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Formation of a Cohesive Research Center for the Humanities amid the Comings and Goings of Tradition and Innovation

Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences (RILAS)

In the transition from the 20th century to the 21st century, academic research and education have also been required to adapt to keep up with the times. This applies not only to science and engineering and social science but also to the humanities. Although the content and methodology of classical literature and historical studies may, at first glance, appear unchanging, there is dynamic progress in areas such as new research methods, analytical technology, interdisciplinary approaches, and international collaborative research within the context of globalization.

Since 2000, humanities studies at Waseda University have also willingly ridden this turbulent wave of change, at the center of which lies the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Looking back at the School’s history, it was founded as the Department of Literature in 1890 by Dr. Shoyo Tsubouchi and others before becoming an undergraduate department in 1920 and being restructured in 1949 into the School of Literature I for day courses and the School of Literature II for evening courses. The institution has been a pioneer among private university literature departments, contributing to the development of the literary world and the theater by producing a wide range of talent in the fields of literature, performing arts, fine arts, the media, and others. In 2007, the traditional structure of the School of Literature I and School of Literature II underwent another radical reorganization into a new two-school structure of the School of Culture, Media and Society, which is oriented toward interdisciplinary education within the humanities, and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, which emphasizes more traditional research in the field.

In 2004, meanwhile, a new system of faculties, umbrella organizations for educational institutions including schools and graduate schools, was introduced throughout the entire university with the aim of reorganizing research systems. The new Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences was thus formed as an interdisciplinary teacher organization comprising the teaching staff of the former School of Literature I and School of Literature II along with teachers of humanities subjects who had belonged to other schools. These multiple reforms were made with the intention of renovating and extending the study of humanities while at the same time strengthening the cohesive force among the humanities as a strong academic field.

In light of these reforms, a research institute within the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences was founded in 2012 academic year called the Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences, or RILAS. Here, Waseda University’s humanities researchers are working hard to extend the frontiers of their fields. We asked the Director of RILAS, Professor Tadashi Ebisawa of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, about the institute’s policies and activities.

Professor Tadashi Ebisawa of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, who is the Director of RILAS

12 research categories on various themes

During the tide of reform in the 2000s, it was argued that a cohesive institute was required to fulfill an integrating role for the bases of Waseda University’s own traditional humanities studies, namely, the trio of the School of Culture, Media and Society, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as well as the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum and the Aizu Yaichi Memorial Museum. In mid-2010 academic year, a Preparatory Committee chaired by Professor Ebisawa was set up under the Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences to proceed with preparations for setting up such an institute.

“Interdisciplinary research themes among teaching staff are an important pillar of the institute’s activities,” said Professor Ebisawa. “At the beginning of the preparatory period we asked teachers to propose some research categories. The condition was that at least ten teachers from the university should participate in each category. This lower limit of ten teachers was important, as progress would not be made by the impetus of individuals alone, and efforts would not move forward without proper consultation between members. That is the organizational scale that we intended to establish.”

The proposals received from teachers exceeded all expectations, and 12 research categories were adopted (Fig.1). They were composed of a broad lineup of teachers of literature, history, fine art and art theory, education, psychology and sociology. Based on these research categories, RILAS was launched with three missions: (1) to nurture young researchers in tandem with their graduate school education, (2) to accept researchers from overseas and foster international research exchange through lectures and symposiums, and (3) to embrace commissioned research and joint research in response to calls from society.

Fig.1 The 12 research categories which are the pillars of RILAS’s activities
(Click here for details of the research categories)

“Looking at these themes, you can see that highly integrated humanities research activities are being carried out,” said Professor Ebisawa. “There are many mixed themes with some very long names, so we are talking about abbreviating the names.”

Most of the research categories have inherited the results of previous joint research in a constructive way. For example, Waseda University Comparative Literature Seminar simply took over the entire activities of the long-running Comparative Literature Seminar, while Research into History, Society and Culture in the Pre-modern East Asian World inherited the activities of the Research Center for Enhancing Local Cultures in Asia, which was adopted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s 21st Century COE (Center of Excellence) Program (2002-2006). Meanwhile, Research into Crisis Resolution in Modern Society and the Creation of a Convivial Society is a joint research newly established in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Quick supply of information via web journal

In April 2012, a kick-off symposium, The Great East Japan Earthquake Now – Life in the Region and the Task of Recovery, was held to commemorate the establishment of RILAS. The symposium was led by Professor Masaki Urano, founding director of the institute and delegate of the above-mentioned research category Research into Crisis Resolution in Modern Society and the Creation of a Convivial Society, and there were reports on the disaster’s current status and related research followed by a panel discussion.

We also held the 4th Forum on Humanities in East Asia: Crises and Regeneration – Globalism, Disasters and Traditional Culture in December 2012, a two-day event at which 20 guest speakers were welcomed from around East Asia. This is an international symposium hosted in rotation by five universities that have had an academic exchange agreement together in the field of humanities since 2009, namely, Waseda University, Hanyang University (South Korea), Nankai University (China), National Taiwan University (Taiwan), and Tsinghua University (China). Following the experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the 4th Forum included research reports and sessions on the theme of disasters and the risk to traditional culture, as addressed by each country or region.

Left: Kick-of symposium (April 14, 2012)
Center and right: 4th Forum on Humanities in East Asia (December 8-9, 2012)

“A year after being established, we are at last ready as an institute and have launched some activities in each research category,” said Professor Ebisawa. “Full-scale activities are about to start from the 2013 academic year. We have also held an international symposium each year. The next forum will be held in December 2013 and headed by Professor Takumasa Senno, the delegate of the Humanities of East Asia research category, on the theme of Literature Crossing Borders: Possibilities within a Crisis – A Clue from Haruki Murakami.

Preparations are also underway for the Waseda RILAS Journal, an online academic journal to be issued by the institute. A journal that is only published in digital form with no printed version is rare in the field of humanities and a brave experiment, but the aim is to deliver information quickly online.

Furthermore, construction of a two-floor facility for RILAS is due for completion in September 2014 in the low-rise Building No.33. It will include study rooms for the institute’s own teachers and postdoctoral researchers as well as rooms for visiting researchers from other institutions and overseas, special meeting rooms, offices, and so on.

“There will be a space specially designed for teaching staff and visiting researchers to talk together, called the Senior Common Room,” said Professor Ebisawa. “It will provide a social arena where researchers can feel free from conventional principles to cultivate exchanges with one another in a wide range of fields.”

By obtaining such a prestigious space for itself and putting its operating structure into place, RILAS is expected to be able to secure its own research funds. Hopes for the future growth of RILAS are high as it responds to contemporary and social change and faces the challenge of the comings and goings of tradition and innovation.

Related links

Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences (RILAS), Waseda University
Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University
School of Culture, Media and Society, Waseda University
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Waseda University
Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University