Fall 2012

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

Life after Sovereignty

  • Brian Goldstone (‘12-‘15), Justice-in-Education Fellow at the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University

Drawing on ethnographic research in northern Ghana, Dr. Goldstone asked what it would mean, not simply to pluralize or horizontalize or even “democratize” sovereignty, as some have tried to do, but to begin to envisage life outside the whole sovereignty edifice altogether. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Mesmerism and the Historians of Error

  • Emily Ogden, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia

The talk offered a genealogy of the “sixth sense” of early clairvoyants as a first step toward understanding the subsequent developments. Dr. Ogden argued that the sixth sense is sentiment.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

George Eliot’s Rage

  • David Russell, Lecturer in English, Corpus Christi College Oxford

Dr. Russell’s talk demonstrated how Eliot used the essay form to explore the constricting limitations of the culture she was attempting to make her way in as a single woman from Warwickshire.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Frank Speech and the Will to Freedom

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

Dr. Fields's talk looked at Greek writings of the Roman Imperial period and the use of frankness (parrhe¯sía) as a term freighted with the history of classical Athens and its participatory democracy.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Liberace or The Apotheosis of Kitsch

  • Edgardo Salinas (‘10-‘13), Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music, Columbia University

Dr. Salinas’ talk traced the genealogy of the notions of kitsch and camp in the discourse of modern criticism and sought to complicate them, by analyzing representative performances of classical works that Liberace recorded for his TV show >>