Think Science And Art Are Poles Apart? The Students Of St. Stephen’s Don’t Agree!

Posted on February 19, 2016 in Campus Watch

By Archita Misra and Shreya Tandon:

DSC_0062From 11th- 13th of February 2016, St. Stephen’s College held its first Academic Conclave –motivated by a simple realization that we owe to Pirsig: “We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly.” In an education system which separates us into streams that are more like silos, we realised that there is limited scope for formal opportunities to study the relationships between disciplines, and that in this age of skill-specialization, our knowledge is also being fragmented into departments. Emboldened by the belief that a complex world must be studied through multiple lenses, we set out to create a platform to facilitate academic discourse on the issues that exist at the intersections of diverse intellectual traditions and emphasize the relevance of these disciplines in engaging with the world we live in. Instituted as a response to the compartmentalization of education, and a celebration of interdisciplinarity, the Conclave was created with the aim to encourage students to engage with ideas from disciplines they may not be studying, by making these accessible to them.

Our ambition was to create a conference with a broad framework, incorporating key questions from diverse domains. The Conclave featured talks, panel discussions, and workshops under three broad themes, “What Makes a Good Society”, “Science and Society”, and “Arts, Culture and Society”. Over three days, students and faculty from across colleges and courses discussed and debated issues of relevance to all of us. Each of the three Plenary Lectures, delivered by eminent intellectuals, represented one of the themes. From Professor Irfan Habib, noted historian, who spoke of the relevance of the legacy of secularism from the National Movement, to Professor Satyajit Mayor, Director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, who discussed the interdisciplinary nature of new research in Biology, and Ms. Anjolie Ela Menon, the leading contemporary artist, who delved into the history of the patronage of Art. Among many other compelling discussions taking place in over thirteen sessions spread across three days, Professor Rudrangshu Mukherjee constructed a fascinating narrative of the ideology of the 1857 revolt, Dr. Alex Watson presented a cogent account of atheistic traditions in India, Dr. Maya Saran shifted the focus from discourse to the ‘doing’ of Mathematics and Dr. Sanadhya used his insights as a cryptologist to throw light on Snowden’s revelations and their implications on individual privacy.

From Professor Irfan Habib, noted historian, who spoke of the relevance of the legacy of secularism from the National Movement, to Professor Satyajit Mayor, Director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, who discussed the interdisciplinary nature of new research in Biology, and Ms. Anjolie Ela Menon, the leading contemporary artist, who delved into the history of the patronage of Art. Among many other compelling discussions taking place in over thirteen sessions spread across three days, Professor Rudrangshu Mukherjee constructed a fascinating narrative of the ideology of the 1857 revolt, Dr. Alex Watson presented a cogent account of atheistic traditions in India, Dr. Maya Saran shifted the focus from discourse to the ‘doing’ of Mathematics and Dr. Sanadhya used his insights as a cryptologist to throw light on Snowden’s revelations and their implications on individual privacy.

st stephens
Image posted by Siddharth Chakravortty on Facebook

As Conveners, we ended up spending more time running around than attending talks, but the happiness of seeing rooms filled with enthusiastic attendees was more than adequate compensation. With most events continuing beyond their stipulated times because of the extended question-answer sessions, we were conflicted between the stress of keeping to schedule and the joy of seeing people share our excitement.

The whirlwind of activity of the last few weeks has given way to a strangely unfamiliar sense of tranquility. Having a single-minded purpose has consumed our time like nothing else has ever before, and this vacuum allows for reflection on how much we have learnt. This Academic Conclave has been a lesson in optimism, and the importance of following through on big ideas. St. Stephen’s College has a long history with many time-honored traditions. The fact that a simple idea and a small group of people managed to forge a new one which strengthens the culture of cross-cutting scholastic discourse, speaks to the power of student initiative and the importance of faculty members who are passionate about both teaching and learning. Having laid the groundwork, we sincerely hope that the enthusiasm we witnessed over the past three days is sustained and expanded, preserving the Academic Conclave as an enduring institution.

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