This document is a grant application submitted to the John Templeton Foundation proposing the creation of masters and doctoral programs in applied cultural evolution. We have not heard back about whether we will receive funding from them but felt it is worthwhile to share more of our vision with others who might like to collaborate in making this vision a reality.
Building A School for Applied
This is the text of a grant proposal to the John Templeton Foundation submitted by Joe
Brewer, Executive Director of the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution on August 26, 2018.
We are launching the world’s first graduate program in applied cultural evolution—an
ambitious endeavor to combine what is known about large-scale social change with the
sciences of human development, both individually and collectively. In partnership with the
University of International Cooperation in Costa Rica, this school will train the next
generation of researchers who study cultural evolution to work with change practitioners
who develop public policy, engage in entrepreneurial activities, and strive to bring about
community improvements both locally and globally.
Our plan is to host a series of meetings among diverse scholars in fields that include
education, evolutionary studies, the social and biological sciences, and complexity research.
The purpose is to design the core curriculum for masters and doctoral programs to be
offered in partnership with other universities and as online training materials. The primary
output will be a new model of higher education organized around bioregional efforts to
regenerate economic wellbeing as part of an emerging network of “regenerative hubs” that
have just launched in Costa Rica.
In this time of unprecedented global change, there is urgent need for communities to learn
how to engage in purposeful actions at societal scales.
We propose the creation of a School for Applied Cultural Evolution that works with
emerging hubs of bioregional development in Costa Rica as part of a newly formed network
coordinated through the University of International Cooperation (UCI). Over the next two
years, we will convene a series of workshops that bring together leading experts in cultural
evolutionary studies, regenerative economics, complexity science, and related fields to
design curricula for masters and doctoral programs at UCI. As the principle coordinator who
established the Cultural Evolution Society and a primary education designer of the School
for Earth, Society & Environment at the University of Illinois many years ago, I am uniquely
positioned to spearhead this ambitious effort.
The funds we request are for an incubation period of two years to bring together the
people who can design a world-class university program in applied cultural evolution—one
that establishes field sites for cultural evolution research where change practitioners openly
collaborate with academic scientists.
A great chasm for human knowledge has been the separation of physical and social
sciences—an artifact of Cartesian Dualism that became deeply entrenched in institutions of
higher education around the world throughout the last 400 years. A big question is why this
chasm has proven so difficult to close as it became clear it was built in error all those years
A quiet revolution taking place in the cognitive sciences since the 1970’s may offer the key
to finally weaving the synthesis of knowledge about how changes occur in the world, both
socially and physically. The rise of embodiment philosophy asserts primacy for the bodies of
organisms to act as “platforms of emergence” for mind and consciousness. There is now
overwhelming evidence that human minds arise through the complex interplay of brain,
body, and environment.
We have observed how the evolution of universities throughout the 20th Century was driven
principally by governance structures at the departmental level, where the criteria for
admissions and faculty hiring select for who enters and makes progress within the academy.
This level of “cultural selection” has seriously hindered the integration of knowledge across
disciplinary silos for more than 100 years. New fields of a transdisciplinary nature—those
that combine and transcend the boundaries of prior disciplines—must be forged using
different selection criteria from that which holds sway in most universities today.
While leading the effort to create the Cultural Evolution Society in the last 3 years, I carefully
observed how this transdisciplinary field weaves vastly diverse knowledge across the
behavioral, biological, ecological, and social sciences. It holds great promise for a “Grand
Synthesis of Biology, the Social Sciences, and Humanities” but only if the right mechanisms
for cultural selection can be brought into play. It is here that the bioregion enters to play an
analogous role to the body as a platform for emergence of integrated knowledge.
Universities must become organized around whole systems of bioregional development for
the future viability of complex human societies. The scale, scope, and pace of global change
processes—largely driven by human activities today—will require that we become wise
managers of our own evolutionary processes if we want any hope to safeguard our
collective future as a species. This is sometimes named as the challenge of sustainability but
it goes well beyond environmental issues to include economics, politics, religion, business,
and all other cultural domains. Just as the body enables scholars to integrate what is known
about brains, social norms, tool use, and more in the cognitive sciences, the organization of
knowledge across webs of local communities as they are functionally coupled with their
landscapes will be the key to finally closing the persistent gap between physical and social
Statement of Significance
While creating the Cultural Evolution Society, we published a paper titled "Grand Challenges
for the Study of Cultural Evolution" in Nature Ecology & Evolution outlining the need for
integration of knowledge and new organizational structures that support this exploding field
of inquiry. An early survey of founding members revealed that most researchers gain their
knowledge of evolutionary studies in haphazard ways because formal institutional
arrangements do not provide adequate opportunities for the cross-cutting work they find to
Combine this with the growing urgency of systemic challenges ranging from exponential
technology to economic development where holistic insights are necessary for grappling
with real-world complexities. Add that automation will make entire sectors of employment
obsolete in the next 20 years. There is a perfect storm of disruptions to higher education
that can only be managed by creating new models and frameworks built on knowledge
synthesis and translation into practice in local settings.
