Fall 2013

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

Honor the Fleece: Climate, Conflict, and Merino Sheep

  • Rebecca Woods, Lecturer in History, Columbia University

In her talk, Woods looked back to the turn of the nineteenth century, when a group of enthusiastic agricultural improvers introduced merino sheep, originally from Iberia to Great Britain, hoping to establish the foreign breed on domestic pastures and thereby free the nation from its reliance on foreign trading partners, especially Spain and the German principalities. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

A Fire Upon the World

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

Goldstone's talk explored the various registers – social, spiritual, political-economic – in which the recent influx of Pentecostal-charismatic churches into northern Ghana are taking place. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Plus-or-Minus: David Hume, Richard Price, and the Problem with Fiscal Numbers

  • William Deringer (‘12-‘15), Assistant Professor in the Science, Technology and Society Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this talk, Deringer looked at the the long eighteenth century's fundamental transformation in how the British state raised and spent its money. He examined how the state saw an equally significant transformation in political cognition—in how Britons thought through political problems. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Of Plantations and Pesticides: Sexual Politics in Martinique

  • Vanessa Agard-Jones (‘13-‘14), Assistant Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Columbia University

Agard-Jones's talk focused on Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean, and its narratives about the origins of gender transgression and same-sex desire, which have shifted recently to include a story about their relationship to pesticide contamination on the island’s banana plantations. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Anarchism Gone Wild: Can Security Regimes be Queered?

  • Hagar Kotef (‘09-‘12), Senior Lecturer in Political Theory and Comparative Politics, SOAS, University of London

Kotef ('09-'12) gave a talk on the gender-based (over-)interpretations of political interventions and how these interpretations change the meanings of these interventions, enforce political actions, or work counter to them. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Aristotle and the Limits of Reason

  • Ian McCready-Flora (‘11-‘14), Assistant Professor of Philosophy, St. Louis University

What makes humans so special? McCready-Flora's talk looked at how Aristotle answers that question. Animals, for Aristotle, divide into two groups. There are humans, with a range of distinct cognitive capabilities, and then there are all the others. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Before Ellis Island: The Origins of American Immigration Policy

  • Hidetaka Hirota, Lecturer in History and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, Columbia University

In this talk, Hirota introduced an overview of his current book project, Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Origins of American Immigration Policy. The project fundamentally revises the history of American immigration policy. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

From Marlinspike to Mobile Media: An Archeology of the Gadget

  • Grant Wythoff, Lecturer in English, Columbia University

Gadgets like smartphones and GPS receivers, say the pundits, are fundamentally altering the ways we read, communicate, and even think. In his talk, Wythoff attempted to throw such claims into relief with a cultural history of these seemingly small, everyday tools. The word “gadget” refers to both concrete objects and indeterminate tools that have been forgotten, rigged up on the fly, or not yet invented. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Mere Civility: Tolerating Disagreement in Early Modern England and America

  • Teresa Bejan (‘13-‘14), Associate Professor of Political Theory, Oxford University

"Mere Civility: Tolerating Disagreement in Early Modern England and America," was based on the introduction to Bejan's book project with the same title. It offered an examination of widespread calls for "civility" today in light of seventeenth-century debates about religious toleration. >>