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?
 

Special Events

The Potency of Indigenous Bibles and Biographies

  • Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Mapuche oral shamanic biographies and performances—some of which take the form of “Bibles” and shamanic literacies—play a central role in the production of indigenous history in southern Chile. In this talk, titled "The Potency of Indigenous Bibles and Biographies: Mapuche Shamanic Literacy and Historical Consciousness," Professor Bacigalupo explains how and why a mixed-race Mapuche shaman charged her to write about the shaman's life and practice in the form of a “Bible.” >>

Special Events

Rewriting English: Gauri Viswanathan’s “Masks of Conquest” at Twenty-Five

The Society of Fellows presents an all-day conference celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Gauri Viswanathan's Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. Viswanathan’s book changed the way we think about English Literature as a "discipline" -- both educational and colonial; it continues to be one of the most important works on the teaching of English in colonial India >>