, particular problems to the examination of larger, frequently ethical questions that modern academic disciplines often do not explicitly address and yet almost always presuppose. This too contributes to the Institute’s distinctiveness: the desire to bring into explicit awareness questions about morality and meaning that often remain hidden. Such questions can be addressed wherever the human intellect flourishes. But a Catholic research university that aspires to connect the normative to the descriptive and to foster the unity of knowledge across disciplines is obligated to nurture this project.
The NDIAS is distinctive also in its openness to theological questions in relationship to the full range of intellectual inquiry in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Unlike much of the academy in the early twenty-first century, neither the Institute nor the University of Notre Dame assume that anything about the pluralism of modernity or the findings of the natural sciences (or any other domain of inquiry) have disproven all theological claims or somehow rendered them obsolete. By not assuming ideological secularism or naturalism, the Institute promotes a wider, more open agenda for rigorous intellectual inquiry than characterizes most institutes for advanced study. This permits Fellows at NDIAS the intellectual freedom to question philosophical and historical assumptions that tend uncritically to be taken for granted in modernity and the modern academy, and in so doing, to bring diverse cultural and religious traditions, including those rooted in the distant past, into critical dialogue with ideas, beliefs, values, behaviors, and institutions of more recent historical origin. At the same time, the NDIAS stimulates theologically minded colleagues to expand their own intellectual horizons such that they can engage in serious dialogue across multiple academic disciplines.
The NDIAS is rooted in a substantive yet non-exclusivist understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition that seeks to pursue truth wherever and by whatever means it is to be found. Beyond mere interdisciplinarity lies the integration of knowledge, which the Institute seeks to advance. Therefore the Institute is committed to welcoming scholars and scientists from all disciplines who want to relate fact to value and who aspire to the unity of knowledge. Our vigorous, twice-weekly seminars provide a structured setting for shared discussion and dialogue among the Fellows engaged in this common endeavor, whatever the particularities of their training or the specificity of their research. Together we constitute a residential intellectual community whose members care about enduring questions that matter.