We see the School for Applied Cultural Evolution as an early prototype for the future of
higher education in the 21st Century that holds potential to rapidly integrate the biological
and social sciences for thousands of scholars around the world.
Output 1: Form core team of education designers
Manage coordination and project management to handle tasks related to creation of new
education program at the University of International Cooperation in Costa Rica.
Output 2: Host and convene three meetings of leading experts in relevant fields
Bring together educators and researchers in cultural evolution, complexity science, and
economic development in a series of 2-3 day meetings to create roadmaps, provide content,
and develop launch strategies for this innovative program.
Output 3: Design core curricula for masters and doctoral programs in applied cultural
Produce outline of course offerings, pedagogical philosophy, and learning outcomes in the
form of an academic program.
Output 4: Host six one-week-long pilot workshops with 20-30 students in each cohort
Prototype and test curriculum with several groups of students to evaluate needs and
opportunities and to assess effectiveness of teaching practitioners.
Output 5: Presentation at the 2019 CES conference
Share our learnings with a global community of cultural evolution researchers and
Output 6: Produce report of our findings
Provide an overview of educational design and prospects for dissemination of curriculum to
Major outcomes will be the launch of a new school within the University of International
Cooperation and design of curricula for teaching cultural evolutionary studies to future
researchers, educators, and practitioners. 5 years from now we anticipate granting the first
masters degrees to a cohort of international students with our course offerings being used
in 50 other universities around the world.
We observed that members of the Cultural Evolution Society are affiliated with more than
400 universities in at least 57 countries--providing pathways to disseminate curriculum
materials across a global network of scholars and educators. Our vision is to gather
knowledge from this community to inform design of a cross-cutting education program that
gets emulated by those who are active in cultural evolutionary studies.
Design of curricula will require that we map the diverse knowledge of this field, which will
help accelerate the grand synthesis of biological and social sciences that has been slowly
progressing throughout the last half century. Our unique approach to bioregional education
supports the translation of this knowledge into practice in diverse cultural settings--initially
in Costa Rica and spreading to partners in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and
Capacity for Success
The two principle organizations that will carry out this project are the newly formed Center
for Applied Cultural Evolution (CACE) and the University of International Cooperation (UCI).
Each has extensive networks of relationships around the world among academic researchers,
nonprofits, intergovernmental organizations, and practitioners working to apply scientific
knowledge in real-world settings.
Our work grows out of a previous JTF grant to establish the Cultural Evolution Society,
where we carefully observed this developing field and documented its institutional needs.
Since completion of that grant we created CACE with this educational agenda and have
gathered nearly 1000 books in the world's first Cultural Evolution Research Library that will
become part of the new school at UCI.
UCI has a 25 year history offering online courses to students around the world that combine
theory and practice with special emphasis on global challenges. It's a unique incubator of
new education models and is the primary host coordinating launch of "regenerative hubs" in
Costa Rica where this school will establish roots with practitioner communities. CACE and
UCI see ourselves as the best positioned to launch this ambitious project in knowledge
synthesis by leveraging these relationships.
Relationship to Sir John Templeton’s Donor Intent
At the heart of this project is the deeply held belief that people can improve themselves
and shape their collective futures through a combination of hard work, personal reflection,
and rigorous scrutiny of what comes out of their actions. A School for Applied Cultural
Evolution embodies this ethic by drawing from the best scientific knowledge available for
the study of complex social change processes; combining it with the inner work of
developing moral character that enables people to act with efficacy upon the world around
This project combines Sir John's love of science with a drive to ask big questions about how
the world works -- specifically how the dynamics of social change play out through the
intentions and actions of many people in human systems that are mind-bogglingly complex.
