Spring 2010

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: Violence and Critique

Listen to the Devil

  • Scott Atran, Presidential Scholar, University of Michigan, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Professor Atran offered a number of case studies of the process by which individuals are recruited into violent extremism, examining the role of networks of friendship and kin within contexts of neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and leisure activity. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Violence and Critique

Forensic Architecture: Only the Criminal Can Solve the Crime

  • Eyal Weizman, Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths College, University of London

A strange story unfolded in the shadows of the legal and diplomatic furor that accompanied the release, on 15 September 2009, of Richard Goldstone’s Report on the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which alleged that the Israeli army (and Hamas) committed war crimes and indeed that Israel might even be guilty of “crimes against humanity.” >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Violence and Critique

Music, Interpellation, and Violence among Korean Survivors of the Japanese Military “Comfort Women”

  • Joshua Pilzer, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, University of Toronto

There are numerous ways to understand the place of violence in the lives of the survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery during the Asia Pacific War (1910-45), but it is perhaps most important to ask how survivors have thought about and responded to violence.  >>