Human Distinctiveness Project

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Project Dates: March 1, 2015 - February 28, 2018
Principal Investigators: Celia Deane-Drummond and Agustín Fuentes
Funded by: The John Templeton Foundation and the University of Notre Dame 

Project Aim
  • To provide training in evolutionary anthropology for theologians seeking to take their research in new directions
  • To engage in research at the interface of anthropology and theology on the topic of the evolution of wisdom
Project Activities
  • Three-week introductory summer seminar to evolutionary anthropology for 13 theologians (May 27 – June 17, 2015)
  • Competition-based sabbatical-leave funding for 5 theologians
  • Postdoctoral research fellowships
  • Graduate student fellowships
Project Summary

Asking big questions about becoming and being human requires a complex and dynamic transdisciplinary approach. Recent innovation in evolutionary theory and the increasing richness of the fossil and archeological record suggests that the best answers to big questions are going to derive from such transdisciplinary research along with a renewed focus on a distinctively human mode of niche construction, consisting of dynamic social networks, hyper-cooperation, shared intentionality and coordination, and the emergence and use of symbols. 

The research component of this project, with its focus on an articulation of the evolution of wisdom, seeks to identify, clarify, and link central elements in the human niche. The research integrates analysis of the evolutionarily recent human past with a focus on the materials and landscapes that might reflect the emergence of increased social complexity, the use of symbols, and a distinctly human semiosis. The project deploys an integrated anthropological toolkit in order to examine factors in the human dynamic, as well as engagement with ecologies and socio-cognitive complexity in the context of the material record and ethnographic databases and theory. Moreover, the project strives to integrate insights from the philosophical and theological traditions in order to enhance the capacity of our analyses to link to broader domains of knowledge and practice. 

Project Team