Peter Galison’s lecture addressed speculation as it pertains to inaccessible sites, focusing on “nuclear wastelands” and “pure wilderness.” >>
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?
His presentation— which comprised the reading of one of his stories and its discussion as a form of medical evidence—addressed the differing ways in which patients and doctors interpret and respond to medical statistics. >>
Since it is hard to imagine something more subjective than sexual desire, Rebecca Jordan-Young became intrigued with the attempt to devise measures that avoid, and even contradict, subjective reports of desire, and asked the question: Why do it? >>
Morag Kersel’s talk discussed the role that provenance (that is, the documented history of ownership and exchange) and provenience (the scientifically documented find-spot and its context) play in determining the legal status, market value, and archaeological significance of antiquities. >>
Jennifer Tucker’s talk traced the rise and ambivalent reception of visual and expert courtroom evidence from 1850 to 1900 by focusing on one of the most famous legal dramas of the nineteenth century: the “Tichborne Impostor” or “Tichborne Claimant” trials (London, 1871–1874). >>
Caroline Bynum looked at some of the ways in which miracles were used as evidence, exploring how they were described and framed in both sympathetic and hostile accounts in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. >>
Experience—things that people undergo and report—is problematic as a source of evidence in religious studies and associated disciplines. >>
Dingxin Zhao, who has been doing research on both modern and historical China for twenty years, has contemplated various methodological issues related to these questions. His talk, based largely on his recent research on the patterns of Chinese history, considered the problems in the collection and interpretation of historical evidence and in the construction of plausible arguments and stories. >>
Sally Shuttleworth’s paper looked at the ways in which literary evidence was deployed in the emerging fields of child psychiatry and psychology, drawing from the novels of Eliot and Dickens, as well as autobiographical narratives. >>
Jurists have struggled with the definition of evidence longer than any other discipline. >>
What seems like an awkward scholarly conundrum can actually be turned into an advantage: the idea of Egyptian music—unfettered by actual examples of it—can give us a rare glance into wide-ranging ideas about the nature of evidence in historical narratives, the inner workings of music histories, and how the wider cultural tasks of music are imagined. >>