History of Cortona Week
In 1985, Prof. Dr. Pier Luigi Luisi had an extraordinary idea that would lay the foundation for Cortona Week. A professor of macromolecular chemistry at ETH Zurich at the time, Luisi noticed a phenomenon that was not commonly addressed amongst people of his field: that the graduate training programs at many universities – including ETH – were very effective in producing well-educated and highly specialized young scientists in one field. Nevertheless, these institutes were inadequate in preparing them to tackle the challenges and complexities of the real world, particularly using holistic and transdisciplinary approaches. He observed that students, in their pursue of specialization, had little time to deal with other aspects of life, such as the world of ethics, philosophy, religion, psychology, art, music, or with their own physical and psychological well-being. This problem, he thought, could not be solved through a few extra hours of lectures in social science, religion or philosophy. Ideally, students should practice transdisciplinarity and the integration of natural and human sciences. Thus, in 1985, Dr. Luisi created Cortona Week as an attempt to address this challenge and better equip future scientists with “antennas” they need for a holistic worldview.
Originally, Cortona Week was intended as a meeting place for natural science students from ETH and other universities. In the past few years, participation has been extended to include students from the humanities and arts to immerse them in principle statements of natural science. It is also an effort to actively breakdown traditional barriers, prejudices and misunderstandings between these different fields of expertise.
From 2015 on Cortona Week is part of the "Critical Thinking Initiative" of ETH Zurich.
Initially, the Swiss entrepreneur Branco Weiss funded Cortona Week generously for several years, until ETH took sole sponsorship. Since 2008, ETH organizes Cortona Week in cooperation with the Zurich University of Arts (ZHdK). Both schools have incorporated Cortona Week into their credit systems. Additionally, the event is a part of ETH's summer school exchange programs for students attending IDEA League partner universities.
Since its first conception over 30 years ago, the structure of Cortona Week has not changed much. For a whole week, students are engaged to contribute to a discourse in “Science and the Wholeness of Life.” Through a series of workshop and lectures, these students work together, mix and exchange ideas with Professors and PhD students from diverse areas, artists, musicians, religious leaders and psychologists, as well as students from other countries.
The weekly program requires intensive work, about 10 hours per day, each day. It starts as early as 7:00 with devotions, singing, yoga, drumming and taj Ji. The official morning program (9:00 - 13:00) is devoted to the lectures and seminars. The afternoons, on the other hand, offers a series of workshops with group discussions about theories and creative sessions in painting, sculpture, music and dance. Here is where natural and social scientists, students and teachers mix in small groups to discuss and find the interdisciplinary nature in its most beautiful expression. In these work groups, artists, bodyworker, psychologists and psychotherapists encourage the participants to interact with their bodies and their emotions - a particularly neglected aspect in the research community.The late afternoons are dedicated to the "speakers corner" where students and speakers meet on the green to lift up their voice and find new questions and intercultural dialogues and repliques.
Naturally, one week is not enough to learn thoroughly something new. Cortona Week is not intended to be the only solution to the problem; rather, its main goal is to act as a catalyst and awaken the interests in people, particularly students, to explore other fields of knowledge.
It is worth mentioning here that teachers and students live together in a small space and eat at the same table so that 'transdisciplinary discussion' can take place anywhere, anytime. This is a crucial and unique aspect of Cortona Week because it inevitably brings together people who otherwise may have little in common. Cortona Week’s way of establishing relationships and friendships has influenced the lives of many participants, and encourages openness to other disciplines and worldviews.