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 regularly throughout the school year. Activities include sponsored events, speakers, presenting or workshopping a seminar member’s research, organizing a reading group, and the like. 

The Stranger and the City

Cityscape This seminar explores how the rapidly urbanizing, technology‐based societies of today present both risks to, and opportunities for establishing “home” and social connections. In these demographic upheavals lies the potential both to include and exclude “strangers” in our cities and communities. Loneliness and mental health issues have become chronic diseases of the young with over 75% of mental illnesses manifesting by age 24. At the same time, the globe is experiencing an unprecedented youth bulge with 1.3 billion young people aged 15 to 24. 60% of all city dwellers will be under the age of 18 by 2030. This youth bulge will account for 90% of global growth in cities and take place predominantly in developing countries. The Stranger and the City is an investigation into this global challenge and the theme of the “Stranger." A central question of exploration will be: How do we integrate or exile the strangers in our cities (and in ourselves)? This seminar provides an opportunity to explore this question through the lenses of philosophy, literature, religion, art, history and language. Leader: Ana Candida Carneiro (Theater and Dance). Participants: Kasper Loewenstein (Political Science), Gustavo Salcedo (Political Science), Manuela Picq (Political Science), Allen J. Hart (Psychology), Elizabeth Aries (Psychology), Dwight A. Carey (Art and the History of Art), Karen R. Koehler (Art and the History of Art) Lloyd D. Barba (Religion). 

Feminist Thought

Feminist Our goal is to bring together faculty on campus whose work is informed by or generates feminist theory. We consider the power of Feminist Thought and its place at Amherst College, in the broader academy, and in contemporary political discourse, both nationally and globally. We are interested in bringing to campus one or more high profile speakers, such as Anne Fausto-Sterling (Brown, Biology), Kimberlee Crenshaw (UCLA/Columbia, Law), and/or Leila Ahmed (Divinity School, Harvard), to inspire this discussion. We will organize one faculty panel open to the public where we share our scholarship to anchor a conversation about the past and future of the field. We will organize one workshop where faculty can present works in progress for interdisciplinary critique and engagement. We will host an event with interested students and staff about the extent to which feminism influences our institutional and pedagogical practices. Leaders: Jen Manion (History); Amrita Basu (SWAGS and Political Science). Participants: Kristin Bumiller, Stephen Dillon, Jennifer Hamilton, Aneeka Henderson, Jyl Gentzler, Mary Hicks, Sheila Jaswal, Lisa Kall, Khary Polk, Jenna Riegel, Monique Roelofs, Krupa Shandilya, Jutta Sperling.

American Studies


AmStuds In recent years scholarship in the field of American Studies has expanded to include methods, theories, and examples from a wide array of disciplines and fields. Here at Amherst we have one of the oldest American Studies departments in the United States. Recent hires in American Studies, Spanish, and Religion to name a few departments, have brought scholars to the College whose research and teaching interests originate in American Studies but whose topics and theories cut across different ethnic studies fields, time periods, geographies, methodologies, and theoretical models. This seminar allows these colleagues to work closely with one another to share works in progress through writing workshops, roundtable discussions, and panels. Leader: Kiara Vigil (American Studies). Participants: Sony Bolton (Spanish), Lloyd Barba (Religion), Jallicia Jolly (American Studies), and Lili Kim (History and CHI).

"It was an energizing and engaging group and a surprisingly meaningful experience for me."

Black Girlhood


Black Girlhood This group convenes scholars invested in employing interdisciplinary perspectives to study the relationships between violence and the lived experiences of Black girls across continental contexts. We build on the frameworks of scholars such as Saidiya Hartman (Columbia), Oneka LaBennett (Cornell) and Gina Athena Ulysse (Wesleyan) in order to cultivate a global lens around Black Girlhood as a lived experience and political engagement throughout the African diaspora. Leader: Jalicia Jolly (American Studies). 

