Interdisciplinary Faculty Seminars

2017-2018

Conflict Analysis and Mediation in Nile Valley States

Neal Walls (Convener, Divinity School), Michaelle Browers (Politics and International Affairs), Hank Kennedy (Politics and International Affairs), Nelly van Doorn-Harder (Study of Religions)

This spring semester our group of five faculty members (from Religion, Divinity, and Politics and International Affairs) continued our exploration of conflict and inter-religious identities in Nile Valley states. While we discussed the relationship between states in the Nile Valley (especially concerning water resources), our attention quickly focused on political, religious, and cultural issues in Sudanese and Ethiopian society. At times we joked that we chose to study an area of our mutual ignorance, since none of us is an expert on this particular region. We endeavored to increase our understanding of communal tensions between Muslim and Christian communities and between different forms of Islamic practice. Our goals in deepening our understandings of this complex region and cultures as political scientists and historians of religion were modest; we did not attempt to overcome the gap between theorization and praxis or venture far beyond our original intellectual horizons.

In February we arranged and hosted a visit from Noah Salomon, a professor at Macalaster College, to learn about his many years researching the practice of Islam in Sudanese society. We discussed his book, For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan’s Islamic State (Princeton, 2015), which is a detailed study of the recent experiment with state-imposed Islamization. (The non-Muslim communities of the former Sudan are now largely relegated to the new nation of South Sudan.) In addition to meeting with our group, Prof. Salomon gave a public lecture, supported by numerous departments and programs.

In March our faculty seminar turned its attention to the problem of communal and inter-religious tensions in Ethiopia, with a focus on Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. We discussed Nega Mezlekia’s novel, The Unfortunate Marriage of Azeb Yitades (Penguin, 2006) and we read T. Boylston, The Stranger at the Feast: Prohibition and Mediation in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Community (University of California, 2018). Our current faculty seminar built upon the foundation of a 2015–2016 faculty seminar on “Christian Communities in Muslim Environments: Ethiopia.” Three members of that group (who are also members of the current faculty seminar) traveled to Ethiopia in May 2016 to participate in an international conference on Peace and Conflict in Modern Africa and to explore sites in Addis Ababa, Gondar, Axus, Lalibela, and Bahir Dar. With the help of Kline Harrison, we also established formal links to Rift Valley University and the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, with hopes to future faculty and student exchanges. One of our current seminar members traveled to Ethiopia in March, and two others are traveling there in May 2018, when we hope to further explore Muslim areas around Harar. We are meeting with local scholars to strengthen our University’s ties to Ethiopian schools. Much of our energy this year was spent preparing for these research trips. Our group is also hosting a visiting Ethiopian professor from Rift Valley University (Meron Zeleke) at Wake Forest this summer. We have previously collaborated with Prof. Zeleke on previous US trips and in Ethiopia.

Contemplative Studies Across Disciplines: Towards a New Paradigm of Research and Collaboration

Eranda Jayawickreme (Co-convener, Psychology), Lisa Blee (Co-convener, History), Sharon Andrews (Theatre), Jamie Crockett (Counseling), Ken Hoglund (Study of Religions), Monique O’Connell (History), Eric Stottlemyer (English), Elisabeth Whitehead (English)

In the first year of our seminar, we endeavored to learn and reflect in dialogue on how one’s discipline and one’s research is or can be impacted by the emerging paradigm of contemplative studies. Our meetings and discussions opened epistemological issues for us that we hoped to explore in a second year, this time focused on a series of specific research questions. Our starting and core question that operated in the background throughout the year was: Can (and should) current contemplative traditions be adapted by practitioners outside of the religious, cultural and/or historical contexts from which these traditions emerged? Modern North American writers have extolled the mental health benefits of such practices (e.g. Edward Slingerland’s Trying Not To Try), and we see contemplative practices adopted into corporate and higher education wellness initiatives. But what does it mean to adopt the mindset of “committing to an act” and “working through adversity” (as we were mandated to do at the North Carolina Zen Center last spring) removed from the context of Zen Buddhism? Are we missing something, or perhaps deeply altering the tradition we claim to follow?

