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Mobilizing Creativity in the Humanities

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Organizer: Kiene Brillenburg Wurth

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Every inventive nature continuously produces one shape from another. Nothing in the entire universe ever perishes, believe me, but things vary and adopt a new form. 

Ovid, Metamorphoses

This seminar aims to develop and mobilize a contemporary notion of creativity from a retrospective, responsive, and prospective positioning of the concept. Returning to the philosophies of Henri Bergson (1907, 1934), Alfred North Whitehead (1926, 1929), Susanne K. Langer (1942, 1953), and Gilles Deleuze (1968, 1980 [with Félix Guattari]), Taosim and Buddhism, we aim to develop an updated definition of creativity, one that is relevant for, and responsive to the contemporary moment. Creativity is a power that is everywhere – in us, among us, and around us in individual and social, natural as well as cultural processes. As such, creativity can exceed socio-historical frameworks, utilitarian goals, and strategic aims. More precisely, we explore creativity as a process or presence of constant change

Our aim with this new definition is to break open the invisible cage  within which we have been working to research creativity since the 1950s in various disciplines (Guilford 1950, Cropley 1997). For a productive mobilization of the concept, we need to position and unpack it anew. We need to explore specific forms of creativity that could not (have) come into view in the dominant paradigm of creativity as the useful and the novel (applied imagination). Is ‘tradition’ really the negative of ‘innovation’, or can we see an entanglement that precludes a biased and, as we hold, unproductive binary? Which forms, practices, and notions of creativity can be discerned that are not necessarily engaged with innovation and profitability? How have Western values of risk-taking, autonomy, and bravery eclipsed modes of creativity in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Africa?

Re-conceptualized as a process or presence of constant change, creativity will be mobilized as a construct that revolves more around difference—in a constant shape-shifting—rather than betterment and profitability. Difference still allows the “new” to be thought as folded in creativity, but now as an openness to what happens: whatever comes along and is transforming in the process (Lyotard 1988). This openness, we imagine, can be critically compared in European and American, Asian, and Oceanian as well as African myths and theories of creation, creativeness, as well as self-creation.


The seminar aims to bring together case studies that open up a variety of fields for creativity research for a critical transformation of the term itself: from art to activism, science to spirituality, prisons to private enterprise. Together, these case-studies will yield a more flexible and dynamic idea of creativity that will form a basis for further research.


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