2015 Summer Seminars


2015 Summer Seminar: Secularism
The seminar will be devoted to exploring the concept and practice of "secularism" in the broadest sense – not only as a political doctrine of the separation of religion and the state but also as the attitudes, sensibilities, and emotional investments characteristic of "secular" life. We will read prominent texts on these topics critically, including theoretical works as well as ethnographies. Among the questions we will ask: How does secular life relate to political secularism? What do the defenders of "post-secularism" mean by that term? Can one sensibly speak of "pre-secularism," if not why not? How is "religion" defined and located in the different arrangements of the secular?

Talal Asad is Distinguished Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is interested in the phenomenon of religion (and secularism) as an integral part of  modernity, and especially in the religious revival in the Middle East. Connected with this is an interest in the links between religious and secular notions of pain and cruelty, and therefore with the modern discourse of Human Rights. His long-term research concerns the transformation of religious law (the shari'ah) in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Egypt with special reference to arguments about what constitutes secular and progressive reform. Representative publications include On Suicide Bombing (2009); Formations of the Secular (2003); and Genealogies of Religion (1993).

2015 Summer Seminar: Heidegger
Martin Heidegger is without doubt the most important, influential and infamous philosopher in the 20th Century Continental tradition. Being and Time is his magnum opus. The purpose of this seminar is to get a grip on what Heidegger calls his "existential analytic" through a series of lectures, directed readings and discussions. I will try and bring out the enduring relevance and illuminating power of Heidegger’s central thought, namely that the human being is a "thrown project" that is constituted by time and defined by anxiety, being towards death, finitude and history. It is my belief that once one has grasped Heidegger’s basic thought, then everything else changes in one’s approach to life. My aim in this mini-course is to make that happen.

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research. His books include Very Little…Almost Nothing (2004); Infinitely Demanding (2013); The Book of Dead Philosophers (2009); The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology (2014); The Mattering of Matter: Documents from the Archive of the International Necronautical Society (2013, with Tom McCarthy); and Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine (2014, with Jamieson Webter). An experimental new work, Memory Theatre, and a book called Bowie were published in September 2014. He is moderator of "The Stone," a philosophy column in The New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor.


2015 Summer Seminar: Racial Formations and Justice Today
This seminar will examine what it means to be “raced” in ways that mark certain bodies as dangerous, diseased, uneducable or infantile. From separate “poor doors” in New York City apartment buildings to walled national borders, from Ferguson, Missouri to the use of troops supposedly to confine diseases like Ebola, we will examine the legal, political and rhetorical framings that infuse our conceptions of living subjects, legal persons, non-persons and things. The line between human and subhuman, or person and thing, is given new urgency in an era when the limits of incarceration, torture, execution, human trafficking, medical experimentation, the delivery of due process, and the protection of human rights often turn on newly minted meanings of words like "enemy combatant," “thug,” "IQ," "underclass," "market choice," "terror" or "illegal immigrant." If slavery is "unthinkable" to most people today, why? How do we keep bringing the unthinkable back into being? What connection do historical taxonomies have to the contemporary perpetuation of genocide, segregation, surveillance, disappearance, starvation? What disconnections? What about us can remain "inalienable" in a world turned global marketplace? Whom we consider a person, whom we label less than fully endowed, are questions that inform some of the most urgent legal and political questions of our time. We will look at legal opinions, historical documents, as well as texts in philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, literary criticism, and popular culture.

Patricia J. Williams is James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. She has served on the faculties of the University of Wisconsin School of Law, City University of New York Law School, and Golden Gate University School of Law, and has been at Columbia since 1991. She is a Fellow at the School of Criticism and Theory, Dartmouth College, and at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. She has published widely in the areas of race, gender, and law, and on other issues of legal theory and legal writing. Her books include The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor (1992); The Rooster's Egg; (1997); and Seeing a ColorBlind Future: The Paradox of Race (1998). She is a Columnist at The Nation and a MacArthur fellow.