Mellon Sawyer Seminar

Spring Semester 2017

All seminars are open to the public.

January 26, 2017  |  4:30-6:00 pm  |  Coolidge Room, Ballou Hall
"Comparative Postcolonial Theory and the Question of Chinese Empire"
Shu-mei Shih, Professor of Comparative Literature, Asian Languages and Cultures, and Asian American Studies, UCLA
This lecture will discuss how the emergence of Sinophone studies in the last decade is altering the landscape of postcolonial theory, which had been largely derived from the historical experience of western European empires. How does Sinophone studies intervene in and contribute to existing postcolonial theory? Why is Sinophone studies still marginalized in postcolonial studies? By taking a comparative approach that emphasizes conjunctures and relations, this lecture will explore the question of Chinese empire in relation to European empires via the pivot to Sinophone literature from Southeast Asia.

January 27, 2017  |  2:00-3:30 pm  |  Center for Humanities
World Studies and Comparative Relation

Shu-mei Shih, Professor of Comparative Literature, Asian Languages and Cultures, and Asian American Studies, UCLA
In this seminar, Professors Shih will focus on critical concepts in the “worldly” turn in humanistic and comparative studies, which have been employed in the approach to world literature, planetarity, and "minor" literatures.

February 16, 2017  |  4:30-6:30pm  |  Alumnae Hall
Colonial Memory and Trauma

Debarati Sanyal, Professor of French, UC Berkeley
Stef Craps, Associate Professor of English, University of Ghent
The colonial has been relatively absent within the universalizing discourses of social trauma and cultural memory. Drawing upon material culture, cinema, and literature, this seminar explores how coloniality may compel us to rethink the very structures of "memory" and "trauma" as they have been constituted within the humanities.

February 23, 2017  |  4:30-6:30  |  Alumnae Hall
"The Social Life of DNA"
Alondra Nelson, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University
In this lecture, Professor Nelson considers how ancestry genetics — data derived from human bodies — is today employed to make racial rights and justice claims about the past in the present, against the backdrop of historical amnesia and a contemporary politics of technological witnessing and repair. In turn, it will explore the ways in which social groups reject, challenge, engage and, in some instances, adopt and mobilize conceptualizations of race, ethnicity, and gender derived from scientific and technical domains.

March 9, 2017  |  4:30-6:30  |  Alumnae Lounge
Rethinking the Human: Life Between Epistemology and Therapeutics

Emily Martin, Professor of Anthropology, NYU
Lawrence Cohen, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley
In considering the boundaries of the human, contemporary inquiry across the humanities and social sciences often draws upon innovations in medicine, technology, and clinical therapeutics as sites in which the notion of "humanity" is unstable. However, historians, artists, literary critics, and anthropologists, among others, remind us that it is not just that "newness" brings established categories into question, but that the fixity of "the human" over time and space may be an illusion. In many ways, global approaches to bodies, minds, and therapeutics call into question not only the instability of "the human" and "humanity," but continuously demand we rearticulate boundaries between the methodological and epistemological projects that order our intellectual lives and institutions. While we are often driven to ask, "What is human?" — we might do well to ask, "Has 'the human' ever been a stable category?", or even, "How are projects of opening up the "whatness" of "the human" at once enlivened and inhibited by our disciplinary apparatus?" Featuring scholars who at once cross domains of inquiry in their methodology and who examine shifting fields of knowledge and practice, this conversation centers the project of rethinking the human in the project of rethinking intellectual boundary-making, constellating innovations in medicine, technology, and clinical therapeutics as horizons for humanist ethics and counter-ethics.

March 28, 2017  |  3:00-4:30  |  Center for Humanities
David Chidester, Professor of Comparative Religion, University of Cape Town
In this seminar, we will consider the genealogy of comparative religion. Not only did the discipline of comparative religion emerge out of Europe’s colonial encounters, but it can be argued that the very category of "world religions" betrays the traces of its genesis within a Christian theological framework.

March 29, 2017  |  4:30-6:30  |  Alumnae Hall
"Religion's Imperial Pasts, Global Futures"

David Chidester, Professor of Comparative Religion, University of Cape Town
This public lecture explores three formations of religion—colonial, imperial, and global—by examining a shipwreck, a war dance, and an alien abduction in South Africa. These cases reveal the historical contingency of the basic category, religion, and its circulation through intercultural contacts, colonizing appropriations, and globalizing exchanges.

April 3, 2017  |  5:30-7:00  |  Alumnae Hall
"The Politics of Human Rights"

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley
This lecture considers the operations of human rights in critical legal studies, political thought, and postcolonial theory, with consideration of situated struggles in various global locations. It investigates the genealogy of human rights, from European theories of natural man and natural rights, to contemporary practices of international law, humanitarianism and social movements for justice, with consideration of the speaker's recent work on precarity, grievability, speech and assembly.

April 20, 2017  |  4:30-6:30  |  Alumnae Hall
Sovereignty, Settler Colonialism, Territoriality and Resistance

Audra Simpson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University
Jessica Cattelino, Associate Professor of Anthropology, UCLA
Settler colonialism leaves its marks on territory and bodies through displacement and destruction of communities, environmental change, construction of borders, and war. In this seminar, we consider practices that seek to create alternative sovereignties, geographies, and conceptions of belonging and intimacy.