U.Va.’s New Humanities Institute Buzzing with Activity

September 27, 2012

The University of Virginia’s new Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures in the College of Arts & Sciences is offering a wide variety of public and scholarly activities and events in its first full semester of activity, from “theory desserts” to renowned speakers. Collaborating with other departments on Grounds and universities in other countries, the institute aims to encourage participation with face-to-face gatherings and several virtual communities.

Hunter Rawlings, former president of the University of Iowa and Cornell University and current president of the American Association of Universities, will speak Oct. 15 at 4 p.m. in Minor Hall auditorium on the future of higher education. His visit is part of the institute’s initiative on “The Future of the University.”

At the first event on this theme earlier this month, co-sponsored by the Faculty Senate, a panel of U.Va. faculty and students discussed the events involving the resignation and reinstatement of U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan.

That dialogue continues on a new humanities blog, where institute director and English professor Michael Levenson wrote: “We invite you to join a wide conversation on the future of our University, a conversation on questions of deep principle but also issues of immediate practicality. ... The conversation is open to anyone in the U.Va. community, one built upon free inquiry, historical understanding and ethical resolve.”

The institute also administers the Clay Fellowships, funded by the Buckner W. Clay Endowment for the Humanities to support innovative work in the humanities at the University. In the program’s inaugural year, 41 faculty members and graduate students’ proposals were chosen for initiatives and projects, such as conferences, guest speakers, faculty-student collaborations and summer research.

On Thursday, a panel discussion featuring the executive directors of the College Art Association, the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association – the three largest humanities associations of the American Council of Learned Societies – discussed ways to protect and promote the humanities in American society, as well as in the academy.

In November, Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, will give two talks as the semester’s global humanities guest lecturer. She will participate in a forum on higher education on Nov. 16, from noon to 2 p.m., in the Minor Hall auditorium. She will lecture on religious intolerance at 4 p.m. in Nau Hall, room 101. Both lectures are free and open to the public.

In preparation for her visit, the institute will host two seminars as opportunities to familiarize or re-familiarize oneself with her work. (To sign up for the seminars, email program administrator Keicy Tolbert.)

Nussbaum is considered one of today’s foremost philosophers, with interests in political philosophy, human rights, feminism and ethics. In her 2010 book, “Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities,” she argues that people must resist efforts to reduce education to a tool of the gross national product. Education should be reconnected to the humanities to give students the capacity to be true democratic citizens of their countries and the world, she said.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she has also focused on religious intolerance. In her latest book, “The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age,” Nussbaum explores a long history in Europe and the United States of fear and discrimination against those of other religions, most recently directed at Muslims. By understanding the sources of these fears, she writes, we can overcome them and extend the rights we demand for ourselves to others.

On the global level, Levenson is partnering with professor Brinda Bose of Delhi University to teach a post-graduate seminar on Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury this semester.

With its dual emphasis on the humanities at home and abroad, the institute also started a blog on international perspectives. In the latest installment, English doctoral student and Clay fellow Martin Campbell takes readers to South America to trace the footsteps of 20th-century American poet Elizabeth Bishop, who resided in Rio de Janeiro for many years.

In addition, the institute’s graduate advisory board is hosting “global GABfests” — meetings in the physical space of OpenGrounds and online. The group is planning to teleconference with graduate students in India and China affiliated with the institute. For information and to watch the conference take shape, go to the conference blog.

On the mission of the institute, Levenson wrote, “With an enduring commitment to the humanities as both a domain of research innovation and an idiom of institutional self-scrutiny, the institute seeks to play a leading role in the shaping of higher education on the global stage.”

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications