The First Ten Years

William James’ view is central to the developing agenda of the CSSR: if the great intellectual endeavor that is the academic enterprise of Columbia University is to affect matters – not just understand them, quantify them, and publish discoveries about them; but also change them for the better – then the "views of the universe" of our faculty and our students are as important as their publications and discoveries.

This is not a notion consistent with the presumption that the purpose of an academic life is not at all to affect matters, but only to understand them, and that therefore, anyone’s view of the cosmos can be safely ignored, and everyone’s work can be left to speak for itself. This cool distance from matters of personal vision and obligation is compatible with great academic progress, but not with the purposes of the CSSR.

From its inception, the CSSR has been committed to "affecting matters" as well as understanding them; this is how we put it in the initial prospectus of 1999:

"The CSSR will therefore have a particular reason to focus on the science and scientists involved in social planning, scientific research policy, and strategies for the protecting the future of the planet. The CSSR will address the possible vocational aspects of those men and women who work as scientists but are also called upon to render judgment on social or policy issues, and on the place of religion in the models of human and social behavior used to formulate and vindicate such judgments."

From then until now, the CSSR has been laying the intellectual, structural and fiscal foundations for this agenda, while at the same time expanding its purview at the university and beyond with the highly successful series of public events and curricular enhancements summarized below. That foundational work turns out to have been propitious, as the CSSR has just been brought into the new Earth institute at Columbia university, a major university-wide initiative headed by Economics Professor Jeffrey Sachs, newly arrived from Harvard University.

The Earth Institute – a global University enterprise of twenty Centers, with a funded research program of an additional $85 million/year served by a central budget of about $15 million/year – intends precisely to use the scientific, medical and technological expertise of tour university to "affect matters" world-wide, beginning with the alleviation of the hunger and suffering of the Earth’s billion poorest people. The CSSR will have an important role to play in this agenda in the months and years to come.

Beyond all other considerations, the CSSR’s capacity to meet this challenge will depend on our colleagues, both those in the engineering, physical, biological, medical and social sciences who share a commitment to the Earth Institute’s new agenda, and those in the worlds of religious study and practice who similarly share the wish to be effective in their hopes and prayers for a better world. Just as affiliation with the Earth Institute has brought the CSSR to a host of problem-solving colleagues in the sciences, an invitation from President Joseph Hough to move our own offices from 401 Low Library to the fifth floor of the administration building of Union Theological Seminary, will bring the CSSR into daily contact with the Seminary’s students and faculty, as well with the faculty of the Columbia and Barnard Departments of Religion.