Institute for the Humanities

Well into its fourth decade, the Institute for the Humanities at SFU seeks to accomplish these basic objectives: stimulate student interest and faculty research in demonstrating the irreducibility of humanistic perspectives in understanding some of the most pressing social, economic, political, and environmental problems we face and, above all, engage the many publics beyond the academy in the city, province, country, and wider world. Through its mandate, the Institute is perfectly placed to play a key role in the idea of SFU as “student-centred, research-driven and community-engaged” and the University's commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

Active engagement

About the Institute


  • Initiates, plans, and supports interdisciplinary programs, conferences, seminars, and research that bring together faculty in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, with each other and with members of the wider community, to discuss and study areas of common concern and social and intellectual significance.
  • Encourages, facilitates, and participates in independent, multi-disciplinary research on a variety of themes and issues related to modern cultural studies.
  • Works closely with the Department of Global Humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in support of its teaching program.
  • Establishes contacts with organizations and universities where similar programs and institutes exist.

Through these programs and initiatives, the Institute hopes to bring together the resources and expertise of the University and the interests and needs of groups in the wider community.

The Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University began in 1983 as a home for research, public programming and for the development of ideas concerning social issues. The Institute was one of the first such Institutes in Canada to pursue these goals. The mandate to build audiences for the humanities in the public sphere has been carried out along four broad interrelated themes: humanities and modernity; community education; cultural roots of violence and nonviolence; human rights and democratic development.

Activities and initiatives

Contours Journal

Contours is the successor to the Institute for the Humanities’ previous journal, Humanitas. Its mandate is to publish original work that engages the contemporary significance of the humanities broadly understood and, therefore, focus on debates within historical and contemporary social and political thought, religion, and culture.

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Journal of Adorno Studies

The Institute for the Humanities is the new home of the Journal of Adorno Studies, previously at Duke for nine years. A key priority is to globalize a larger editorial board, to include Adorno scholars from outside of North America and Europe—Africa, Latin America and China.

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J. S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities

The holder of the J. S. Woodsworth Chair or Resident Scholar combines teaching and research with active engagement on issues concerning the wider community. The Chair or Resident Scholar works with the Director of the Institute for the Humanities and other faculty to further public understanding of its mandate.

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Joanne Brown Symposium on Violence and its Alternatives

Joanne Brown (1918–2003) was a social worker, an advocate for children and of lifelong learning, and an active supporter of the CCF/NDP. Toward the end of her life, she gave a generous endowment to the Institute for the Humanities to financially support an annual symposium that would bring together an interdisciplinary group of individuals in an informal setting to discuss how various forms of violence may be alleviated.

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Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar

In honour of Grace MacInnis and her history of social and political service as a Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party, an annual Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar Program was initiated through the Institute for the Humanities in 1993. The Visiting Scholars are invited to Simon Fraser University to give public talks, as well as meet with faculty and students.

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Thakore Visiting Scholar

Since 1991, the Institute for the Humanities, in collaboration with the Thakore Charitable Foundation and J. S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities, has presented the Thakore Visiting Scholar Award to outstanding persons who have made the well-being of society their lifetime work. The scholars are hosted during the annual Gandhi Jayanti celebration at SFU.

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Undergraduate and graduate student support

The Institute for the Humanities provides support to undergraduate students through two annual student awards:

  1. In the summer term to help cover the costs associated with attending a travel-study/field school program offered by SFU.
  2. In the fall term to recognize and honour SFU students who have been active in voluntary community service in areas related to peace, justice, and human rights.

As well, the Institute pledges an annual grant to the Global Humanities MA Program to support initiatives and activities of its graduate students.

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Programming and research