‘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 fundamental research in Norway.

CAS was first established as an independent foundation in 1989 by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA), and even today, CAS is housed on the top and bottom floors of the Academy's premises at Drammensveien 78 in Oslo.

In defence of the ‘usefulness of uselessness’

Hernes's inspiration came from his experience at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) in Palo Alto, California, located at Stanford University.

Hernes described CASBS as ‘a(n) almost imaginary and … paradisal place’. He noted that, 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.

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

Today, these European institutions, together with CAS, are members the Network of European Institutes for Advanced Study (NetIAS), which was established to enhance dialogue and enable cooperation between institutes.

Pioneering and prestigious

The success of CAS has paved the way for the Norwegian government to increase its investment in pioneering research, leading to the establishment of the Norwegian Centre of Excellence (CoE) grant programme.

Many researchers who have spent a year at CAS describe the stay as the most productive year of their career. CAS fellows have also gone on to win the most prestigious of academic honours, including the Abel, Kavli, and Nobel Prizes.

Former chairs of the CAS Board of Directors

1989-90 Professor Gudmund Hernes
1991 Professor Dagfinn Føllesdal
1992-93 Professor Vigdis Ystad
1993-99 Professor Torstein Jøssang
2000-10 Professor Aanund Hylland
2011-14 Professor Asbjørn Kjønstad
2015- Professor Geir Ellingsrud

Former scientific directors

1999-2003 Professor Ole-Jørgen Skog
2003-09 Professor Willy Østreng
2009-12 Professor Gro Steinsland
2012-14 Professor Brit Solli
2015-18 Professor Vigdis Broch-Due
2018- Professor Camilla Serck-Hanssen