It merges appreciation for philosophical inquiry with a drive to make the world a better
place in the most effective ways discoverable during a time of unprecedented global
Project Relationship to Previous Grants
We received funding in the past to help create a scientific society for the study of cultural
evolution (ID# 60486; $217,362; 12/1/2015 to 10/30/2017). This project is a continuation of
that work that establishes the primary educational agenda for cultural evolutionary studies.
The Cultural Evolution Society (CES) now has more than 2,500 people on its email list and is
preparing for its 2nd international conference later this year.
Joe Brewer was the full-time staff person who coordinated the formation of CES and has
carefully observed the developmental needs of this diverse research field. He created the
Center for Applied Cultural Evolution as a project of the ORI CES nonprofit organization to
continue supporting the institutional needs of researchers who take an evolutionary
approach to the study of cultural change--with particular focus on the synthesis of
knowledge and its translation into practice.
Creating a School for Applied Cultural Evolution is a natural next step that works with the
burgeoning research community now being organized through CES to develop educational
materials and begin organizing practitioner communities in related fields like prevention
science, public health, policymaking, environmental management, and economics to
translate the findings from cultural evolution into useful tools and frameworks.
Among the topics most applicable to existing social problems are: What is the role of
cultural evolution as it is combined with complexity science to make sense of the dynamics
of social systems as they co-evolve with landscapes and Earth System processes? How can
topics like social learning, cultural transmission, cooperation and conflict, technological
change, social niche construction, evolutionary transitions, cultural selection mechanisms,
and so forth be learned by those who create learning ecosystems that enable communities
to navigate large-scale change? We are committed to building on what we already
accomplished in this arena.
Start on January 1, 2019 and run through completion on December 31, 2021
Eduard Müller, President of University of International Cooperation, will work with this
project to help coordinate with an established network of partner organizations that have
committed to work on regenerative hubs in Costa Rica.
Additional organizations committed to this effort, with whom we will collaborate around the
educational focus of our contribution to the larger vision include:
Capital Institute http://capitalinstitute.org/
Savory Institute https://www.savory.global/
Gaia Education https://gaiaeducation.org/
Rancho Margot http://www.ranchomargot.com/sustainable-ranch
Communidad Rio Gigante http://riogigantecostarica.com/
Green Project Management Global https://www.greenprojectmanagement.org/
Sri Ramanuja Mission Trust http://www.ramanujamission.org/
Natural Pact www.naturalpact.com
Ocean Business http://oceanbusiness.com.es/en/
Regenerative Earth http://www.regenerativeearth.org
History with the Templeton Foundation
Joe Brewer managed a previous grant (Creating a Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution;
ID# 60486; $217,362; 12/1/2015 to 10/30/2017) as a contractor with the Evolution Institute.
David Sloan Wilson was the Project Lead. Joe met Paul Wason from JTF during a workshop
on cultural evolution in early 2015 that was organized by David Sloan Wilson and Michele
Gelfand in College Park, Maryland and that led to the formation of the Cultural Evolution
He has had ongoing conversations with Paul Wason throughout that project, and in
particular during the inaugural conference of the Society held at the Max Planck Institute in
Jena, Germany in September 2017. There have been ongoing email exchanges throughout
this year about new developments pertaining to the formation of the Center for Applied
Cultural Evolution and possible JTF interest in supporting this new arena of integrative
We envision this planning phase as part of a much larger project that takes place over the
next five years. Formation of a graduate school with dedicated staff and multiple cohorts of
students is a long-term endeavor that goes beyond what we are seeking funds for now. It is
our intention to secure $2-3 million among our partner organizations to build the education
ecosystem for regenerative economics within three bioregions of Costa Rica. This will enable
us to create a model that can be replicated in other parts of the world.
The planning phase focuses on hosting several meetings to design core curriculum as the
regenerative hubs take shape. Our budget can be divided into three primary categories of
Staff and Personnel; Travel Expenses for Each Workshop, and Overhead for Admin Supports.
Staff & Personnel $80,000
These funds support Joe Brewer at the level of $40,000 per year for two years to oversee
and manage the project activities.
Travel Expenses for Three Workshops $75,000
These funds will cover hotels, meals, and airfare for ~25 participants in each of three
workshops. We budget $25,000 for each workshop over the two year period.
Total Direct Cost $80,000 + $75,000 = $155,000
Overhead of 14% = $21,700
Total Request = $155,000 + $21,700 = $176,700