Answers from the Cognitive and Neurosciences
July 9-12, Kent State University, Kent, OH Why the Humanities Conference (WHC): Answers from the Cognitive and Neuro-Sciences
Perpetually under fire, the humanities—literature, history, and philosophy—have a long history of trying to explain why people should value and study them. This exciting, groundbreaking conference will bring together scholars in the humanities, psychologists, sociologists and historians to explore the unique ways humanities study can enhance personal and social well-being by promoting the development of cognitive and emotional capabilities, and habits crucial for personal flourishing and responsible citizenship.

Please submit your abstract (300 words for papers, 500 words for panels) by April 1, 2015 to:

The major focus of the conference will be social cognition: our perception and judgment of others. Presenters will discuss how flaws in social cognition lead to social ills—and how these flaws can be corrected, especially through study of the humanities. In addition to plenary and panel sessions by researchers and scholars, the conference will include special workshops for humanities teachers on maximizing these benefits in the classroom.

The event will feature public presentations by more than a dozen internationally recognized scholars. The conference is headed up by Kent State Professor Mark Bracher, co-founder of the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society.


We encourage readers of the Library of Social Science Newsletter to submit an abstract—and to participate in this important, groundbreaking event.

Please submit your abstract (300 words for papers, 500 words for panels) by April 1, 2015 to:

Kent State University

Call for Papers

International Conference

Why the Humanities:
Answers from the Cognitive and Neurosciences

Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center
Kent, Ohio, USA
July 9-12, 2015

The purpose of this conference is to highlight and enhance the contributions that humanities education makes to personal well being, responsible citizenship, and social justice.

We invite submissions of paper and panel proposals exploring how particular humanities disciplines, texts, genres, methodologies, or pedagogical practices can promote the development of personally and socially beneficial cognitive and emotional capabilities, including:

  • empathy
  • mind reading
  • metacognition
  • bias correction
  • self-knowledge
  • self-otheroverlap recognition
  • moral judgment

We also welcome papers addressing fundamental questions such as:

  • What cognitive and neural structures (e.g., prototypes, schemas, self-concepts) are optimal for personal well being, responsible citizenship, and social justice?
  • What specific cognitive activities (e.g., acquiring new exemplars, engaging in new information-processing routines, metacognizing) are most effective in developing these structures?
  • How do the humanities engage one in these cognitive activities?
  • What are the best educational practices for maximizing the development of these cognitive and neural structures through humanities study?
  • How can cross-cultural humanities study promote such development?
  • What are the best ways of assessing this cognitive/neural development?

Abstracts (300 words for papers, 500 words for panels) should be emailed as an MS Word file to

Proposed papers should run no more than 20 minutes; panels of 3 or 4 presenters should run no more than 60 minutes.

Deadline for Submissions: April 1, 2015.


Frederick Luis Aldama, Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor at Ohio State University. He is the author of many books, including Why  the  Humanities Matter, that explore literature and culture from a cognitive perspective.

Nancy Easterlin, Research Professor of English at New Orleans University. She is the author of several books, including A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation, employing cognitive and neuroscience in the analysis of literature.

Hunter Gehlbach, Associate Professor of Education at Harvard University. The author of numerous articles, he is an expert on the crucial social-cognition capability of perspective taking, on pedagogical strategies for developing it, and on designing questionnaires to measure this and other capabilities of social cognition.

Suzanne Keen, Thomas Broadus Professor of English and Dean of the College at Washington and Lee University. She has theorized how reading novels can activate and enhance empathy and sympathy and is the author of Empathy and the Novel, several other books, and numerous articles on narrative and the emotions.

David Comer Kidd, PhD Candidate in Psychology at The New School for Social Research. His dissertation, the results of which were published last fall in a widely read and discussed article in Science, found that reading literary texts enhances people’s ability to infer other people’s mental states.

David Miall, Professor of English at the University of Alberta. He has conducted numerous empirical studies of literary reception and is the author of Literary Reading:  Empirical  and  Theoretical  Studies,  in  which  he  explains  how  reading literature can change readers’ capabilities and habits of cognition and feeling.

Keith Oatley, novelist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Toronto. Among his many publications is Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, in which he offers empirically based explanations of how reading literature can increase empathy and other elements of emotional intelligence.

Christine Reyna, Associate Professor of Psychology at DePaul University. She has published numerous articles on how stereotypes, prejudice, and ideology function to distort social cognition in ways that lead to unjust policies and social structures.

G. Gabrielle Starr, Professor of English and Dean at New York University. She pursues research in neuroaesthetics, a relatively new field of inquiry that uses the tools of cognitive neuroscience to explore the contours of aesthetic experience. Her most recent book is Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience.

Lisa Zunshine, Bush-Holbrook Professor of English at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of many articles and books, including Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel, which explains how specific literary passages induce and possibly train readers to infer others’ mental states.

Ohio Humanities  

This conference is made possible, in part, by the Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this conference do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Generous support is also being provided by Kent State University’s College of Arts & Sciences, the departments of English, History, Modern and Classical Language Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology, and the Institute for Applied Linguistics.