Fleck Prize 2023: Donovan O. Schaefer

The Ludwik Fleck Prize Committee for 2023 is pleased to announce this year’s winner, Donovan O. Schaefer’s Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin (Duke University Press, 2022). Wild Experiment is a rare book that returns to some foundational STS questions of the character of knowledge and knowledge-making, and it does so by demonstrating persuasively the inextricability of knowing and feeling. In challenging the cognition-emotion binary, Schaefer offers a fresh perspective on classic thinkers that have informed STS since its foundation, including Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi, in a way that is deeply informed by feminist and anti-racist scholarship. Schaefer’s argument that thinking is feeling and that if knowledge is felt, it is always in intimate proximity to other things we feel—things we want—including our secretly savored prejudices goes much beyond an academic discussion on the nature of scientific knowledge. It directly relates to the current political moment, because feeling makes science work, but it also leads to the collapse of good knowledge. The book addresses urgent topics ranging from racism and Islamophobia to denialism of evolution and climate change, and unsettles any easy distinction between scientific rationality and other modes of thinking. The cogency theory on how science feels, which is proposed in the book as a main guide to connect various areas and cases, draws on a broad range of literatures and sources, such as history and philosophy of science, contemporary psychology, affect theory, queer theory, and especially secularism studies. Through Schaefer’s endeavor to expand the conversation between secularism studies and STS, the field of STS has an illuminating new vantage from which to look at knowledge, feeling, and belief. And it feels right.

The 2023 Ludwik Fleck Prize Committee: Chihyung Jeon, Chair, Misria Shaik Ali, Noémi Tousignant, Thom van Dooren, Anne Pollock

Acceptance Statement:

It is a tremendous honor to receive the 2023 Ludwik Fleck Prize. STS is foundational to my scholarship and I could not be more thankful for the committee’s consideration of my work. I also want to express my gratitude to my colleagues and my extraordinary students for constantly challenging me to confront the stakes of knowledge-production in the classroom and beyond.

In Wild Experiment, I call for a reassessment of the role of emotion in scientific knowledge-production. Combining feminist, antiracist, and queer perspectives with affect theory, psychology, and STS, the book argues that we need to abandon the thinking/feeling binary altogether. Science—and all other forms of knowledge-making—are necessarily defined by feeling at every level.

I am grateful that the committee has also highlighted what I see as one of the most vital dimensions of the book—its attempt to think through the crisis of persuasion in our current global moment, especially with respect to debates around climate change, the vestiges of race science, and the politics of secularism. I hope this book has adequately shown that although the configuration of our present moment is doubtless new, we need to move on from the nostalgic myth of a time when thinking was decisively differentiated from feeling and disinterested rational argument reigned. The way we think, reason, study, reflect, and decide has always been formed and inflected by the way we feel. Recognizing the inseparability of thinking and feeling will, I hope, deepen not only our understanding of academic inquiry, but of the many entanglements of what Foucault called power-knowledge-pleasure that shape the global political-cultural landscape today.

I am proud of Wild Experiment, but I think of it as an opening move in a conversation rather than a definitive statement. My highest hope is that it will foster more discussion going forward. I am deeply humbled to receive this award.


Donovan Schaefer is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his doctorate in Religion at Syracuse University in 2012, he took up a two-year Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Haverford College. He then moved to the University of Oxford, where he served from 2014 to 2017 as Departmental Lecturer in Science and Religion. He began working at Penn in 2017. His research interests include a range of topics related to the politics of feeling/affect/emotion and their links with science, religion, secularism, and material culture. His published works include the books Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power (Duke 2015), The Evolution of Affect Theory: The Humanities, The Sciences, and the Study of Power (Cambridge 2019), and Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin (Duke 2022), as well as journal articles in Cultural CritiqueGLQ, Hypatia, and Angelaki, among others.

Honorable Mention: 

The Ludwik Fleck Prize Committee for 2023 is pleased to announce that Jerry C. Zee’s Continent in Dust: Experiments in a Chinese Weather System (University of California Press, 2021) has received an honorable mention. This well-researched book explores the interconnected ecological, political, and cultural dynamics of dust storms in, and arising from, China. In this ethnography of the rise of China into the air, Zee offers a rich account, both empirically and conceptually, of how strange weather comes to matter and shifts phases in modes of breathing and governance in contemporary China and its meteorological neighbors. As Zee follows the border-crossing and phase-shifting wind-sand within and out of China, we are brought to unexpected sites of politics and forms of relating. Zee’s book is a timely reminder that STS can not only describe but also take part in a geophysical choreography that involves all of us living on this dusty planet.


Nicole Charles, Suspicion: Vaccines, Hesitancy, and the Affective Politics of Protection in Barbados (Duke University Press, 2022)

Joseph Masco, The Future of Fallout, and Other Episodes in Radioactive World-Making (Duke University Press, 2021)

Natali Valdez, Weighing the Future: Race, Science, and Pregnancy Trials in the Postgenomic Era (University of California Press, 2021)