Luce Foundation grant supports Globally Engaged Humanities Project

In today’s global society, economic relations have typically overshadowed cultural communications in the collaborations between nations and communities across the globe. But the humanities are important because they bring forth critical voices in any intercultural dialogue.

With the support of a new grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, Penn State and Nanjing University will address this imbalance by launching a long-term partnership to forge lasting relationships between faculty and students in the humanities and to elevate U.S.-China dialogue for greater cultural understanding. 

The Henry Luce Foundation recently awarded a three-year grant of $395,000 to Penn State to partner with Nanjing University on the Globally Engaged Humanities Project. The faculty and students at both universities will share their understandings of the goals and methodologies of the humanities and borrow strategies from each other on related teaching, scholarly work and professional issues. Among the planned activities are academic courses embedded with short-term study abroad at either university; learning exchanges of undergraduate students; graduate student and faculty teaching and research collaborations; international conferences; and translation of Chinese academic work from these conferences as a way to broaden access to Chinese-language humanities scholarship.

“Penn State is dedicated to educating the next generation of global citizens and leaders by providing undergraduate and graduate students with diverse opportunities to experience world cultures and helping students develop a global perspectives,” said On-cho Ng, professor and head of the Asian Studies Department. “The humanities have a unique role to play in fostering an in-depth understanding of the forces, challenges, and opportunities that are necessary for working and living ethically and effectively in a globalized world. The Globally Engaged Humanities Project will help our students develop global citizenship and global leadership.”

Leading the Penn State program are Ng and Shuang Shen, associate professor of comparative literature and Asian Studies. The Asian Studies department boasts 15 historians and literary scholars on China, Japan and Korea, along with faculty experts in other fields. The Nanjing University participants include the School of Humanities, the Department of History, the Department of Philosophy and the School of Foreign Studies.  

The Penn State Global Engagement Network has partnerships with Beijing University, Dalian University of Technology and Nanjing University. The new project is designed to strengthen the humanities focus and enhance Nanjing’s vigorous pursuit of the study of global relations, European history, and international peace.   

For example, Daniel Purdy, professor of German, will lead a course at Nanjing University on “Urban Strategies for Historical Preservation in China, Europe and the United States.” Gregory Smits, associate professor of history and Asian Studies, will teach a course examining the earthquake prediction programs in four countries, and the interplay of science, society and the state during a period of modern history when popular expectations exceeded actual capabilities.

“The best approach to U.S.-China engagement in the humanities is through close contact and long-term dialogue at all levels from the undergraduate student to the seasoned researcher,” Ng said. “The Globally Engaged Humanities Project offers a model that departs from the conventional model of ‘bringing Western ideas to the Chinese.’ Both partners will contribute equally, drawing on both U.S. and Chinese expertise to create a dialogue and interchange of ideas. One goal is to integrate Chinese humanities into the international conversations across various disciplines.”

Helena Kolenda, program director for Asia at the Luce Foundation said, “The foundation is delighted to be supporting this program with its strong emphasis on the humanities. The program will not only provide a bridge for scholarly exchange between Americans and Chinese, but will also serve as a bridge within Penn State — between scholars of Asia and their colleagues in other humanities departments. Penn State's plan to translate into English work in Chinese generated through the grant-supported conferences and research collaborations will help remedy the relative lack of familiarity in the West (outside of Chinese studies) with humanities scholarship from China.”

The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to honor his parents who were missionary educators in China. The foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities. It pursues its mission through the following grant-making programs: American Art: East Asia; Luce Scholars; Theology; Higher Education; the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs; Public Policy; and the Clare Boothe Luce Program for women in science, mathematics and engineering.

Supporters like the Luce Foundation are partners in fulfilling the University’s land-grant mission of education, research and service. Private gifts from alumni and friends enrich the experiences of students both in and out of the classroom, expand the research and teaching capacity of our faculty, and help to ensure that students from every economic background have access to a Penn State education.

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Last Updated September 21, 2015