In the seminar this year, we have read historical texts describing the practices (Benedict’s Rule), as well as books by scholars who argue that modern practices represent a further evolution of contemplative traditions. Robert Wright, for example, advocated for an “American Buddhism” in Why Buddhism is True. Our discussion thus considered the clear tension between innovation/adaptation and the value of strict rules governing proper practice. While contemplative practices have been promoted as an “easy fix” approach to wellness and mental health, our examination of the rules surrounding these practices in the Christian Benedictine and Zen Buddhist traditions provided us with a deeper understanding of the purpose of rules in these traditions. Given that the goal of these practices was existential in aim (rather than for the purpose of promoting mental health), this raises the question of the appropriate goals of such practices. This question becomes more urgent in our discussion of contemplative practices in the context of death and mortality, where such practices provide the additional service of soothing eschatological concerns.

This discussion led to an even more fundamental consideration: the nature and origin of faith. Given the engagement of these practices with ultimate concerns and other existential questions, an important question that we considered was the meaning of religious faith. More specifically, does one practice a faith by engaging in this practice, or does engaging in the practice bring people into a religious worldview? The recent media discussions of the religious foundation of practices such as yoga, while somewhat simplistic, seem to capture this tension well.

Similar to how these practices may shape our faith outside our conscious commitment, they may also reshape our minds. The role of practice in shaping our orientation to the world can also be examined in terms of its impact on our psychology and biology. In our final discussions, we considered the link between science and contemplative traditions. We specifically discussed research suggesting that contemplative practices may shape the brain in ways that lead to changes in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occur outside our conscious awareness.

Humanities and the Cinematic World: Films as Media to Understand the Local and the Global

Woodrow Hood (Co-convener, Communication), Raisur Rahman (Co-convener, History), Mary Dalton (Communication and WGSS), Anne Hardcastle (Spanish), Molly Knight (German & Russian), Stokes Piercy (Communication), Andrew Rodekohr (East Asian Languages & Cultures), Joel Tauber (Art)

This continuing interdisciplinary faculty seminar brings together faculty with shared pedagogical and research interests in film and television to understand concerns of both local and global nature via transnational cinema. These investigations offer case studies of worlded audio-visual narratives from different sources. Investigating content areas such as German television/streaming media, films from Spain, Mauritania, India, China, and Hollywood, as well as scholarly collections on “world” and “transnational” cinema, our investigations explored how these products have been worlded and what the content shows in terms of national self-representations and the manner in which they achieve a global circulation of national images.

Toby Miller suggests at the outset of his preface to the volume Traditions in World Cinema that the most important thing to do is “to destabilise the term, to question the logic of each word.” Indeed, our interest here is to complicate these terms. From early in our discussions, we shifted away from the question of “what is world cinema?” which tends to produce binaries where “world cinema” either is reduced to little more than clever marketing or becomes the hero in a noble resistance to a dominant cinema from Hollywood. Instead of taking world cinema broadly as works from around the world that are circulating globally, we found more productive thought in exploring the concepts or methods behind that “worlding.” As Miller advises in questioning the logic of the words, we began to trace a number of paths through which a cultural product is “worlded.” How does it come to circulate globally and why might it be consumed on a global level? What impact does the worlding of a product have on its representation of local identities?

In reading across scholarship on transnational and world cinema, especially Remapping World Cinema: Identity, Culture, and Politics in Film, we perceived five common ways we were seeing the worlding of cinema and television through technology, aesthetics, narratives, producers, and consumers. Different films showed affinity for specific means of their “worlding” with implications for commercial and critical success as well as for their intersections of national and global representations. Our discussions around these questions helped us put these films together under concepts other than the national or regional affinities that continue to structure most scholarship on world cinema.

The seminar content and our evolving perspectives on world cinema allowed us to workshop a paper and has inspired at least five (5) conference papers influenced by the study of our group. Another significant outcome is a new, team-taught course for Fall 2018, International and Transnational Cinema. Avoiding an older, sampler-style approach to film and scholarship curation, the new course explores the intersectionality of culture and ideology of media as it is worlded.

The Silk Roads

Jeffrey D. Lerner (Convener, History), Stewart Carter (Music), Elizabeth Clendinning (Music), Dan Du (History), James L. Ford (Study of Religions), THM Gellar-Goad (Classical Languages), Andrew Gurstelle (Anthropology), Megan Mulder (ZSR Special Collections), Monique O’Connell (History), John Ruddiman (History), Yaohua Shi (East Asian Languages and Cultures), Laura Veneskey (Art History), Qiong Zhang (History)

Our seminar focused on “The Silk Roads” as both a historical network of global interactions that spanned from antiquity to the early modern period and as a metaphor for the persistent connectivity across human communities and the multiform of cross-cultural borrowing, hybridization, acculturation and syncretism to which it gave rise. The aim of the seminar was to cultivate a discursive community at Wake Forest to foster teaching, scholarship, and community engagement. In this context, the seminar took on the broader meaning as part of a series that we have initiated as “Silk Roads Winston-Salem” spanning from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019 and beyond. Our intent from the start was two-fold: to provide each participant an overview of the subject and to enable each to create a foundation for specialized work for purposes of teaching and/or research.

