Spring 2009

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?

Special Events

Globalization: Which Globe, Which Politics?

Renowned anthropologist and philosopher Bruno Latour returns to the Heyman Center to discuss various notions of globalization and the ways in which socio-political and economic factors influence varying definitions of the term.  >>

Special Events

Poetry Reading

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, Howard G.B. Clark '21 University Professor in the Humanities at Princeton, read early and recent selected poems before engaging in a discussion of his poetry with his compatriot Coilin Parsons, Lecturer in English at Columbia. A question and answer session followed.  >>

Special Events

Listening In, Feeding Back

In recent years, several North American academic disciplines, including history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and media studies, have devoted significant attention towards practices of listening. The act of listening is undoubtedly an underexplored dimension of modern sensory experience -- and of modernity itself, which is too often characterized by an overdetermined regime of visuality. What can listening offer to emerging interdisciplinary work on perception, performance, aesthetics, social life, and the circulation of sound media? >>

Special Events

You Must Change Your Life

The renowned philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, author of the bestselling Critique of Cynical Reason (English translation, 1988) and professor of philosophy and media theory at the Karlsruhe School of Design, Germany, spoke on his most recent book, entitled Du Musst Dei Leben Andern (You Must Change Your Life). >>

Special Events

Is Marxism Relevant Today?

David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Duncan Foley, Professor of Economics at the New School for Social Reserach, joined Prabhat Patnaik (see How to Think about the Financial Crisis) to discuss the relevance of Marxism as it pertains to the current financial crisis and beyond.  >>

Special Events

Barack Obama and the New Racial Politics

Manning Marable, Professor of History and Political Science and Director of the Center for Contemporary Black History at Columbia, discussed the geneaology of racial politics and the ways in which Barack Obama has both embraced and diverged from the politics of his African-American political forebears.  >>

Special Events

Wisdom in Ancient Thought - a two-day conference

Papers exploring the concept of wisdom in ancient thought included "Wisdom and Poetry in Early Stoic Thought," "Aesop and the Tradition of Pre-Philosophic Sophia," and "Divination and Wisdom in Iamblichus's De mysterii."  >>

Special Events

The Politics of Recognition

In the last of his three Heyman Center lectures this year, philosopher Charles Taylor spoke about his experience on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission - a commission appointed by the Quebec government to investigate, through a series of public hearings, the problems and challenges of recognizing and negotiating religious and cultural differences in the collective life and identity of Quebec. >>

Special Events

Mumbai, Terror, and Islamism

Journalist Basharat Peer, novelist and journalist Hari Kunzru, Professor Akeel Bilgrami of Columbia University (and Director of the Heyman Center) and Professor Fawzia Afzal-Khan of Montclair State University discussed the connections between the recent attacks in India and radical Islamist ideology, as well as the historic struggle over Kashmir, and the prospects for future relations between India and Pakistan.  >>

Special Events

Poetry Reading and Conversation

Mark Strand, Professor of English at Columbia University and former U.S. Poet Laureate, read a selection of his poems and discussed his poetic career with his longtime friend Richard Howard, Professor of Writing at Columbia's School of thr Arts and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  >>

Special Events

Baroque Prose

Novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor William Gass explored the characteristics of baroque prose as evinced in John Donne's sermons and other, more contemporary works.  >>