Fall 2010

Thursday Lecture Series are open to Columbia faculty, students, and guests. Special Events are open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

“Why do you shrink and speak so faintly? Are you superstitious?”
“I am constitutionally nervous. I dislike the discussion of such subjects. I dislike it the more because--”
 You believe?” --Charlotte Brontë, Villette

Throughout history, conceptions of the supernatural have permeated art, science, culture, and politics, from the divine right of kings to the practice of illusionists, from transubstantiation to witchcraft, and from the power of political myth to the technological sublime. Conceptions of the supernatural make sense of seemingly irrational forms of knowing the world and experiencing it. They manifest in material ways in the form of religious and mystical experiences, in the “placebo” effect in medicine, in eerie sounds and optical illusions, and in debates about “post-truth” and “alternative” realities.


This lecture series explores the interdisciplinary facets of the supernatural from the symbolic to the spiritual, from the metaphorical to the political: What counts as supernatural in a religious, artistic, scientific or political context? What are the processes and structures around belief in the supernatural and what are the debates around supernatural tenets in traditional or occult religions? What aesthetic or scientific technologies--from gothic narratives to spirit photography--engender illusion and a belief in magic? How and why does the supernatural become productive, political, visible, and experiential--and how does it disappear? How do we understand efforts to obstruct, confront, or even dismantle the supernatural? And what role does the supernatural play in the formation of state-sanctioned ideologies and charismatic personalities? How might conceptions of the supernatural reshape our visions of new secular futures?

Thursday Lecture Series: Violence and Critique

The Prison, Welfare, and Labor Market Nexus: A Gendered Analysis of the Violence of Incarceration

  • Kristin Bumiller, George Daniel Olds Professor in Economic and Social Institutions, Amherst College

Professor Bumiller’s talk examined the gendered dimension of ex-prisoner issues, in particular, the ways that ex-prisoners’ concerns, including employment, discrimination, and even activism, are fundamentally shaped by their intersections with gender.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Violence and Critique

The Invention of Islamic Fundamentalism

  • David Harrington Watt, Professor of History, Temple University

Operating between the registers of cultural, intellectual, and religious history, Professor Watt explored the processes through which, over the course of the twentieth century, “fundamentalism” metastasized from a parochial condition of American Protestantism to a purported global phenomenon marked as being a problem: dangerous, authoritarian, and worthy of concerted scrutiny. >>

Special Events

When Did Guilt Become a Joke?

  • Joshua Dubler, Assistant Professor of Religion, University of Rochester

Using as its point of departure an off-the-cuff remark by David Letterman about his “Midwestern Lutheran guilt,” Josh Dubler’s paper explored emergent American discourses that tether putatively particular species of guilt to different ethnic identities.  >>

Special Events

The Rights of Sovereignty

  • Daniel Lee (‘10-‘11), Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

Daniel Lee’s talk investigated the rule of imprescriptibility in the analysis of sovereignty in early modern political thought: the norm that legal rights of sovereignty (jura majestatis) cannot be acquired by private actors simply on grounds of desuetude. >>

Special Events

Fair or Fowl?

  • Dana Fields (‘10-‘13), Assistant Professor of Classics , University of Buffalo, State University of New York

Dr. Fields explored the ways in which Classical Greek and Roman writers used birds to think about human political actions or institutions. >>

Special Events

New Developments of Popular Religion in Post-Mao China: Deterritorialization, Feminization, and Budd

  • Yanfei Sun (‘10-‘13), Assistant Professor of Sociology, Tsinghua University

Dr. Sun argued that the three interrelated processes have to be explained by the interaction between the nature of popular religion and the changing structural conditions of China’s rural society, which include, above all, the removal of lineage associations as the dominant power-holder and the outmigration of rural residents. >>