Selecting the CHI Theme

Periodically, the CHI Advisory Board identifies and discusses potential themes that will at once attract engaging new scholarship and speak to issues with broad significance. Previous themes have included Speech/Image/Spectacle, through which participants explored the ways we generate, encode, and circulate meaning through representation; and Conservation, through which participants imagined a practice of care, repair, and stewardship both of nature and of culture. The theme planned for 2021-23, in conjuction with the college's Anti-Racism Initiative, is "Black: Here and Now" (see below). The current theme is "Home" (see below), and invites inquiry into home's relation to protection and exclusion, language and identity, exile and migration. 

CHI Theme for 2019-2021: Home

"Home" by Patrick Hughes (courtesy of Amherst College Archives)

Home: across time and space and culture, there has been perhaps no more resonant an idea.  Both material and affective, home is a space of origin and dwelling, set apart from spheres of promiscuous public interaction and of emptiness.  To have a home is to be more than housed: it is to be given an identity, to feel belonging, to find refuge, to constitute private or domestic life, to gather people and material objects, and to generate memory. By contrast, to be without a home is to be outside of or excluded from that centering and protective space, to feel estrangement or abandonment, to wander detached from place, or perhaps from another perspective to take on a new and cosmopolitan identity, self-willed and multivalent. 

From homepage to homeroom to homeland, home is a place to which one is tethered. Yet home and homelessness are also constituted from the outside – constructed through policy, imbued with ideology, and elaborated aesthetically in relation to other times and traditions. Authorities construct and destroy homes; institutions proclaim their economic and moral value; designers imagine their utopic possibilities. 

Throughout 2019 to 2021, we engage a wide range of humanities-oriented scholarship as we take up a number of questions addressing our theme.  What is home’s force or energy as a thing and an idea?  How is home imagined, deployed, and conjured as an object of desire?  How is home simultaneously a mechanism of protection and of exclusion?  Who can have a home, and what are the conditions of its possibility?  How has the home evolved historically and manifested differently across cultures?  What is home’s relation to language and identity, exile and migration? 

Above: "Home" by Patrick Hughes (courtesy of Amherst College Archives)

Upcoming Theme for 2021-23 "Black: Here and Now"

Black: Here and Now

Black Here and Now In a recent address to the college community, the president of Amherst College, Biddy Martin, wrote that anti-Black racism “has had a distinctive, very long, and deep-seated position and function in the economic, social, political, and moral history of the country.” As the college launches an ambitious Anti-Racism Initiative to address these concerns, the Center for Humanistic Inquiry invites CHI Fellows to engage in a range of scholarship addressing the theme of anti-Black racism in the United States.

“Black: Here and Now” invites inquiry into myriad aspects of the experiences of Blacks in the U.S.: their enslavement in support of U. S. economic interests; the Civil War and its aftermath; the strategies to reconcile the legacy of slavery with the lofty aspirations toward freedom articulated in the country’s guiding documents—abolitionist movements, reparations, pan-Africanism; the constellation of political ideologies that framed the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s; the evolution of affirmative action; and the contemporary efflorescence of political mobilization regarding police brutality, Black Lives Matter, and defund-the-police initiatives.

We also examine the place of race broadly in the imagination of politics and law, social science and natural science, and art and expression. How is race implicated in histories of imperialism and colonization writ large and in systems of slavery and genocide around the world? What have been its connections to systems of classification and category through history, and what are they today in an age when the human genome has been mapped?