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2024 Cleveland Humanities Festival to explore “AWE”

This spring, the ninth Cleveland Humanities Festival continues its annual exploration of some of society’s most pressing issues and concerns—through the lens of a single topic

This March through May, the 2024 Cleveland Humanities Festival (CHF) will consider AWE, a complex emotional and cognitive state that can be triggered by a variety of experiences. AWE will be explored through art, literature, music and more at 40-plus free public events throughout Northeast Ohio. 

Marking its ninth year, the 2024 CHF will feature a diverse lineup of speakers and performers, including lectures and a workshop with an historian specializing in the history of psychiatry, neuroscience, and the other mind and behavioral sciences; a staged reading of original creative works on the topic of awe as it relates to the solar eclipse; a panel focused on the development of awe in children and youth; and readings and conversation with an Emmy-award winning poet.

“Awe marks our lives in personal and public ways. Attention to the complexity of this little understood profound emotion may contain keys to our collective flourishing,” said Michele Tracy Berger, director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities

Led by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, the festival involves more than 20 diverse institutions and represents one of the most inclusive and wide-ranging cultural collaborations in a region known for its arts and humanities excellence.

“Everyone is invited to join in as we explore this profound topic,” said Berger, the Eric and Jane Nord Family Professor at the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve. “Through the various performances, lectures, workshops, and events, we seek to inspire new questions and ignite a spirit of curiosity. Together, we will delve into how human cultures have embraced, celebrated, ritualized, and given meaning to this emotion.”

Most of the CHF programs are free, although some require online registration

Browse all events for the 2024 Cleveland Humanities Festival: AWE. 

Key events

The Political Ecology of Awe

Monday, March 25
6 p.m.
Tinkham Veale University Center, Ballroom A

When Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for, in the words of the Prize committee, “having given a well-founded hope – the green revolution”, the world learned whom to revere in the battle against world hunger. The prize was an epic mistake. 

The Green Revolution laid the foundations for a system of chemical agriculture that has set humanity on a path of destruction. The good news: other ways of growing food offer a pathway to sustainability. To guarantee its success, all we need to do is unlearn our ability to be in awe.  

Peasants in India are leading the way, and in this lecture, author, filmmaker, and academic Raj Patel will share data on why their example—recovering from Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution—offers reason for wonder within the web of life. 

Psychedelics in an Age of Freud and Pharmacology: What Happened Before, What is Happening Now, Why it Matters

Friday, March 29
6:30 p.m.
Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center (2460 Fairmount Boulevard, Suite 312, Cleveland Heights)

In the 1940s, the drug company Sandoz sponsored a study of LSD at the University of Zurich, which came to the conclusion that this was a drug that made normal people temporarily schizophrenic. Sandoz subsequently decided to promote LSD as a research drug for experimental investigations of schizophrenia, and especially its possible biochemical basis. But, somewhat confusingly, the company also did something else: they suggested that the psychoanalysts also take a look at the drug, because there was evidence that it gave people access to the unconscious contents of their minds and could sometimes be therapeutic.  

This event will track the contradictions and ambiguities structuring mid-20th-century clinical conversations about the meaning and uses of psychedelics. An important goal will be to identify the legacies and unfinished business from that earlier era and show the ways some of them, perhaps unconsciously, are shaping current efforts and conversations. 

The Gift of Darkness 

Saturday, April 6
1 p.m.
Cleveland Public Library (325 Superior Ave.)

During an eclipse, the moon obscures the sun, casting the earth in darkness but revealing new insights in the process. 

The poems, monologues, and short dramatic pieces that make up this performance will reflect on the eclipse, awe, and what can be revealed—both literally and metaphorically—in darkness.  

The words in this staged reading will be crafted by local writers and performed by professional actors under the direction of poet, playwright and former Literary Cleveland Executive Director Christine Howey. 

Individually, the unique voices of the writers bring to life light and darkness, humor and horror, love and loss, the heavens and the earth. 

What Makes You Go “Wow!” – A Conversation Exploring the Development of Awe in Children and Youth 

Wednesday, April 17
4 p.m.
Tinkham Veale University Center, Ballroom B

Word Magic, Inspiration, and Awe: Readings and Conversation with Kwame Alexander

Tuesday, April 23
6 p.m.
Linsalata Alumni Center

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, publisher, Emmy-award winning producer, and No. 1 New York Times-bestselling author of 39 books, including Why Fathers Cry at NightAn American StoryThe Door of No ReturnBecoming Muhammad Ali (co-authored with James Patterson), Rebound, which was shortlisted for the prestigious UK Carnegie Medal, and The Undefeated, the National Book Award nominee, Newberry Honor, and Caldecott Medal-winning picture book illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

This event will include readings by Alexander, as well as conversation with Michele Tracy Berger, the Eric and Jane Nord Family Professor and director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities. 

About the Cleveland Humanities Festival

Over its first half-decade, through hundreds of events, the festival has grown into a widely-collaborative spate of events celebrating the great cultural institutions of the city of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. 

Last year’s festival explored wellness; 2022: discourse; 2021: identity; 2020: truth; 2019: nature; 2018: health; 2017’s events tackled the topic of immigration and the inaugural event, in 2016, examined the impacts of war. 

Founded in 1996 at Case Western Reserve with a gift from Eric and Jane Nord, the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities supports research and creative endeavors and hosts humanities events around the region.

The 2024 festival is co-sponsored by:

  • 48th Cleveland International Film Festival;
  • Cleveland History Center;
  • Cleveland Institute of Art;
  • Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque;
  • Cleveland Museum of Art;
  • Cleveland Play House;
  • Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center;
  • The Cleveland Orchestra:
  • Cleveland Public Library;
  • Cleveland Review of Books;
  • Cleveland State University;
  • Cuyahoga County Public Library;
  • Dittrick Museum of Medical History, CWRU;
  • ENCORE Chamber Music Institute;
  • John Carroll University
  • Kelvin Smith Library, CWRU
  • Literary Cleveland;
  • Rocky River Public Library;
  • Schubert Center for Child Studies, CWRU;
  • Think Forum, CWRU