To this end, we engaged with ten (10) books in the fall, and one (1) article, seven (7) books, one (1) DVD, and two (2) CDs in the spring. Our intent was to create a library that covered a wide range of topics such that no one person was conversant in all the subjects that we studied: trade and commerce, history, religion, music and dance, long-distance communications by land and sea, regional identities, travelers, cities, and much more. Furthermore, the periods that we covered ranged from the Bronze Age of the second millennium BCE to the Early Modern Period of the seventeenth century CE. We also read selections from the first volume of a multi-volume set of Epic of Gesar of Ling. By drawing on outside funding, we were able to bring Dr. George FitzHerbert of the East Asian Civilizations Research Centre, College de France, to campus and to facilitate our discussion of the Epic.

2016-2017

Contemplative Studies Across Disciplines: Towards a New Paradigm of Research and Collaboration

Ulrike Wiethaus (convener, Study of Religions, American Ethnic Studies), Sharon Andrews (Theatre), Lisa Blee (History), Jamie Crockett (Counseling), Kenneth Hoglund (Study of Religions), Eranda Jayawickreme (Psychology), Eric Stottlemeyer (English)

This interdisciplinary seminar is designed to explore the emerging paradigm of Contemplative Studies in three thematic configurations: contemplative awareness and the human body, a contemplative engagement with nature, and the manifestation of contemplative practice and reflection in community. Structured around four meetings in the fall with rotating discussion leadership, the seminar will also implement contemplative practices such as deep listening, mindful beholding, and “slow research” for each session.

Design in the Liberal Arts

David Finn (co-convener, Art), Tom Frank (co-convener, History), Jill Crainshaw (School of Divinity), Jack Dostal (Physics), Rob Eastman-Mullins (Theatre & Dance), Jennifer Gentry (Art), Gordon E. McCray (School of Business)

This new seminar will explore the role of design as practice, as cultural phenomenon, and as conceptual provocation in the 21st century project of rethinking the humanities and liberal arts. Conversations on readings in design theory and practice, combined with reflections on the way design shapes our individual work and disciplines, will enhance the group’s teaching and research. The group members’ collective work drawing on learnings from design and design thinking will also prepare for better articulation of arguments for the liberal arts and the humanities amid rapid changes in higher education.

Humanities and the Cinematic World: Films as Media to Understand the Local and the Global

Woodrow Hood (co-convener, Director of Film and Media Studies), Raisur Rahman (co-convener, History), Nicholas Albertson (East Asian Languages and Cultures), Mary Dalton (WGS/Communication), Anne Hardcastle (Romance Languages), Stokes Piercy (Communication), Andrew Rodekohr (East Asian Languages and Cultures)

This seminar will bring together scholarship and teaching practices from different disciplines and regional foci with the purpose of enhancing our understanding of films as media to understand society, in both local and global dimensions. It seeks to initiate and foster deeper conversations on how the varied cinematic worlds of East Asia, South Asia, and the Americas connect and intersect as well as to benefit from individual expertise and experiences to advance the understanding of the deeper roots of human connections and collectivities across global cultures. The purpose is to enhance participants’ pedagogy and research in their own respective fields and disciplines and promote the study of films as both reflective and constitutive of our social being.

Materiality and Modernity

Stephanie Koscak (co-convener, History), Morna O’Neill (co-convener, Art History), Susan Harlan (English), Claudia Kairoff (English), Candace Mixon (PhD Candidate in Religion, UNC-Chapel Hill), Megan Mulder (Special Collections Library), Jessica Richard (English)

This continuing faculty seminar takes an interdisciplinary approach to two topics that have re-shaped the humanities in significant ways in the last two decades. The material turn raises new questions about the materiality of historical texts and objects, the cultural and social values bestowed upon and mediated through things, and the embodied production of knowledge. This seminar asks two questions related questions: what roles do material objects play in the rise of modernity? How should we account for these roles within and across scholarly disciplines (particularly History, Art History, Literary Studies, and Religion)?