21 February 2017
The Humanist chaplaincy at Harvard University — known as the Humanist Hub — will present Alan Lightman with their first-ever Humanism in Literature Award, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. The Humanist Hub selected Lightman for the award to celebrate “an author who has exemplified and illustrated the values of Humanism through art and literature.”
A novel approach to science
Best known as the author of novels such as Einstein’s Dreams, The Diagnosis, Mr g., and The Accidental Universe, each of which grapples in some way with questions of modern physics, Lightman bridges the sciences and the humanities. In 1989, Lightman, who was appointed professor of science and writing, and senior lecturer in physics, became the first professor at MIT to receive a joint appointment in both science and humanities. From 1991 to 1997, he headed the Institute’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. He co-founded the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT in 2001, and currently serves as professor for the practice of humanities, in MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.
Lightman has published numerous essays, short stories, poems, and novels, but before he became a writer he was a physicist. He graduated from Princeton with an AB in physics, earned a PhD in theoretical physics from California Institute of Technology, and did postdoctoral work in astrophysics at Cornell. While earning his PhD, he began to publish poetry, and while working as a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, he began to publish essays about what he calls, "the human side of science" and the "mind of science.”
In addition to literary magazines — from Granta to The Atlantic Monthly to The New Yorker — Lightman’s creative writing has appeared in science journals. His short story “The First Law of Thermodynamics” became the first fiction piece published by the journal Physics Today (2005), and his essay “In the Name of Love?” became the first article about love and language published by the science journal Nature (October, 2001).
Recognizing artists and scientists who “help us do good and live well”
While Lightman’s is the first award specifically celebrating humanism in literature, past recipients of Humanist Hub awards include a diverse and talented group of well knowns from scientist humanists E.O. Wilson and Steven Pinker, to director Joss Whedon, and actress Carrie Fisher. In the past, the Humanist Hub has recognized human rights activists, media figures, and scientists—each for their part in advancing “the power of connection to help us do good and live well.”
The award will be presented February 26, 2017, at 1:30–3:00 p.m. at the Humanist Hub's weekly Sunday Speaker Series, held at their Cambridge headquarters, 30 JFK Street, fourth floor. The event is free and open to the public.
Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Editorial team: Sarah Goodman, Emily Hiestand