Dispatches from Humanities Futures Year 1

Posted on November 18, 2015 by cmc7@duke.edu

We thought it might be useful, as you peruse the papers on this website, to have a sense of the face-to-face gatherings which brought our contributors together. Here are quick summaries of the public cross-department events from the first year of the grant:

Politics and Religion (December 3, 2014): The Departments of Religious Studies and Political Science joined the FHI in presenting the first event in the series. Building upon on-going collaborations between the two Departments, the Seminar addressed the intersection of religion and politics – as an object of study that stretches the disciplinary limits of both political theory and religious studies, as a fact of contemporary public life that challenges the secularist assumptions of Western humanistic scholarship, and as a locus from which humanities scholars might intervene in social science-dominated policy making (e.g. on religious extremism). Invited speakers: Religious Studies: R. Marie Griffiths (Washington University at St. Louis), Laurie Patton (formerly Dean of Arts and Sciences at Duke University); Political Science: Joshua Mitchell (Georgetown University), Matthias Riedl (Central European University).

Politics of Performance (March 25, 2015): The Department of Cultural Anthropology, Dance Program, and Program in Literature curated a program based on the three units’ shared interests in performance and embodied practices, broadly defined to include dance, sport, ritual, and gesture. Out of these heterogeneous topics persistent questions arose around the challenges of institutionalizing studies of popular expressive forms and everyday practices. These challenges manifest both in the unfinished work of racial and cultural inclusion within these fields and, at the same time, the ongoing marginalization of these fields within the historical disciplines and in the academy large. Another notable theme is the turn to the non-human in the humanities in such movements as neo-vitalism and animal studies. Invited speakers: Cultural Anthropology: Steven Connor (University of Cambridge), Naisargi Dave (University of Toronto); Dance: Brenda Dixon Gottschild (Temple University), Ronald Grimes (Wilfrid Laurier University); Literature: Harmony Bench (Ohio State University), Rebecca Schneider (Brown University).

Classical + Theater + Women’s Studies (April 10, 2015): This Seminar was characterized by a highly diverse set of interventions on topics ranging from the pedagogy of community theater to the ubiquity of performance in the age of YouTube, from women’s lives in ancient comedies to the ethics of feminist neuroscience. The question of the non-human or post-human surfaced again. Interestingly, a number of papers also converged on the question of how humanists might teach, articulate, and reimagine the subject of one’s discipline – performance, gender, “the classics” – in a moment of heightened contact and even competition with non-expert discourses and practices across the new media landscape (e.g. what do performance theorists do with amateur videos, or feminist scholars with feminism as a social media meme?). And how do humanists attend to unfinished debates within the disciplines (e.g. gender inclusion in Classical Studies, or the turn to Continental theory in the humanities more broadly) even as they negotiate new institutional and scholarly challenges? Invited speakers: Classical Studies: Mary-Kay Gamel (University of California, Santa Cruz), Sharon James (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Theater Studies: Martin Puchner (Harvard University), Tavia Nyong’o (New York University); Women’s Studies: Clare Hemmings (London School of Economics), Deboleena Roy (Emory University).

Global Humanities (April 24, 2015): The final event of the year brought together the Departments of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES), History, and Slavic and Eurasian Studies (SES). New global and trans-regional imaginaries were proposed (“Islamicate Cosmopolitanism” and “Global Slavic Humanities”), while others were complicated and historicized (“Eurasia,” “Soviet Century,” and “Area Studies” itself). The papers and discussion underscored the on-going need to interrogate Euro-American theoretical concepts and geographies. What happens to concepts like “capitalism,” “modernity,” and indeed “the human” when they travel? Invited speakers: Slavic and Eurasian Studies: Mark Bassin (Södertörn University), Mark Lipovetsky (University of Colorado, Boulder); History: Faisal Devji (University of Oxford), Anna Krylova (Duke University); Asian and Middle Eastern Studies: Bruce Lawrence (Duke University), Zvi Ben-Dor Benite (New York University – withdrew due to personal reasons).