It has been claimed that Adam Smith, like David Hume, has a “reflective endorsement” account of morality. On such a view, our moral faculties and notions are justified insofar as they pass reflective scrutiny. But Smith’s moral philosophy, unlike Hume’s, is also peppered with references to God, to divine law, and to our being “set up” in a specific way so as to best attain what is good and useful for us. This language suggests that there is another strategy available for accounting for the normativity of morality, one that would align Smith with more traditional teleological accounts of human nature and theological accounts of morality: >>
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“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?
In English letters, the elegy is considered one of the most elevated poetic forms, with a literary history dating back to classical Greece. And yet, the interdisciplinary turn of our moment asks us to reconsider the conventions of elegy through the lens of cross-cultural exchange with medicine. This talk turns to Romantic-era developments in postmortem procedures to reveal their influence on poetic memorials from the 19th century, as autopsy reports gave readers privileged and intimate access into the interiors of the physical bodies of those they mourned. Ultimately, I hope to offer not just a new history of poetry’s most distinguished form, but also a new reading of the surprising ramifications of the history of medicine on Romanticism’s most important memorial poem: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy for Keats, Adonais (1821). >>
In 1965, the American folklorist Alan Lomax set out on a mission: to view, code, catalogue, and preserve the totality of the world’s dance traditions. Believing that dance carried otherwise inaccessible information about social structures, work practices, and the history of human migration, Lomax and his collaborators gathered more than 250,000 feet of raw film footage and analyzed it using a new system of movement analysis. Lomax’s aims, however, went beyond the merely scientific. >>
Fought over technologies of mass destruction and space conquest, cultural diplomacy and geopolitical divides, the Cold War was also a conflict over religion, and more specifically a conflict where the “godless communism” of the East was set against the new rubric of nations “under God” in the West. The religious front was particularly apt for the Franquista regime then ruling over Spain, a regime looking to regain some of the political and economic legitimacy lost to its fascist pedigree. >>
This lecture explores the heated debates within surgeons’ technical instructions for performing amputation procedures in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Germany. In contrast to the Middle Ages, early modern surgeons systematically recorded experimental amputation techniques and trained others to perform them. The new techniques practiced alongside traditional methods point to influences from inside and outside of Germany, including France, Italy, and the newly formed Dutch Republic. By the seventeenth century, surgeons learned multiple ways to perform amputations. The growing multiplicity of methods generated passionate disputes among authors. These debates show the rising challenge to Galenic medicine and surgeons’ changing attitudes towards technology. At the root of this fight were competing visions of the body: was it a material entity to be preserved at all costs, or a machine to be reshaped at the surgeon’s discretion? >>
Histories of the Cold War have connected America’s first spy satellites to the increasing inability of the United States to monitor the Soviet ballistic missile program during the late-1950s. The technology of reconnaissance satellites, though, predates both the rockets necessary to loft them into orbit and the missiles the satellites later detected. Advocates of spy satellites never viewed the technology simply as a solution to any single “intelligence gap,” but as a novel intelligence resource that would do what no previous technology could: photograph whole nations during peacetime. Intended only as an “interim” technology until better platforms were invented, the first film-return spy satellites became a permanent fixture of national defense and helped define the parameters of the Nuclear Age. >>
This talk examines how women in post-war Angola participate and are represented in electoral politics. Starting from the premise that the very idea of democratic politics is gendered, I argue that examining electoral politics, in particular the organization of political parties, campaigns and elections financing, from feminist and sociological perspectives can help explain the (limited) participation of women in national politics. >>
Sahar Ullah, Heyman Center Public Humanities Fellow (2016 - 2017), has been working with Columbia University's Rikers Education Initiative to design and facilitate a series of storytelling workshops for young women at the Rose M Singer Center at Rikers Island over the last academic year. Ullah will reflect on her experience teaching and learning from the students about different aspects of storytelling including visual narration, character development, and the role of community as producers and audience. The talk is an open invitation to engage with questions about the role of art for justice in education. >>
Description to come. >>
Slavery and poverty are monumental problems, but they are generally assumed to be separate problems. This talk will suggest that we might better understand both problems by breaking down the divide between their histories. Beginning in the era of classical antiquity, we will survey the extent to which the conditions of poverty and slavery have intermingled across the centuries. In particular, we will examine how slavery long functioned as a regime for managing the problem of poverty in the western world, unpacking case studies ranging from the practice of debt bondage in ancient Rome to proposals for enslaving beggars in early modern England. At last we will turn to the late eighteenth century in order to consider the Anglo-American age of slave emancipation anew: to trace how poverty’s central yet ambiguous place in debates over emancipation was the outcome of an imaginative revolution we have only begun to explore. >>
Description to come. >>
In his essay Of the Nature of that Imitation which Takes Place in What Are Called the Imitative Arts (1777 / 1795), Adam Smith famously described instrumental music as engaging a specific mental faculty: “by the sweetness of its sounds it awakens agreeably, and calls upon the attention [and] by their connection and affinity it naturally detains that attention.” According to Smith, this task could “occupy, and as it were fill up, completely the whole capacity of the mind, so as to leave no part of its attention vacant for thinking of any thing else.” Many scholars have regarded Smith’s approach to attention and instrumental music as articulating an early aesthetic of absolute music (e.g. Seidel 2003; Bonds 2014). This talk suggests that, when viewed within the context of eighteenth-century music theory, Smith’s comments also reflect a contemporaneous Scottish fascination with the role of attention in structuring auditory perception. >>
Rather than framing the birth of modern psychiatric thinking and practice in the modern Middle East as either a sign of modernity or a dispositif (in the Foucauldian sense) in the proselytizing and civilizing missions of the fin-de-siècle, I argue instead that it should be situated within the power struggles of the late nineteenth century between diverse actors (local and global). I show how knowledge became politicized, and “zones of influence” (which included universities, medical schools, and hospitals) were created, developed, and sustained, from the humanitarian interventions of 1860s in the Ottoman Levant to the Cold War a century later. Drawing on missionary writings and diplomatic correspondences, I hope to show how medicine more broadly speaking played a prominent role in this long competition over epistemic influence in the region between various players. >>