Forests think. This is neither a metaphor nor is it a claim specific to any "ontology." What kind of claim, then, is it? What right do we have in making it? And what might happen to our social theory and the human if we take it seriously? Thought emerges with life; it is not restricted to humans. >>
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?
For over a century, the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University has been in possession of a rare seventeenth-century book. Its margins are filled with cryptic shorthand writing, long believed to be the work of Roger Williams, the seventeenth-century theologian and founder of Rhode Island. However, despite several attempts to decrypt it, this writing remained stubbornly indecipherable. >>
How can the environmental humanities contribute to current discussions about ecological crises? Unlike traditional perspectives within the humanities, which place humans at the center of the story and view humans as exceptional, research within the environmental humanities focuses our gaze on the agency and interconnectivity of all things. >>
Professor Bernhard Siegert, Gerd Bucerius Professor of History and Theory of Cultural Techniques at Bauhaus-University Weimar, spoke on problems of transcending materiality in processes of symbolization, for which the cultural technique of the common meal functions as a paradigm. The model of eating together then is transferred to examples of audio and visual media. >>
“Left libertarians” have argued that one can coherently defend both a theory of self-ownership and an egalitarian distribution of global natural resources—and that “right libertarians” are mistaken to suppose that one can reason plausibly from a self-ownership commitment to a defense of what Locke called “a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth.” Their argument rests on the claim that, pace right libertarians, there is no individual right to (truly) appropriate natural resources in the state of nature. >>
In this talk, physicist and feminist theorist Karen Barad discussed her recent work on time and her reflections on the entanglement of time and materiality. >>
“Track switching,” focuses discussion on questions of inter- and trans-disciplinarity, wherein disciplines and, differently, “fields,” are considered variously as arbiters of moral, ethical, affective approaches to sexuality, queer, and gender scholarship. They also work to delineate capacities in interesting ways. >>
Aristotle’s focus in the ethical treatises is on the moral development of men, and in particular, on that of the future (male) citizens of the ideal city. Infamously, Aristotle excludes natural slaves and women from the life of happiness that requires the activity of practical wisdom and moral virtue. >>
The ability of the human species to transform the planetary environment has reached an unprecedented scale and magnitude in the past few decades. We have become “geological agents,” capable of changing the global climate through our carbon emissions. The atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen traces this growing emergency back to the invention of the double condensing steam engine of James Watt and the mineral energy economy ushered in by Britain’s Industrial Revolution. For Crutzen, Watt’s invention in 1784 marked the beginning of a new epoch of geological time – the Anthropocene. >>
Historians, taking their ideas from early medieval texts, generally argue that the startlingly new material culture regime establishing itself in fifth-century Britain was the handiwork of Germanic warriors, who were establishing themselves in lowland Britain in the generations after Rome’s withdrawal from the diocese. Thus, it is argued that the transformations we see in material culture and life ways were driven by the activities of men. >>