Programs in 2022-23

The Center for Humanistic Inquiry offers up to $2,500 to support seminars for humanities-oriented research at Amherst. Seminars include between four and fifteen participants and meet periodically throughout the school year. Activities include writing workshops, reading groups, and guest lectures. 

Digital Humanities at Amherst

Woman With Red Light On Face Many of us use (and are invested in) digital tools and approaches in our various activities at the College, but there are few opportunities to learn about, and from, each others’ experiences in this domain. This research seminar aims to fill some of this gap and build upon the ongoing Digital Humanities (DH) initiatives. A major objective is to bring together faculty and instructional staff working on DH projects and foster a Community of Practice.

Leaders: Yael Rice and Jaya Kannan

Participants: Sarah Walden-McGowan, Alana Kumbier, Kiara Vigil, Mila Hruba, Paul Schroeder Rodriguez, Vanessa Walker, Rhonda Cobham-Sander, Lloyd Barba, Lisa Brooks, Jeffers Engelhardt, Pooja Rangan, Katharine Correia

Religion, Nature, Culture: Thinking with Other-than-Human Beings

The Temple of Whollyness In recent years, scholars in numerous fields have drawn attention to the ways that various entities take part in making the worlds that humans inhabit. This research has shown how actors that range from the microscopic (e.g. CO2 and COVID-19) to the seemingly mundane (e.g. roads and walls) to the “supernatural” have critical consequences for what many long regarded as the exclusively human world of “culture.”

This shift in scholarly sensibilities has been spurred on by the climate catastrophe. As the world transforms around us, it becomes all too clear that what we assumed to be the “background” has always been part of the “foreground.” While our group plans to consider books from a variety of disciplines, we are especially interested in scholarship that charts the diverse entanglements of these various entities and religion. We will also investigate the social (e.g. secularization), political (e.g. colonialism), and intellectual (e.g. monotheism) currents that made it possible for scholars--if only for a brief time--to relegate other-than-human entities to the “background.”

Leaders: Lloyd Barba and William Girard (Mount Holyoke College)

Participants: Mara Benjamin (Mount Holyoke College), Rebecca Falcasantos (Amherst College), Felicity Aulino (5-College), Victoria Nguyen (Amherst College), Colin Hoag (Smith College), Amy Cox Hall (Independent Scholar, formerly Amherst College)

Free Speech and Academic Freedom

speech bubble Freedom of speech is in many eras a taken for granted aspect of American life. In those eras, controversy tends to focus on issues like whether something counts as speech. But ours is an era in which freedom of speech cannot be taken for granted. Controversies around speech and its meaning abound. This seminar examines the meaning and value of speech and free speech under contemporary conditions.

Leader: Austin Sarat

Participants: Martha Umphrey, Adam Sitze, Adam Levine, Scott Alfeld, Jonathan Obert, Justin Smith, Lisa Rutherford, Laurie Frankl.

Thinking Democratically

Sentence "Use your voice" on a piece of paper How do the humanities and humanistic social sciences understand what it means to think democratically?
How have those understandings changed over time? How do they vary from culture to culture? How does thinking democratically equip people to seek social justice? This reading/study group will examine these questions.

Leader: Austin Sarat

Participants: Chris van den Berg, Rafeeq Hasan, Nusrat Chowdury, Jared Loggins, Javier Corrales, Jyl Gentzler, Lauren Leydon-Hardy, Ruxandra Paul


This seminar examines A close-up of a typewriter with  typed FAKE NEWS the way that the flood of information and disinformation has contributed to social polarization and blurred boundaries between truth and falsehood, fact and opinion, reporting and propaganda.

Leader: Martha Umphrey 

Participants: Michael Kunichika, Sanam Nadar-Esfahani, Pooja Rangan, Nishi Shah, Nica Siegel, Jaeyoon Park


The Premodern at Amherst

The impetus for this group was a sense of the dearth of premodern humanities at Amherst: Faculty across all departments who base their work on ancient, classical, or medieval traditions or civilizations. As colleagues became aware of this and the shallow presentism it indicates and portends for students and the broader culture, they began to gather to discuss this situation. Efforts developed organically and emerged over time from a sense of intellectual chemistry and shared sense of purpose in the group. Colliseum Meeting periodically over the last five years, participants have read work in the humanities that bridges their interests, and have read one another's work. In its second year, the group formed a Mellon-funded First-year Seminar (FYSE) cluster which developed the course "Beginnings," launched in Fall 2019. At the same time, it has drawn on CHI funding for its intellectual and scholarly meetings, retaining its scholarly community apart, and as adjunct to, its work on the course.

Leader: Ingrid Nelson

Participants: Maria Heim, Tariq Jaffer, Rebecca Falcasantos, Chris van den Berg, Catherine Infante, Ying Lei, Tom Zanker, Mekhola Gomes, Yael Rice, Hannah Hunter-Parker, Monica Ringer, George Qaio, Jutta Sperling, Sanam Nader-Esfahani