Exile Lab


Gate Etymologically, exile is a punishment: because of a war, a fault, or political convictions, people are banished from their homeland. Its violence is inscribed in many foundational myths of human civilizations, premodern or modern. Grounded in concrete and harsh realities of danger, persecution and expulsion, exile as a category relates to a certain experienced perspective. Exile always assumes a homeland lost. Exiles themselves, however, are not only displaced in space, but also in time: exile creates an unbridgeable gap between before and after, stopping the flow of life and of history. The exiles then find themselves in what exiled novelist, Lion Feuchtwanger, famously likened to a “waiting room.” Marked by the absence of a linear relationship to time and space, exile leads to a re-actualization and re-territorialization of the world. It is thus not surprising that many key works of literature, theology, historiography, philology, social science and philosophy were written in exile. Yet, its omnipresence notwithstanding, exile remains remarkably under-theorized, and especially its role in the construction of knowledge in the humanities. Participants: Adi Gordon (History), Michael M. Kunichika (Russian), Raphael Sigal (French), Karen Koehler (ARHA), Manuela Picq (Political Science). 

"This group is one of the highlights of my experience at Amherst..."

A Place Called Home - Emily Dickinson's conceptions of home

Emily Dickinson portrait Emily Dickinson wrote her poems in the Federal-style building at 280 Main Street in Amherst, but she lived in poetry that used “house” and “home” as recurring images. References to “house, “home,” chambers, and animal habitations occur in 15% of her poems. “House/home” functions as a metaphor the body, it is a symbol of consciousness, a spiritual state, and an allegory for the construction of the self. If one reduced Dickinson’s poetry to a single question, it would be: “Where is your Home?” The “Place Called Home” Seminar brings six Emily Dickinson Museum (EDM) guides, Five College faculty, and museum professionals together for four discussions of Dickinson’s concept of home. In 2019-2020, EDM will re-envision its restoration program, collections, use of Dickinson scholarship, and interpretative programming. Plans for the self-study are ready and funded, but the human forum to imaginatively integrate the findings into the visitor experience remains to be created. Leader: Melba Jensen (EDM guide), Judith Hudson (EDM guide), Jill Franks (EDM guide), Greg Mattingly (EDM guide), Polly Petersonv(EDM guide), Susan Snively (English - Emerita), Geoffrey Sanborn (English).

How Free Is/Should Speech Be?

Speech 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 the meaning and value of speech and free speech under contemporary conditions. Leader: Austin Sarat (LJST). Participants: Karu Kozuma (Student Affairs), Amy Cox Hall (Anthropology), Jonathan Obert (Political Science), Liz Agosto (Student Affairs), Scott Alfeld (Computer Science), Martha Umphrey (LJST), Lisa Rutherford (Counsel's Office), Adam Sitze (LJST), Justin Smith (ARHA), Ellen Boucher (History).

We Have Never Been Protestant - Religion and the Environment

Protestant Last year’s reading group pushed us to think through the imbrications between religion, affect, histories of colonialism and the environment. This year we will focus on the specific links between religion and the environment, for example, the religious origins of environmentalism, the religion-like qualities of environmentalism, and the role of religious organizations in advocating for (and sometimes opposing) greater care for the environment. We have selected the following texts to help us think about these connections and how we might come to research and analyze the discourses and practices in our current field sites: Magic’s Reason (Jones, 2017), For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism (Pike, 2017), Consecrating Science (Sideris, 2017) and The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity and the Birth of Human Sciences (Josephson-Storm, 2017). Leader: Amy Cox Hall (Anthropology). Participants: Lloyd Barba (Religion), Felicity Aulino (Anthropology), Bill Girard (Mt. Holyoke), and Colin Hoag (Smith).

The Premodern



Colliseum 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. Meeting about once a month for the last two years, participants have read work in the Humanities that bridges their interests, and have read one another's work. This past year, the group formed a Mellon-funded First-year Seminar (FYSE) cluster which is rolling out its course, "Beginnings," 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.  Chair: Ingrid Nelson (English). Participants: Maria Heim, Sanam Nader-Esfahani, Michael Kunichika, George Qaio, Yael Rice, Sergey Glebov, and Tom Zanker. Affiliates: Catherine Infante, Tariq Jaffer, and Chris van den Berg.