CAS was first established as a foundation in 1989 by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA). At its opening three years later, CAS became the first institution in Norway to focus solely on outstanding research.

Since its opening in 1992, the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) has hosted exceptional scholars from across the world. CAS offers a unique physical and intellectual space for outstanding researchers to freely and critically explore their ideas, accumulating the knowledge required to meet the global challenges of the future.

‘A system drained of creativity and curiosity’

Deliberations about a Norwegian Centre for Advanced Study began in 1986 when the renowned sociologist and then-Minister of Church and Education, Gudmund Hernes, wrote a feature article in the daily newspaper Dagbladet.

Describing an education and research system drained of creativity and curiosity by a bothersome level of bureaucracy, the weight of the academic teaching load, and an ever-growing emphasis on the ‘usefulness’ of research, Hernes observed an urgent need for a centre for basic research in Norway.

In defence of the ‘usefulness of uselessness’

Inspired by his experience at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) in Palo Alto, California, located next to Stanford University, Hernes envisioned the potential to establish a similar institution in Norway.

In California, CASBS scholars from different fields came together in an inspiring research environment. For one year, they were able to put aside all obligations other than research. Hernes described CASBS as ‘a(n) almost imaginary and … paradisal place’.  

In the European context, the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study in Humanities and Social Science, the German Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study were of great influence when establishing CAS. According to Hernes, such places provide institutional expressions of the defence of what American researcher Abraham Flexner has called the ‘usefulness of uselessness’.

Today, these European institutions together with CAS are members of NetIAS (the Network of European Institutes for Advanced Study).

Paving the way for research excellence

CAS is housed on the top and bottom floors of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters at Drammensveien 78 in Oslo. The many successes of CAS fellows have shown that the physical and intellectual milieu of the CAS concept serves its purpose to stimulate new thinking and new ideas. Researchers are allocated bright and spacious offices and seminar rooms suitable for both formal and informal discussions.   

As stated in an evaluation by the Research Council in Norway, the success of CAS has paved the way for the Norwegian government to extend its support for outstanding research. In 2003, Centres of Excellence (CoE) were established under the auspices of the Research Council of Norway. Unlike CAS, which operates over the long term, the CoE scheme offers time-limited centres for basic research.

Diversity: From anthropology to neuroscience

An important part of the CAS concept is that it is interdisciplinary and communicates and cooperates across research fields. The most innovative research is often interdisciplinary.

For example, in the 2015/2016 CAS project on Arctic Domestication in the Era of the Anthropocene, participants were from technology studies, history, and anthropology.

The CAS project on the unique Nordic inheritance law from the medieval period to 2020 included researchers working within anthropology, law, and history. This 2014/2015 research project was never intended to be confined to only one year at CAS, however, and this is the case for many of our studies. One research group working on large mammals resulted from thirty-plus years of research on the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project. 

Many researchers who have spent a year at CAS describe their stay as the most productive year of their career. This is mirrored in the numerous books and articles deriving from research at CAS, not to mention the many prizes awarded to CAS fellows.

The late John Northam was part of one of the first research groups here, and received the Royal Norwegian St Olav’s Medal for his lifelong research into and translation of Ibsen’s work.

When Professor Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen led one of the three research groups in 2010/2011, they asked questions around the human construction of meaning in and through language; she was awarded the Oslo University Research Prize. 

John O’Keefe, who received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with May-Britt and Edvard Moser, had several short stays at CAS in the late 1990s. At the time, O’Keefe worked with Per Andersen, Richard Morris, David Amaral, and Tim Bliss on what has become a seminal work in the field of neuroscience—The Hippocampus Book (2007, Oxford University Press).

When cultural anthropologist Professor Birgit Meyer was part of a 2014/2015 CAS project, Local Dynamics of Globalization (LDG) in the Pre-Modern Levant, she was awarded the most prestigious prize in the Netherlands, the NWO Spinoza Prize, as well as the Academy Professor Prize of the Dutch Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

In 2015, Professor John Law of the aforementioned research group on Arctic Domestication received the John Desmond Bernal Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science.

Other prizes awarded to CAS fellows include the Kavli Prize, the Fridtjof Nansen Prize, the Prosvetitel (Enlightener) Prize, the Torsten Janckes Memorial Fund Prize, the Seventh Vasil A. Popov Prize, and the I. K. Lykkes Award.

Indeed, the many successes of our fellows over the years prove that the choice of CAS profile in 1989 was indeed the right one.

More about CAS

CAS launched a new communication platform at the beginning of 2016.

The new website functions as a channel for information for potential future researchers as well as a tool for current CAS fellows. Current researchers at CAS can easily log on and communicate with each other and the administration team, sign up for seminars, and deal with expenses claims, for example.

Through this communication platform CAS also seeks to reach out to the wider public so that the importance of CAS can be emphasised today and for the future. Through interviews, articles, and podcasts about research at CAS, we seek to make the information about the Centre more accessible and understandable.

CAS seeks to be more visible and vociferous about critical thinking, dialogue, and democracy. This is necessary not just to secure a future for CAS for generations to come, but most importantly because CAS has something to offer the public: we also believe that CAS itself will prosper best when engaged in public debate.