The Pain and Suffering Interdisciplinary Program


Suffering is an ubiquitous experience with no universally accepted theoretical framework for its understanding. Scholars and clinicians working in a single discipline tend to offer one-dimensional accounts of Suffering and Pain. These accounts are often incommensurable with views arising in other fields, resulting in an explanatory gap between different approaches. It has become abundantly clear that an active interdisciplinary effort is required in order to develop a more integrative account of these widespread phenomena. This program aims at providing a structure to contain new explorations based on collaborative experimental, theoretical and clinical work. This framework will expose strong connections and radically divergent perspectives related to the questions of Suffering and Pain in the sciences and humanities. In bringing together figures and views from numerous domains, we expect to foster a constructive interaction that will fill the existing gap.

Going back and looking forward

An unexpected encounter in 2007 between Smadar Bustan, a philosopher visiting the Philosophy Department at Harvard University, and Catherine Kerr, a neuroscientist at the Osher Research Center, Harvard Medical School, created the spark at the base of this endeavor. Our respective research since then exposed the diversity of materials and methods for investigating the ills of life and made even more clear that the humanities, biomedical, and natural sciences need to go hand-in hand in better concomitance. Intellectual motivations, personal experiences along with lack of satisfying answers, allowed us to initiate a program at Harvard that had an official letterhead but only 3 members.

Back in Europe, and with the initial support of a European Science Foundation award, Dr. Bustan set the ground for a long-term interdisciplinary and international Working Group on Suffering and Pain. This Working Group involves basic scientists, doctors, writers and researchers in sociology, philosophy, narrative medicine, psychology, pain research, neuroscience, ethics, history, literature and linguistics. It is her aim to achieve the broadest coverage of the field, with outstanding contributions of our currently 34 members, many of whom are leaders in their field.

In 2012, the University of Luxembourg became the official host of the program, centered at the Pain Laboratory (INSIDE Research Unit) directed by Fernand Anton, a Professor of Biological Psychology and a keen advocate of the program. We hope that the PASCOM, a jointly Luxembourg-Germany financed project combining philosophical, psychobiological and neuroscientific investigations along with the international group book projects and continuous workshops (all filmed and presented on this site) -, will prove useful for achieving our goal to better understand the mechanisms of pain and thereby provide greater relief for those who suffer.

In 2013, Sharon Webber-Zvik, the designer and art director of the program, received the honorable Golden A Design Award for her visual work on Pain and Suffering. Her art work from the site can also be found  at the museum of “Ex Cheisa di San Francesco”, Como, Italy.

Leave a Reply