Centre for the Contemporary Renaissance

The UK is commonly described as being in the midst of a number of crises. The coronavirus crisis comes on the back of a set of tumultuous and interlocking crises: From the political earthquakes triggered by Brexit; to the climate emergency; to the ethical questions raised by artificial intelligence and automation; to ongoing ‘culture wars’; to social justice violations and inequality; to concerns around the mental health of children and young people. In short, contemporary Britain has a lot to worry about.

The Mental Health Collective is testing the hypothesis that all these intersecting crises are, in fact, derivative of one major overarching failure: The failure of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking has constructed a particular set of relationships between knowledge and power, which are reflected in the assumptions which underlie most Western institutions. However, there are many other ways of making sense of the relationships between knowledge and power. Enlightenment thinking is not the only mode.

Through an ethnographic, empirical and phenomenological approach, we are testing the hypothesis that the Enlightenment has died and making observations about the Contemporary Renaissance which has sprung up in its wake.

The Contemporary Renaissance is characterised by graceful resolve. That is, getting somewhere by being present to where we are now, and navigating our way with the power of love. Like the original renaissance, it uses practices which bring our heads, hearts and guts together. It is rooted in a sense of history and a ‘looking back’ to that which grounds us, whilst using the currents of contemporary social context as the air beneath our wings. Expressed in our everyday actions and unconscious practices as well as our deliberate ‘work’, the Contemporary Renaissance is a mixed medium phenomenon.

This work is in the process of being crystallised in a manuscript.

Strathern, E (Forthcoming) Life Goes On: The Death of the Enlightenment and the Birth of the Contemporary Renaissance @ElsaStrathern
Pollard, A (2009) Power in Doubt: Aid, Effectiveness and Harmonisation amongst donors in Indonesia. PhD dissertation, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.