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2021-2022 RPW Center Seminars


Click here for 2021-2022 Seminar Proposal Guidelines


You can learn about upcoming programs or sign up for individual seminar mailing lists below.



Art Seminar 

Co-directors: Stan Link  (Blair School of Music),  Leah Lowe  (Theatre),  Vesna Pavlović  (Art),  Jonathan Rattner  (Art/Cinema & Media Arts),  Nancy Reisman  (English), and  Rebecca VanDiver  (History of Art/Architecture) 

The Art Seminar brings together Vanderbilt faculty who conduct or reflect on creative research. Consisting of makers/researchers from art, creative writing, cinema and media arts, art history and theater departments, along with the Blair School of Music, this seminar creates a forum for sharing and comparing processes of production and discussing current topics relevant to our work as creative research academics. 

This seminar will feature critique sessions of on-campus faculty work and will host local, national, and international visual artists, curators, filmmakers, writers, theatre and performance artists, and others, who will be invited to share early drafts of their projects and present on issues in their respective fields. [Sign up to be notified of open Art Seminar events.]


Circum-Atlantic Studies 

Co-directors: Jane Landers (History), Daniel Genkins (Executive Director of the Slave Societies Digital Archive, VU), and Theron Corse (History, Geography and Political Science, TSU) 

The Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar focuses on the themes of Atlantic slavery, colonialism, and/or postcolonialism, with most sessions centering on an invited talk and/or a discussion of a pre-circulated paper. The research links Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean, and addresses a range of constituencies on campus. This seminar also created, with support from the RPW Center, a Black Atlantic History Speaker Series.  The Series invites major scholars of the Black Atlantic to campus every February to discuss their research and publications. Our goal for this year is to continue scholarly discussions of the field through presentations from invited speakers as well as faculty and graduate students on campus. 


Contemporary in Theory 

Co-directors: Alex Dubilet (English), Simone Stirner (German, Russian and East European Studies), and Ben Tran (English/Asian Studies)

The Contemporary in Theory Seminar examines contemporary issues that range from global capitalism, critical race theories, climate change, digital media and technology, and the definitions and boundaries of the human. The seminar fosters innovative approaches to the contemporary across diverse disciplines and methodological backgrounds, addressing these pressing topics through our shared intellectual and theoretical concerns, while bringing to bear our disciplines and areas of expertise. In the fall semester, the seminar will focus on The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (Dipesh Chakrabarty), All Incomplete (Stefano Harney and Fred Moten), and The Feminist International: How to Change Everything  (Verónica Gago).     


East Europe: Critical Encounters

Co-directors: Kathryn David (German, Russian, and East European Studies) and Allison Schachter (Jewish Studies/English)  

East Europe: Critical Encounters explores a range of humanistic topics concerning the region of Russia and Eastern Europe, including distinct East European frameworks of culture; the complexities of empire (both past and present); questions of religion, law, and political authority; socialism and post-socialism; minority rights and mass violence; and Russia’s place in defining scholarly conversations and methods of inquiry. 

While closely analyzing humanistic questions of the region, our seminar uses the lens of Eastern Europe to probe global and theoretical frameworks for thinking about art, architecture, culture, literature, and history. Consequently, each meeting aims to rethink and reframe a critical question of the region from interdisciplinary perspectives, while also providing participants an opportunity to situate these questions in broader humanistic inquiry.

Click here to join the East Europe: Critical Encounters mailing list.


Economy and Society 

Co-directors: William Caferro (History/Classical and Mediterranean Studies) and William Collins  (Economics/History),  

The Economy and Society Seminar brings together in conversation economists, humanists and social scientists from across the university. Scholars will discuss and debate their diverse methodological approaches, which are often poorly understood by each other. Among the topics the group will discuss are wealth inequality, the migration of workers, the nature of labor forces, racial and gender disparities, public finance, state formation, trade networks, globalization, institutions, behavioral patterns and aspects of the so-called “great divergence”—east/west. We encourage both informal individual presentations of works in progress, more formal presentations of finished work, joint critical readings of works of common interest, and mini-colloquia among faculty with diverse perspectives.   


Film Theory and Visual Culture 

Co-directors: Iggy Cortez (Cinema & Media Arts/English), Jennifer Fay (Cinema & Media Arts/English), and Lutz Koepnick (Cinema & Media Arts/German Studies).

The Film Theory and Visual Culture Seminar fosters dialogue among faculty and graduate students interested in film, visual culture, art history, literature and media studies, as well as in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetics and critical theory, media histories, and the history of vision. Each semester we host scholars from leading programs in film and media studies (and adjacent fields), as well as scholars from our own Vanderbilt community. See our line-up of speakers below and please join us for the conversation! To see a list of previous speakers, please click here.

You will find that we are planning three events: two in-person and one to be held on Zoom following a pre-recorded presentation which will be made available a week ahead of the meeting. Click here to join the Film Theory and Visual Culture mailing list.

