Research Project

CONCEPTIONS OF CULTURAL STUDIES IN CASSIRERíS THEORY OF SYMBOLIC FORMS

 

Cultural Study as ‘Cultural Science’

In 1936 Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Glasgow, as ‘one of the creative thinkers of his time’, reflecting his public (and private) connections with the University. In 1999, to mark the two-hundredth-and-fiftieth anniversary of Goethe’s birth, the University inaugurated the annual ‘Ernst Cassirer Lecture in Intercultural Relations’, to commemorate his achievement in bringing out the implications of the (inter)cultural theory of Weimar Classicism. In October 2002 the work in this area of the University’s Centre for Intercultural Studies was recognised by the award to Professors Roger Stephenson and Paul Bishop of an Arts and Humanities Large-Research Grant (of £284,306) to enable them and their team, in collaboration with Professor John Krois of the Humboldt University Berlin, to undertake a new, theoretical and historical, approach to the problem of cultural studies.

The team, including two research-assistants and two doctoral students, in co-operation with Graham Whitaker of the GU Library, has three main objectives: (a) to investigate the intellectual background of Cassirer’s theory of ‘cultural science’, with reference to Weimar Classicism and such influential thinkers as Nietzsche, Klages, Freud, and Jung; (b) to establish a conceptual comparison between Cassirer’s key-concept of ‘symbolic form’ and contemporary notions of symbolism; and (c) to investigate documentary evidence for the development and influence of Cassirer’s theory, drawing on the Warburg Institute’s archive of his correspondence.

Papers given in the Centre in 2002-03 (and published in Cultural Studies, I, 2003) explore the foundations for morphological comparison between, on the one hand, Cassirer’s and, on the other, Goethe’s, Freud’s, and Jung’s thinking, as a first step to establishing the pressing relevance of Cassirer’s ideas to current study of culture, both ‘high’ and ‘low’. The Project is scheduled to run until 2007.

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