Programs in 2021-22

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. 

Conversations about Care

Line drawing of figure with hands folded into the shape of a heart Care is a central issue of our times, both inside and outside of the academy. From activist organizing to pandemic preparedness, from climate science to labor and migration studies, from mundane individual routines to institutional mandates and global systems, care is there: as analytic descriptor, as core concern, as rallying cry, as object of critique. The meanings and materiality of care beg critical exploration at nearly every turn. Indeed, a thriving arena of research and theorizing about care and caregiving practices is evident across the Amherst campus and beyond. This seminar will therefore bring together faculty from multiple disciplines with a shared interest in care to develop our own work and engage, through reading and discussion, the work of others. We come together recognizing that sustained intellectual engagement and mutual support across a range of life’s dimensions is very much part of the work of care – albeit work often obfuscated or even obstructed by social and institutional forces. Our vision is to develop a network, a community of practice with whom we not only think about care and trace its antecedents, but also develop together new habits of care with which to transform our shared worlds. Leader: Felicity Aulino (Anthropology and Sociology). Participants: Chris Dole (Anthropology and Sociology), Christine N. Peralta (History, Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies), Jallicia A. Jolly (American Studies, Black Studies), Joya Misra (Sociology, UMass).

Ruins, Artifacts, Aftermath

Black and white photo of a light colored building in ruins, looking into the main doorway The faculty seminar is to explore different perspectives on the RUIN, through the study of actual artifacts in the Mead Art Museum, and theoretical inquiry into the states of temporality that ruins inspire, particularly that of aftermath. The seminar will explore actual physical remnants and their sometimes haunted historical contexts. We will approach the loaded questions of Western collecting, using these artifacts and the ruins they leave behind as a case study. Yet, we will also emphasize the romantic phenomenology of ruins: how the ruin as a building type can activate our imaginations and desires, and can inspire us to imagine alternative futures. The seminar will focus on shared readings and the critical exchange of ideas and approaches, and include visits to the study room at the Mead. Leader: Karen Koehler (Art and the History of Art). Participants: Rowland Abiodun (Art and the History of Art), Christopher Dole (Anthropology and Sociology), Nicola Courtright (Art and the History of Art), Laure Katsaros (French), Michael Kunichika (Russian), Yael Rice (Art and the History of Art), Monica Ringer (History), Lee Spector (Computer Science), Jutta Sperling (History), Amelia Worsley (English).

Thinking Democratically

graphic of ballot box with the word "vote" written across it in red 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 (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought). Participants: Chris van den Berg (Classics), Rafeeq Hasan (Philosophy), Nusrat Chowdury (Anthropology and Sociology), Jared Loggins (Black Studies), Javier Corrales (Political Science).

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


Black Queer Diaspora Studies

LBGTQ symbol in purple and blue We consider the possibilities of blackness and queerness amidst our ‘reemergence’ from COVID-19 and our ongoing navigation of cultures of turbulence and inequalities. The seminar keenly asks the questions: 1) What speculative futures are possible where Black queer and trans life and happiness is central to the project of society, and what do we need in the present to make these futures possible? 2) And, as Omise’eke Tinsley probes, “What would it mean for both queer and African diaspora studies to take seriously the possibility that, as forcefully as the Atlantic and the Caribbean flow together, so too do the turbulent fluidities of Blackness and queerness?” This convening is a productive site of sociopolitical convergences across borders that is rooted in decolonizing feminist and queer theory/practice that simultaneously decenters the ‘Global North’ and marks “White Westerness.” We engage the diasporic and transnational dimensions of Black queer and trans life in ways that disrupt nations and nationalism. As Rinaldo Walcott reminds us “...Black queer life borrows and shares across national borders to constitute itself locally.” In this sense we seek to understand visions of futures of Black queer and trans people as informed by their social and geographical location, but understand that because Blackness continually flows beyond borders, so do the stories and imaginations of Black queer and trans communities. Leader: Jallicia Jolly (American Studies). Participants: Watufani Poe (Black Studies), Jared Loggins (Black Studies), Paul Joseph López Oro (Africana Studies, Smith College).


Fake news spelled out in Scrabble tiles This seminar examines 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 (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought). Participants: Michael Kunichika (Russian), Sanam Nadar-Esfahani (French), Pooja Rangan (Film and Media Studies), Adam Sitze (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought).

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


The Premodern at Amherst

Graphic of the Colliseum in Rome 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 periodically over the last four 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: Maria Heim (Religion). Participants: Tariq Jaffer (Religion), Rebecca Falcasantos (Religion), Ingrid Nelson (English), Chris van den Berg (Classics), Catherine Infante (Spanish), Ying Lei (Asian Languages and Civilizations), Tom Zanker (Classics), Mekhola Gomes (History), Yael Rice (Art and the History of Art),Sanam Nadar-Esfahani (French), Hannah Hunter-Parker (German), Monica Ringer (History), George Qaio (History), Jutta Sperling (History).

Free Speech

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 meaning and value of speech and free speech under contemporary conditions. Leader: Austin Sarat (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought). Participants: Liz Agosto (Student Affairs), Justin Smith (Art and the History of Art), Lisa Rutherford (Counsel's Office), Adam Sitze (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought), Adam Levine (Film and Media Studies), Martha Umphrey (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought), Scott Alfeld (Computer Science), Jonathan Obert (Political Science)