Fall 2021 Semester

Sept. 17th 12:30-2:00 p.m. Live and in person at the RPWC. James McFarland (Vanderbilt University) “George Romero’s Knightriders and the Utopian War Machine”
Oct. 29th 12:30-1:30 p.m. (CT) (Zoom discussion of a prerecorded presentation, which will be available a week before). Nicholas Baer (University of Groningen) “‘Films of Thought’: On Hegel, Adorno, and the Good of Cinema”
Nov. 12th 12:30-2:00 p.m. Live and in person at the RPWC. Caetlin Benson-Allott (Georgetown University) “Expanding the Scene of the Screen: Material Cultures of Film and Television”


Indigenous Studies Seminar 

Co-directors:  Jana Harper (Art) and Brooke A. Ackerly (Political Science)

The Indigenous Studies Seminar provides an opportunity for sharing research on critical Indigenous and Native American issues. The seminar is an inclusive, interdisciplinary space where faculty, students, and staff come together to dialog, discuss works-in-progress, share networks, and ask questions about what it does and can mean to engage Indigenous Studies at Vanderbilt.  

The seminar hosts conversations between the Vanderbilt community and Indigenous Scholars and Knowledge Keepers. One of our main goals is to support relationship-building, both within and outside the University, by committing to establishing and nurturing lasting relationships with local and removed Native communities.

Sign up here to be notified of public Indigenous Studies Seminar events.


Islamic Studies Seminar 

Co-directors: Richard McGregor (Religious Studies, VU) and Ida Nitter (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Univ. of Pennsylvania)*

The Islamic Studies Seminar is a collaborative academic space where students and faculty critically evaluate the study of Islam. The goal of the seminar is to establish a cross-disciplinary conversation at Vanderbilt, engaging diverse fields across the Humanities to examine and discuss works-in-progress. With presentations spanning various subjects in Islamic Studies from the medieval to modern era, the seminar is an opportunity for academic enrichment and outreach. The seminar also highlights the work of both Vanderbilt and non-Vanderbilt academics, generating networks of scholarly review that go beyond the University.    

As the RPW Center explores the theme of "Environments," this year's Islamic Studies Seminar will also focus on the Islamic topography of Cairo and its interconnected web of sacred spaces and embodied agency. Religious rituals, pilgrimages, and processions are woven up with devotional textuality, both historical and poetic, to produce the topographies of Islamic piety.

*The co-directors will host this year's meetings from Cairo, Egypt, with a focus on devotional Islamic landscapes and literature.


Political Ideology in Modern Life

Co-directors:  Robert Engelman (Philosophy) and Emanuel Stults (History)

The Political Ideology in Modern Life Seminar cultivates dialogue among scholars and students across disciplines interested in reflectively examining the discursive and cognitive facets of modern political life. With good reason, political life is a lively topic of discussion on and off campus, and political ideology is increasingly becoming both a compelling sub-topic and a popular explanation for troubling political trends. By bringing together philosophical work in political epistemology and critical theory, social-scientific studies of political movements and regime change, communication theory and media studies, as well as historiography of politics and political thought, we look to gain insights into political ideology that challenge us to generate innovative, interdisciplinary modes of investigation into the problems we face in modern life.

Click here to join the Political Ideology in Modern Life mailing list.


Religion as Resistance: Afro-Latinx Diasporic Identities 

Co-directors:  Candice Amich (English),  William Luis (Spanish and Portuguese),  and Gretchen Selcke (Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies)

The  Religion as Resistance: Afro Latinx Diasporic Identities  Seminar focuses on Afro Latinx religions as forms of resistance in places like Brazil, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Benin, Nigeria, and the US mainland. This seminar seeks to understand the intersections between African religious practices and resistance, both in historical and contemporary contexts. How do writings of and about enslaved people, Black people, and their African religious practices represent a counter discourse to what is promoted by dominant societies? How does religion function as a means of resistance? Our goal for this year is to amplify interdisciplinary scholarly discussions through presentations from invited speakers, development of grant opportunities, and dialogue between faculty and graduate students on campus and beyond.


Rereading French Theory: Aesthetics, Metaphysics, Politics 

Co-directors:  Alex Dubilet (English/Political Science) and Jessie Hock (English)

The “Rereading French Theory” seminar is an interdisciplinary space to encounter anew classic theoretical works of major 20th-century French thinkers. In its inaugural 2021-2022 academic year, we will focus on the thought on Gilles Deleuze, especially his magnum opus,  Difference & Repetition , which we will approach via close reading, secondary readings, and workshops by visiting Deleuze experts. For all questions regarding the group, please contact Jessie Hock ( ) and Alex Dubilet ( ).


The Novel Seminar

Co-directors: Jay Clayton (English/CMA) and Scott J. Juengel (English) 

The Novel Seminar brings together the Vanderbilt community and visiting scholars to engage with groundbreaking scholarship on the history, theory and politics of the novel form, from its early modern provenance to its contemporary persistence in a hyper-mediated public sphere. Our sessions explore matters of fictional world-building and narrative form as they intersect with pressing questions in multiple fields of inquiry, from climate change to racial capitalism, sexual politics to social justice. While largely focused on the Anglophone world, the seminar welcomes scholars working in a range of national literatures and disciplines to share work and join the discussions.  


Transportation and Transformative Justice

Co-directors: Aimi Hamraie (MHS/American Studies) and Brenda Pérez (Walk Bike Nashville) 

Equity-focused transportation planners and activists coined the term “mobility justice” to describe equitable access to transportation, particularly in contexts where racial, class, gender, and disability disparities have historically created uneven access. In this seminar, urban transportation scholars and advocates will study the insights of mobility justice in relation to the emerging framework of “transformative justice,” which seeks to find alternatives to policing through community accountability. This framework could inform how we study and make policies regarding transportation, for example in the case of pedestrian and cyclist safety. We will meet monthly to study scholarly, activist, and practitioner literatures on these topics, and then host two community events in Spring 2021.