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A Meeting of Creative Minds

USC College professors bring faculty together to prep a proposal for studying the process of creativity.

A Meeting of Creative Minds

Usually scholars, researchers and academics are looking to discover cures for diseases, reasons for existence and other answers to life’s most pressing questions.

But at USC, a group of professors will be joining together to study the very core of how they get from point A to point B — the creative process.

In September, the Templeton Foundation awarded a $100,000 planning grant to USC to prepare a proposal for a university-wide team to study creativity.

The team — Donald Miller, executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture; Antonio Damasio, director of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute; and USC Provost Emeritus and University Professor Lloyd Armstrong Jr. — will turn in a full grant application to the Templeton Foundation in January that could result in a multimillion dollar grant over the next several years.

Before submitting the proposal, the team wants to engage USC professors to help design an interdisciplinary think tank on creativity.

“What we’re trying to do is bring people together,” said Armstrong, who holds appointments in the USC Rossier School of Education and USC College's physics and astronomy department. “At USC we have almost anything you need intellectually. But it can be hard for people to find each other. We want to tie together the different threads in the university so that they can relate to one another. And what they will come up with will not be a typical view of creativity.”

The team will conduct one-on-one interviews, host lunches, organize focus groups and bring prominent thinkers to campus. On Nov. 30, a select group of 15 faculty members will attend a one-day retreat to further conceptualize the project.

“This is a cutting-edge issue,” Miller said. “And what we’re trying to do hasn’t been done — a new paradigm of creative studies. USC is poised to mount a major initiative on creativity and move beyond the narrow and discipline-specific emphasis of much of the current research on creativity.”

The project is building on a premise put forth by scholar Richard Ogle, that new breakthroughs in knowledge potentially occur when individuals from different fields come together to work on problems, said Miller, Leonard K. Firestone Professor of Religion and professor of sociology in the College.

“It will be possible to study creativity from a neurobiological perspective in partnership with several other scholarly fields,” said Damasio, holder of the David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience in the College and professor of psychology and neurology. “The USC community is especially suitable for such an enterprise.”

The foundation, created by English philanthropist and investor John Templeton in 1987, looks to serve as a catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions. It has funded high-level research on forgiveness, infinity and gratitude, but “creativity is one core theme that we’ve yet to” pursue, said Arthur Schwartz, vice president at Templeton.

“I have an audacious hope that, within the next 10 years, USC becomes known worldwide for being the hotbed for new discoveries and insights on the nature of creativity,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz approached USC College officials about taking creativity research to the next level because he believed the university is seriously committed to cross-disciplinary research.

“I think what will continue to distinguish USC College and USC in general is our ability to find those areas of scholarship in which we can be the best in the world,” said Michael Quick, executive vice dean of USC College. “I am proud that the Templeton Foundation has recognized this in us and is partnering with our faculty to make USC the world's leader in what might be called the emerging field of creativity science.”