Genealogies of Modernity Project

The Genealogies of Modernity Project (GenMod) seeks to motivate and organize a critical, cross-disciplinary inquiry into influential narratives of the origins of “modernity” in the humanities. Founded in 2011, the GenMod Project, sponsored by the Collegium Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture and and Beatrice Institute,  based in Pittsburgh, recognizes that the stories we tell ourselves about the passage to modernity are many and often conflicting even within one discipline. Attention to the complexity of the intertwined genealogies of the present opens the possibility to forge new relations to the past and discover resources for life-giving responses in the present.

The blog and podcast offer a place for graduate students, early career and established scholars to parse these narratives and to make legible the intellectual and cultural “kinships” that often unconsciously subtend these narratives. This exploration is conducted through a variety of genres and voices, taking the form of accounts of genealogy, critical reviews, questionnaires, and more.

The GenMod Project also lives off of these digital platforms in the form of week-long summer seminars for graduate students, workshops, and intellectual collaborations. More information can be found below regarding past summer seminars.  Through a series of summer graduate seminars, faculty working groups, group blog, podcast, and a collaboratively written book, the project aims to consider how different disciplines narrate the passage to modernity.

The main questions the project seeks to answer are: “What stories do we tell about how we become modern?” and “how does that matter for life today?”  For its inaugural year, GenMod hosted a summer seminar at the University of Pennsylvania that interrogated the role of the Reformation (1350 – 1600) in influential genealogical accounts of the modern world, and also to explore movements within that same period that both might challenge these accounts and might expand our imagination for how to live well in our own age. For its second summer seminar, GenMod extended its investigation into accounts of the Enlightenment (1685 – 1815), connecting them back to the “age of reform” and ahead to the present era. And for its third summer seminar in 2019 it took a turn towards an exploration of the global.




Now, for its third consecutive year, the GenMod Summer Seminar will investigate Global Genealogies of Early Modernity, to develop a more thorough understanding of how different disciplines define “modernity,” particularly as the historically-oriented humanities fields reimagine passages to modernity in global perspective. Our method of inquiry will take a comparative form, encouraging scholars studying outside the Anglo-European system to bring forward alternative and local formulations of genealogy and heritability. We will also place special focus on the role of public discourse in genealogy by incorporating indigenous models from around the globe. 

Overall, the GenMod Summer Seminar proposes to investigate cross-disciplinary narratives of when, where, and how “modernity” took shape as a way to reveal how the past has helped to shape the present and to understand better how these various approaches can provide resources to shape the future ahead of us. The seminar will be led this year by Professors Carla Nappi (Pitt, History; early modern China and history of science), Stan Chu Ilo (DePaul, Theology; African political and religious history, global Christianity), Anna Bonta Moreland (Villanova; medieval philosophy, comparative theology, Christianity and Islam), Christopher Nygren (Pitt, History of Art; Renaissance and Early Modern), Ryan McDermott (Pitt, Literature; Medieval and Early Modern Religious Literature) and Syed Rizwan Zamir (Davidson, Religious Studies; Islamic Studies).

This is the third of three interdisciplinary grad seminars to interrogate the role of the “age of reform” (roughly 1350-1750) in influential genealogical accounts of the modern world, and also to explore competing movements within that same age that might expand our imagination for life in the present. This year’s seminar approaches the GenMod project’s central concerns from three new perspectives. First, it takes up passages to modernity in non-Western cultures. The other new perspectives emerge from recent work in medieval and early modern world history, where the concept of the global poses two productive challenges to accounts of modernity. Even Eurocentric accounts of passages to modernity must be revised in light of recent discoveries of the interconnectedness of the premodern world. (We will study, as well, asynchronous developments in regions and cultures not oriented by modernity.) Second, genealogy became a master-concept in European intellectual history in the long nineteenth century, as Stefani Engelstein recently argued. But many other cultural moments have offered alternative understandings of genealogy that promise to open up new (old) ways of thinking about historical change and modernity itself. Social theorists have observed for some time that modernity contains multiple possibilities, depending on place and culture. This seminar seeks to elaborate the historical and theoretical conditions of the multiplicity of modernities by studying passages to modernity around the globe as well as non-Western theories of genealogy.

Thus, the seminar has three overarching goals:

1) Examine how individual disciplines narrate the “passage to modernity.” Rather than divide the discussion into discrete units of disciplinary investigation (a unit, say, on “modernity” in English literature), we will create cross-disciplinary groupings that allow us to see how disciplinary definitions constellate around certain key tropes, events, monuments, and metanarratives.

2) Investigate the notion of genealogy in a comparative manner. While humanists such as Nietzsche and Foucault have used a particular notion of genealogy to destabilize origin stories and reveal the radical contingency of historical phenomena, the dominant paradigm of genealogy remains a genetic one based on the heritability of culture. One major contribution of this seminar will be to encourage scholars studying outside of the Anglo-European system to bring forward alternative, local formulations of genealogy and heritability.

3) Foreground historical inquiry’s place in public discourse. By incorporating indigenous models of genealogy from across the globe, we hope to provide a more supple account of the notion of cultural heritability, which will have a salutary effect not only on historically-minded scholarship, but also on public discourse.


Carla NappiUniversity of Pittsburgh


World History / Historical Writing and Theory / History of China / History of Eurasia (esp. Manchu Studies) / Translation History 


Ryan McDermottUniversity of Pittsburgh

Medieval European Literature

Chris Nygren, University of Pittsburgh


Early Modern European Art History / Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Stan Chu Ilo, DePaul University 

African Intellectual and Political History / Cross-Cultural Studies / African Christianity / African Catholicism and the World Church / Religion and Social Transformation / Religion and Violence


Anna Bonta-Moreland, Villanova University


Faith & Reason / Medieval Theology (esp. Aquinas) 

/ Religious Pluralism / Comparative Theology (esp. Christianity and Islam) 

Syed Rizwan Zamir, Davidson College

Religious Studies / Islamic Studies / Islamic Philosophy / Islamic Art / Mysticism / Comparative Religion


The seminar will take place at the University of Pennsylvania. Acceptance to this seminar includes coverage of all expenses for the duration of the workshop.  This includes room, board, and texts.  Participants are responsible for their travel to and from the workshop.


  • A completed online application form (below)
  • An updated CV
  • A statement of research interest no longer than 750 words, which includes an explanation of how this seminar might bear on your current research agenda and/or academic aspirations.


Applications are now closed.

PRIORITY DEADLINE: Friday, March 15th 

FINAL DEADLINE: Friday, March 29th

All documents should be submitted after the online application form.  Please e-mail documents to . Each document should be titled with the student’s last name and first initial.


2017 | Genealogies of Modernity I

2018 | Genealogies of Modernity II – Possible Modernities Between Medieval and Elightenment