Gonzaga Philosophy Project Lands NEH Grant

Alfred North Whitehead sitting in a chair, looking at the camera
Alfred North Whitehead (image courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

August 15, 2023
Gonzaga University News Service

Today the Whitehead Research Project at Gonzaga University — dedicated to research and scholarship on one of the 20th century’s most important philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead — was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant for continuing work on its ambitious, multi-decade effort to collect and critically edit all the philosopher’s published works as well as unpublished lectures, papers, and correspondence.

“The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Complete Works of Alfred North Whitehead” is still in the early stages of a planned 17 volumes, with two published to date. The three-year, $350,000 NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations grant will fully fund staff costs and allow for the hiring of additional graduate student workers, substantially accelerating progress on the project.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) began his career as a mathematician before shifting his focus to philosophy and emigrating from England to America in 1924 to join the Harvard philosophy department, where he would lecture for 13 years. In 1929 he wrote his most famous book, Process and Reality, inspiring the contemporary “process philosophy” and “process theology” movements. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one notable figure influenced by Whitehead; King quoted him in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture in 1964. In more recent years Whitehead’s “philosophy of organism,” with its stress on the interdependence of organisms and their environments, has been influential in modern environmental movements, particularly in China.

“Whitehead was one of the 20th century’s most original thinkers,” said Joseph Petek, the project’s director of research and publication.

“His increasing relevance in the world today — particularly around environmental issues — makes a Critical Edition of his writings all the more urgent. We are excited to continue the work of revealing previously unknown aspects of his thought.”

The Whitehead Research Project was founded in 2005 and is home to not only the Critical Edition being awarded by the NEH, but also the Whitehead Research Library, which makes archival Whitehead materials freely available for online viewing and download; the Whitehead Encyclopedia, which provides open access to scholarly articles on Whiteheadian process philosophy; and the Contemporary Whitehead Studies book series, which publishes interdisciplinary books by leading Whitehead scholars.

“This award reinforces the WRP’s status as the world’s leading academic project for the study of Alfred North Whitehead,” said Brian G. Henning, the project’s executive director and a professor of philosophy and environmental studies at Gonzaga. “The Critical Edition’s first two volumes — along with the archival materials that we have made freely available online — have already substantively changed and enlarged our understanding of Whitehead’s philosophy, and this grant assures that project will be able to continue its work.”

The Critical Edition of Whitehead has been made possible in part by a major grant of the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this press release do not necessarily represent the views of the NEH.