CHI Fellows for 2023-2025: Political Imagination

The theme for 2023–25 is “Political Imagination.” Under this theme, our fellows explore two related phenomena: the political force of fictions, dreams, visions, and suppositions and the imaginative work involved in building and sustaining political communities, identities, and institutions.

The Center for Humanistic Inquiry invites scholars from across the disciplines for full-time, residential appointments as CHI Fellows.

CHI Fellows conduct intensive, collaborative research under the rubric of a resonant theme. Each fellow also holds an appointment in a department and teaches one course during their residency.

Francesca Bellei  works on how literary and visual narratives shape the socio-political realities people live in, with a focus on the ancient Mediterranean on the one hand, and modern Italy, Britain and the US on the other. The main theoretical underpinnings of her work come from feminist, queer, and trans theory, postcolonial studies, critical theories of race and ethnicity, Marxist criticism, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies. She teaches and writes about fictions which center the elaboration of identity (in terms of nationality, gender, race and class) around the appropriation and re-elaboration of the “classical” cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. These topics are central to her current book project, The Past Is A Womanly Land: The Mediterranean Origins of Anglo-American Hegemony, forthcoming with Harvard University Press.


After receiving a BA in Classics from the University of Cambridge, where she first got involved in feminist activism, she worked for Rape Crisis Scotland and remains committed to a trauma-informed and anti-racist pedagogical approach. Francesca holds an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews and a PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University, where she was also a union organizer. Since receiving her PhD, Francesca has taught at the Brooklyn Institute of Social Research and in the Italian Studies Department at UMass Amherst. She is currently a Prose Editor for The Massachusetts Review, and has been named a Research Associate at the Five College Women's Studies Research Center for Spring 2025.


Nicole Cox is an anthropologist and interdisciplinary scholar interested in the power of the performing arts. Her research focuses on how artists and movement practitioners navigate highly politicized settings of transnational cultural connection, and how political actors use embodiment and cultural movement practices in foreign relations programs.

Nicole’s current work focuses on the role of embodied practices, such as dance and yoga, in India’s international relations, public diplomacy, and soft power initiatives. This work is rooted in sociocultural and linguistic anthropology, while also in conversation with South Asian studies, performance and dance studies, global studies, and political science. Nicole did her PhD work in Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and holds a BA in Dance and Sociology/Anthropology from Swarthmore College.

Théophile Deslauriers’ research focuses on democratic theory and sexuality. He earned his PhD in Politics at Princeton University in 2023 after completing a BA at McGill University in 2017. 

His current research project is on democratic theory and gay liberation in British socialism around the turn of the 20th century. He is particularly interested in new accounts of social and political equality that emerged from queer socialist thinkers during the period and were adopted to varying degrees by the Labour Party. During this time, socialists reimagined and sought to redesign representative institutions to reflect their egalitarianism and its connection to gay liberation, the women’s movement, and anti-imperialism. Although these projects failed in some respects, they also generated real successes and normative insights.

Deslauriers also has broad interests in the history of political thought and contemporary democratic theory, including a project on the political status of children.

Ali Mirza has a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from Indiana University (2020) and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Geology at the University of Saskatchewan (2023). His research is on the history and philosophy of ichnology, which studies how animal behavior—through traces such as burrows, nests, and footprints—changes the structure of the Earth.

Ali highlights how thinking about “behavioral traces in deep-time” has allowed scientists to see humanity in a new light. For instance, he investigates how studying fossil footprints in the 1830s led Amherst’s Edward Hitchcock to re-think his moral and political views, especially the impact of technology on the Earth. He also documents how the world wars and metaphysical beliefs influenced the rise of “fossil psychology” in the 1930s, and its subsequent impact on global natural-resource exploration. Ali uses these cases to not only reveal how researchers build theories at the intersection of the sciences and humanities (contributing to philosophy of science), but to also identify lost practices suitable for contemporary application with collaboration from scientists.

But perhaps most importantly, the totality of Ali’s work aims to show how our policies, if they are to effectively engage with anthropogenic change, must be embedded with cutting-edge methods that blend geology and biology—i.e. be political geo-ecologies. And how to motivate the necessary “deep-time” conservation mind-sets in academia and beyond to achieve this.