The power of new ideas took center stage last week when recipients of the 2019 Grawemeyer Awards came to Louisville to present their award-winning ideas.
The honorees were a music composer who blended sounds from diverse cultures, neuroscientists who studied how addiction changes the brain, a religious scholar who researched the demise of white Christian influence and the creators of a human rights index that gauges a nation’s progress toward fulfilling social and economic rights.
After a whirlwind week of presentations and meet-and-greets, the winners were honored at a gala event April 11 where they received their award medallions and $100,000 prize. See photos here.
Here’s a summary of the winning ideas.
Robert P. Jones, Religion, “The End of White Christian America”
The idea: In his 2016 book, “The End of White Christian America,” Jones analyzes the dramatic decline of Americans who identify as white and Christian. Jones explains how this shift is redefining personal beliefs, politics and culture.
Why it matters: U.S. history and politics have been predominately shaped by white Christians. As that era comes to an end, Jones’ book illuminates the changes ahead and provides a platform for Americans to understand how they can find common ground.
Addendum: White Christian Americans made up 54% of the U.S. population in 2008. By 2014, that number dropped to 47%, representing a dramatic shift in just six years.
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Terra Lawson-Remer and Susan Randolph, World Order, “Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights”
The idea: An innovative framework, set forth in the 2015 book, “Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights,” provides a method for gauging how well nations are providing the basic human rights of food, health, education, housing, work and social well-being to their citizens and suggests how they can advance such rights even further. The trio used the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights as a basis for their work.
Why it matters: While efforts to measure the progress of human rights have persisted for many decades, the index conceived by Fukuda-Parr, Lawson-Remer and Randolph is more comprehensive and advanced and less subjective.
Addendum: The researchers found a strong correlation between gender equality—countries where women are empowered to make decisions—and that country’s social and economic progress.
Kent Berridge and Terry Robinson, Psychology, “Incentive-Sensitization Theory of Addiction”
The idea: In their “Incentive-Sensitization Theory of Addiction,” the researchers show how an addicts’ brain becomes hypersensitive to drugs and drug cues, which can produce excessive “wanting” for drugs even though the individual may no longer “like” the drug. This sensitization effect can last for years, making it harder for addicts to recover.
Why it matters: Understanding brain sensitization and how it can impact drug cravings is an important step in coming up with new and better ways to treat addiction.
Addendum: When Berridge and Robinson first published their theory in 1993, it ran counter to all thinking about pleasure systems in the brain. However, studies over the past 25 years have supported it.
Joël Bons, Music Composition, “Nomaden”
The idea: Nomaden, a one-hour work for cello solo, brings together an ensemble of instruments and sounds from diverse cultures. From his travels and curiosity about the many different types of musical instruments from around the world, Bons composed “Nomaden” with the intent of “taking listeners on a journey.”
Why it matters: The piece, anchored by cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, is one of the most successful examples of music that combines eclectic styles and sounds. Instruments and players from Europe, Asia and the Middle East are part of the unusual collaboration.
Addendum: Bons started out as a guitarist and his early influences included The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. Bons was selected for the Grawemeyer Award from a pool of 126 entries from around the world.
The Grawemeyer Awards pay tribute to the power of creative ideas. Awards are given in religion, education, ideas improving world order, music composition and psychology. Winners are announced in the fall semester and come to Louisville in April to present their ideas.