Spring 2013

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

The Moment of British Women’s History: Memories, Celebrations, Assessments, Critiques

The conference brought together scholars from across England and the U.S. and received additional support from The Heyman Center for the Humanities; The Department of History; The Department of English and Comparative Literature; The University Seminar in Modern British History; British Studies at Columbia; The Institute for Research on Women and Gender; and The Office of the President, Barnard College. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Animation

Animation & Dynamic Visual Intelligence

  • Patrick Grim, Distinguished Teaching Professor, Stony Brook University

Against a history of animation from Windsor McCay to contemporary fine art, Professor Grim’s paper focused on both the psychological facts and the philosophical questions regarding our dynamic visual processing.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Animation

On Not Being Someone Else

  • Andrew H. Miller, Professor of English, Indiana University

Professor Miller’s talk considered the imagination of counterfactual self-understanding in literature and film, with special attention to the film Another Year (director Mike Leigh, 2010).  >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Animation


  • Hugh Raffles, Professor of Anthropology, The New School

Professor Raffle’s talk was drawn from an ongoing book project that explores the lives of stone. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Animation

“You Live and do not Harm me!”: Shifts in Approaches to Objects in Turn-of-the-Century Anthropology

  • Spyridon Papapetros, Associate Professor in
    History and Theory of Architecture
    , Princeton University

Professor Papapetros described how turn-of-the-century art history projected ethnographic theories of animistic practices on Renaissance and modern artworks while endowing inert images with the semblance of liveliness (Lebendigkeit) and animation (Belebung). >>