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Skidmore College

What is wonder?

April 4, 2019
by Angela Valden

Wonder is an awestruck appreciation of divinity and nature.

Wonder is a mixed-up feeling in the face of the all-mixed-up.

Wonder can evoke fascination and revulsion, admiration and disgust, and delight and terror all at once.

And those who master wonder become objects of wonder themselves.

Celebrating the creative talents of Skidmore’s faculty

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, a professor of religion and of science in society at Wesleyan University, opened Skidmore’s second annual Humanistic Inquiry Symposium on March 29, discussing “scientific wonder” through the interpretations of Plato, Aristotle and Albert Einstein, among others.

The two-day symposium explored the concept of "wonder" by considering topics ranging from Buddhism and European philosophy to American literature and digital photography.

Student volunteers

Student volunteers Nora Barry, left, and Jen Maselli worked with faculty to play an instrumental role in the symposium.

Presentations included poetry readings, museum tours, theatrical presentations and musical performances. Scholars and artists wove together the humanities, arts and sciences, offering a uniquely Skidmore academic experience.

“Plato said, ‘Wonder is the result of inquiry,’ ” Rubenstein said. Contrary to that, “Aristotle said, ‘Wonder seeks its own demise.’ ” And Einstein believed in a “cosmic religious sense” — his wonder at the universe was the product of both science and faith.

Michael Arnush, chair of the Classics Department, said the event helped to “celebrate the creative talents of Skidmore’s faculty.” Arnush co-organized the event with Barbara Black, professor of English.

One could say that wonder is what humanistic inquiry is all about. As an English professor, I’m inclined to point out the astonishing, playful malleability of the word itself, which, in its verb form, means to be curious and, as a noun, captures a state of amazement or awe.
Barbara Black, professor of English

Nineteen Skidmore faculty members offered myriad perspectives on wonder through the lens of their studies. Here is a snapshot of what they had to say:

 

Examining how the owner of the book (a 16th-century manuscript) was identified reveals the thrill of discovery experienced by scholars working in the field of medieval and Renaissance book illumination.
Michael T. Orr, Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Michael Orr

Keynote speaker Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Michael Orr, dean of the faculty and vice president of academic affairs, chat March 29 at the Tang Teaching Museum.

Participating in the wonder of dance is a way for us to explore and celebrate our differences through movement.
Sarah DiPasquale, dance Department
Sarah DiPasquale and Bridges to Skidmore

Sarah DiPasquale, assistant professor of dance, and the Bridges to Skidmore dance group presented a performance March 29 at the Tang Teaching Museum as part of the Symposium on Humanistic Inquiry.

For years, American literary scholars ignored stories about miracles. Now we’re turning back to religious wonder.
Nicholas Junkerman, English Department
I see wonder in the amazing accomplishments of the sustainable food movement in the United States, the sense of reverence it has fostered for the cycle of life and the role it plays in food production.
John Brueggemann, sociology
John Brueggemann

John Brueggemann, professor of sociology, speaks about wonder in the context of the sustainable food movement.

Theater’s limitations ... depend upon an embrace of wonder, a faith that the impossible can be communicated, can be staged with bodies.
Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, theater
Lisa Jackson-Schebetta

Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, associate professor of theater, speaks about wonder in the context of performance making.

Immersive time spent with artwork compelled dance students to move past initial hesitancy and diffidence and ... wound up broadening their perspective.
Jason Ohlberg, dance Department
Wonder is the moment when the unseen become visible. … Digital technology destabilizes the boundaries between the known and the unknown, the seen and unseen, the captured and the invented.
Sarah Sweeney, art Department
Sarah Sweeney

Sarah Sweeney, associate professor of digital media, speaks about wonder in the context of art.

More than wonder, the story of sugar inspires awe, or maybe fear and trembling.
Sarah Goodwin, English Department
Early Buddhists felt wonder at the magical powers, telepathy and profound pedagogical prowess of Buddhas.
Ryan Richard Overbey, religious studies
Tang Teaching Museum

Students, faculty and staff gather in the Tang Teaching Museum for the second annual Symposium on Humanistic Inquiry.

Wonder has had mixed reviews in the history of philosophy … wonder is the characteristic passion of the Scientific Revolution. But if we give ourselves too easily to wonder, we risk opening ourselves up to superstition or deception.
Larry Jorgensen, philosophy

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