A PhD in Imagination: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Wouldn’t you love to be a Doctor of Imagination? Sorry, a quick search reveals there are no PhD programs in Imagination. Why not? Imaginative ability is the most precious human resource we have. It should be studied, cultivated, and taught as an end in itself.

At least the University of St Andrews school of divinity, St Mary’s College hosts an Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts. Not quite what I’m thinking. Too connected with Theology.

Closer perhaps is Arizona State University’s new Imaginary College. It’s under the umbrella of the Center for Science and Imagination. (In case you didn’t notice, science still comes first.) Their college members are divided into two categories.

1. Imaginary College Philosophers: “Sages and provocateurs who epitomize imaginative thinking and practice and provide inspiration for our work.” One of these is Margaret Atwood.

2. Imaginary College Fellows: “Rebels, hackers, wizards, inventors, and alchemists driving path breaking research, teaching, and outreach projects.”

As far as I can tell, this is still not a PhD in Imagination. You can get a PhD in mythology, in transformative studies, and there are various programs that connect design with imagination. Many psychology programs have an imagination connection, such as the one at University of Oregon. Their Imagination Research Lab in the Psychology Department focuses on “the development of imagination in children and its relation to social understanding, creativity, inhibitory control, and narrative skills. In particular, we are interested in children’s creation of imaginary companions and the role they play in social and cognitive development.”

Anyone else seeing a gaping hole here? And just what does that say about how much we truly value imagination?


  1. Not sure if this is relevant to your discussion: not all MFAs are created equal. It depends upon the program and credits earned. But, an MFA with 64 credits is considered a terminal degree. This is the creative equivalent of a PhD.

    1. And one could say, we could extrapolate that such a terminal degree emphasizes the study of and understanding of imagination.

  2. And maybe it might even ruin imagination if we had to cram for a Ph.D. comprehensive exam in it? And write a 200-page heavily footnoted dissertation on it? Maybe by its very nature imagination resists this kind of structuring? Thanks for a thought-provoking post!


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