America and the World

Faculty Leader: Ussama Makdisi
Student Participants: Jennifer Cary (English), Laura Renee Chandler (history), Cory Ledoux (English), Nichole Payne (anthropology),  Maria Vidart (Anthropology), Catherine Fitzgerald Wyatt (history)

This seminar takes as its central problem how American involvement in the world has been studied. It explores the different ways historians, anthropologists, religious and literary critics, among others, have studied how people, ideas, processes, and events that transcend national borders have shaped United States history and culture from the antebellum period through the present. It asks, ultimately, what it means to “globalize” U.S. history and culture. Download a complete description .

Comparison in Theory and Practice

Faculty Leader: Jeffrey Kripal, the J. Newton Rayzor Professor and Chair of Religious Studies
Student Participants:Ata Anzaly (religious studies),Michael Adair-Kriz (anthropology), Nicholas Boeving (religious studies),Andrea Jain (religious studies),Samhitha Murthy (English),Aaron Pixley (religious studies),Elena Claire Villarreal (religious studies),Jayme Yeo (English)

Comparison is at the core of the humanities. It is fundamental to cognitive processing. It is basic to the production of meaning, which essentially involves “making connections” that not everyone else, maybe no one, will see. It is also rich in philosophical, cultural, political, and ethical implications, particularly in our modern globalizing world. Although comparative theorizing was central to anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and the study of literature and religions for most of their histories, comparison as such fell out of favor in the 1970s with the rise of poststructuralism and postmodernism. Localism, radical contextualism, complete constructivism, and cultural relativism came to dominate academic discourse as – perhaps not accidentally – religious fundamentalism (a complete hermeneutical collapse of signifier and the signified, that is, a literalist reading of the world) and a disturbing balkanization took over the national and geopolitical scenes. Understandably there are now calls for a return to a renewed and deepened comparative hermeneutics that can offer some beginning answer to this crisis of meaning, that can “read the world “anew.”