History of Care

This is a project on the history of the idea and practice of care in the Western world. Few ideas are more crucial for understanding the needs of the human condition in the world of today; yet few ideas have such a rich but virtually unknown history. The goal of the Project is to report on and interpret the antecedents of today’s notions of care, compare them with contemporary ideas and practices of care with special attention to their moral aspects, and indicate the practical and theoretical implications of care for the professions and public life.

In December of 2000 the Lilly Endowment awarded Professor Warren T. Reich of Georgetown University a major grant to complete the research, principally by engaging research associates to dig out information on care that has never before been assembled and coordinated. The research is being done by Professor Reich and his staff, as well as by leading scholars from all fields of learning in all parts of the world. The initial products of the Project will be the publication of the history of care in three volumes, under the overall title of Care: A History of the Idea and Its Practice. The purpose of this series is to attempt to alter our way of thinking and acting in the area of care based on insights from the past; develop an archive of historical materials on the meaning and practice of care; and produce other monographs and articles.

So far, Professor Reich is being assisted by about 75 researchers. The Project is examining care thematically — not just solicitous care, but all ideas of care in all settings and in many different kinds of texts: in mythology, literature, religion, theology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, ethics, etc. It also examines those ideas/practices that have been the equivalent of, or ingredient in, what we now call care, but which in previous eras were denoted by other terms such as mercy, philanthropy, and hospitality.

The multi-disciplinary character of the Project is evident, for example, in the way in which it juxtaposes and compares ideas of care in sources as diverse as Greco-Roman and continental philosophy; pastoral care in medieval theological and contemporary psychological contexts; hospitality in Islamic, Byzantine, and Western thought; writings of women mystics and contemporary economists; and contemporary feminist and utilitarian notions of care. Practical dimensions of care are explored in the following areas: social welfare care and social work; medical and nursing care; public health care; care of souls and pastoral care; education; pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry; business, management, and leadership; and the environment.