Shirtless man in hat sits on grass in pastoral background of Tahiti
Always Hope, There is?

Two Stanford Humanities Center Fellows for 2023–24, Jaime Marroquín and Ya Zuo, discuss the concept of hope.

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Hope: The Future of an Idea

In a troubled age, hope may seem an elusive feeling. Alongside its history as a virtue, a political concept, and a psychological state, it enjoys a vivid presence as a necessary but poorly understood experience in everyday life. To reframe it in the context of this Colloquy, we might ask: how has hope been defined and critiqued? Where does it lie latent or unacknowledged? And how does the work of the humanities depend on hope, and perhaps arouse it? 


This year at the Stanford Humanities Center, we asked our fellows to reflect on questions of this kind. Their work ranges from the esoteric to the immediate, from the deep past to the present moment, and across the disciplines from music and art history to philosophy and education. Our aim here is to create a repository of informal thinking about the presence of hope in what we do, not only as scholars, artists, and practitioners but as people living in the twenty-first century. 

It is natural to say we live in a hopeless time, as climate change, war, authoritarianism, and other dangers loom over us. Without dismissing the force of despair, this Colloquy proposes to recover the grain of hope, not as a two-dimensional response to three-dimensional problems but as a complex problem on its own. The title of the Colloquy, in which we call hope an idea, is meant to signal this approach. 

The contributions collected here, while conceived from many distinctive intellectual and personal positions, are best discovered in twos and threes. Read or watch one, then another and another, at random. Imagine these items as belonging to a virtual conversation, which stands in for the exchange of ideas that takes place every day at the Center. Some of the contributors are professionally connected to the problem of hope—for instance, the historian of philosophy Pavlos Kontos is now writing authoritatively about hope in Aristotle’s thought—while others accept our invitation to fold the topic into their projects or their lives as scholars. Some simply register the place of hope in their lives. 

Finally, we bear in mind that, even when it is concerned with historically remote cultures or recondite questions, research in the humanities is always about the present and the future. It is through the lens of the present that we address every question, which means that, except for the most circumscribed topics, we seldom produce definitive answers; instead we tend to offer arguments and interpretations that work for our moment, to be improved by the knowledge and perspectives of our successors. Anticipating that conversation with the scholars of the future, we send off the fruits of our research hopefully to posterity. This Colloquy aims to render hope where the present meets the future.

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