Humility, Wisdom, and Grace in Deep Time


January 19-22, 2017

This advanced symposium held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study explores key questions at the intersection of theology and anthropology on the topic of wisdom. What are the relationships between humility, wisdom, and grace? What experiences lead to the development of humility? How are we to understand, and what evidence exists for, the transition in human evolution from a form of wisdom beneficial to everyday life to a form that marks the desire for God? In research initiated in the Evolution of Wisdom and Human Distinctiveness projects, the goal is to explore the parameters and processes of the evolutionary origins of human wisdom, which is defined as the pattern of successful complex decision-making in navigating social networks and niches in human communities. Wisdom is understood not as a single trait but as a complex capacity to integrate and synthesize that is expressed in transactional ways in everyday interactions, which then comes eventually to be expressed in a transcendent mode, as the interaction with Divine Wisdom (in theological terms) and as a wholly modern human cognitive capacity (in anthropological terms). The working hypothesis is that this transition towards a combined approach to wisdom will have left behind detectable markers in the human fossil record. The symposium explores whether such a transition towards transcendental forms of wisdom equates with divine image bearing. It brings anthropologists and theologians together in a shared inquiry into a more communal understanding of human beings, in terms of their being, becoming, and religious experiences, particularly the experience of grace that can transform behavior. The conversation will generate new transdisciplinary research questions and ask with greater precision questions about the emergence of wisdom in the evolutionary record, as well as defining what clues might look like and where they will be found in tracking the allied virtue of humility. To trace the contours of this new discussion, an edited volume published with an academic press will be forthcoming.


Rebecca Ackerman, University of Cape Town
Lee Berger, University of Witwatersrand–Johannesburg
Wendy Black, Iziko South Africa Museum
Oliver Davies, Kings College London
Celia Deane-Drummond, University of Notre Dame
Agustín Fuentes, University of Notre Dame
John Hawks, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Jan-Olav Henriksen, Norwegian School of Theology
Wentzel van Huyssteen, Princeton Theological Seminary and University of Stellenbosch
Karen Kilby, Durham University
Marc Kissel, University of Notre Dame
Jonathan Marks, University of North Carolina–Charlotte
Andrew Robinson, University of Exeter
Penny Spikins, University of York
Jayne Wilkins, University of Cape Town

The symposium has been made possible by support from the John Templeton Foundation and Notre Dame International Global Collaboration Initiative.