Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Humanizing Academic Knowledge: Creating Critical Thought Via a Rhetorically Based Liberal Arts

Dr. Cornelius Cosgrove, Dr Nancy Barta-Smith.

Our quadrivium suggests a way to employ the humanities in both contextualizing and humanizing knowledge generated and promulgated by myriad tightly circumscribed disciplines. Undergraduates are often taught knowledge of their major disciplines as if it were static, transparent, and disconnected from other disciplines, leaving them unable to effectively judge material "borrowed" from the natural and social sciences for discourse aimed at general audiences. Our quadrivium seeks to provide the rhetorical tools or "social epistemology," to use Steve Fuller's words, that allows science to "be scrutinized and evaluated by an appropriately informed lay public." With Bill Readings, we doubt the existence of a unifying consensus of rational subjects, the ideal of the modern university. With him, we propose a Bakhtinian dialogism instead; critical thinking as "dissensus." Ongoing questions replace agreed upon answers to produce students who understand both the nature of disciplinary knowledges and their various limitations. Dissensus is carried out through a rhetorical awareness gained through writing, for writing reveals the primarily linguistic nature of knowledge, and hence sparks ongoing thought.


Dr. Cornelius Cosgrove  (United States)
Chairperson, Department of English
Department of English
Slippery Rock University

Professor of English at Slippery Rock since 1987. Author, with Dr. Nancy Barta-Smith of the recent book In Search of Eloquence, published by Hampton Press.

Dr Nancy Barta-Smith  (United States)

Department of English
Slippery Rock University

  • Rhetoric and Composition
  • Liberal Arts
  • Undergraduate Education
  • Social Epistemology

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)