Director's Welcome

Wed, 10/09/2019

We welcome you to the website of the School of Criticism and Theory (SCT). Since its founding in 1976, SCT has been a summer institute offering an innovative program of study focused on key conceptual issues and current debates across the humanities and socialsciences. SCT is sponsored by a consortium of some thirty major American and foreign universities and currently in the process of establishing further international partnerships. Initially based at the University of California-Irvine, the program has over the years been hosted by Northwestern University, Dartmouth College, and Cornell University, where it has been housed since 1997, in the beautiful A.D. White House, home to Cornell’s Society for the Humanities. Its current location in Ithaca offers participants, faculty, and visitors the natural beauty of New York’s Finger Lakes region, the vibrancy and cultural richness of a large college town, and the resources of an Ivy League university, including its outstanding library, to which all participants and faculty are given access during their stay at the summer institute.

Every summer, SCT assembles eight distinguished faculty for four six-week and four one-week seminars. It also admits between eighty and a hundred participants (advanced graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty), who sign up for one of the longer seminars and actively participate in all other events (mini-seminars, public lectures, and colloquia around precirculated faculty papers). The intensive format of the summer institute enables participants to forge lifelong intellectual friendships as well as strong connections with the group of faculty and other visitors, which often include members of SCT’s distinguished group of Senior Fellows. In addition to the seminars, lectures, and colloquia, SCT hosts an impressive amount of receptions and social events in which participants have the chance to interact more informally with each other and with the faculty, senior fellows, visitors, and the Cornell academic community.

From its inception, SCT has played an important role as an annual scholarly and intellectual platform on which the drama of the somewhat fruitless theory wars and the questionable virtue of vain polemics is resolutely sidestepped. Instead a climate of rigorous investigations and courteous debate of “themes out of school,” as Stanley Cavell once aptly called them, is both widely honored and consistently fostered. In the best tradition of critical and comparative studies across a wide variety of historical and literary fields as well as empirical and visual disciplines, the School invites thinkers who cherish the life of the mind, the force of the better argument, and the courage of imagination, while never forgetting the concrete political responsibilities that more abstract reflections entail. Beyond the infatuation with identities and cultures, national literatures and cosmopolitanisms, humanisms and antihumanisms, old and new historicisms and their opposing structuralisms, close or distant reading, mind or matter, beings and things, SCT seeks out forms of undogmatic inquiry into modes and moods of genuine thinking and practice that are both analytical and constructive, meditative and deeply engaged.

In these webpages, you will find all relevant information about the current year’s summer session, with bios of invited faculty and their seminars, the application process and existing possibilities for financial aid, and living arrangements. The site also contains a list of past faculty, recent seminar topics, the names of SCT’s Senior Fellows, who form the Board of the School, and, last but not least, of its wonderfully efficient and friendly on-site administrative staff.

-Hent de Vries

Hent de Vries is Paulette Goddard Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies, German, Comparative Literature, and Affiliated Professor of Philosophy, at New York University