Fall 2014

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

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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?
 

Workshops: On Method

On Method: Introducing Paper Machines

  • Jo Guldi, Assistant Professor of History, Brown University

How do you summarize millions of books with a single tool? The question is relevant to literary scholars, but especially to historians of political institutions and the "official mind." Paper Machines is a toolkit that works with minimal code on the texts that historians and other scholars are already using, visualizing them as their subjects change over time and space. >>

Workshops: On Method

On Method: The Humanities in Full: Polemics Against the Two-Culture Fallacy

  • Chad Wellmon, Associate Professor of German Studies, University of Virginia

If the recent diatribes against the digital humanities have done anything, they have demonstrated how truncated and ahistorical most of our conceptions of the humanities are. We need a history and vision of the humanities capacious enough to see them not as a particular method or set of disciplines but as a disposition, as a way of engaging the world. This talk sketches what such a history might look like and what it might accomplish. >>