This piece originally appeared on the Scientific American blog.


In July 2019, I embarked upon a six-day excursion across Italy with 14 undergraduate students and three professors from Princeton University. The trip was part of a six-week summer course titled “Two Millennia of Structural Architecture in Italy.” Given the title, it should come as no surprise that the instructors were professors, not of architecture or history but of civil engineering.

But the course, sponsored by Princeton’s Institute for International and Regional Studies Global Seminar Program, was about much more than understanding how buildings were, and are, constructed. Too often, STEM students are understimulated in wonder, beauty, awe—the kind of childlike curiosity and enthusiasm for discovery that can incite great innovations in science and engineering. Studying beauty in the university has too long been relegated to departments of art or music or literature—but Sigrid Adriaenssens, Maria Garlock and Branko Glisic recognized the need to educate engineering students, too, about history, culture, people and art.

What was I—someone whose work lies at the intersection of sociology, theology and philosophy—doing on this trip? Our modern world is driven by a view of the person that sees us as essentially driven to dominate others, acquire endless personal gain or develop powerful technological skills. The aesthetic dimension of the human person—our desire for beauty—often seems to get left out of not only business and engineering but also much of the social sciences. Our disciplines present an implicit model of the human person as essentially a social product, a profit-maximizer or a great big machine.

Continue reading on the Scientific American blog.