Activist Humanities


In partnership with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), LondonUniversity of VirginiaErtegun House, University of Oxford and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).

Part of the Humanities and the Public Good series.

A conference on the relationship between humanities and social change, across a wide range of national and cultural contexts, will bring together academics, artists, and audiences for three days of presentation and conversation.  Guiding themes include artistic expression and political struggle, academic reflection and social responsibility, faith and society, and the circulation of texts, images and bodies at the start of the twenty first century.

Participants will gather from many places in the world, representing a range of occupations and vocations: translator, filmmaker, novelist, historian, critic and theologian.  The format of the event is designed to bring together reflections from different parts of the world and promote discussions that will highlight comparisons and connections across continents – most sessions will emphasize brief talks followed by discussion among both panelists and audiences.

After two panels in London on the morning of  the 14th (“Translation as Radicalisation” and  “Humanities and Activism”), the conference will move to Oxford, where it reconvenes for an evening conversation among Ahdaf Soueif, Robin Kelly and Paul Smith on “The Activist Humanities in a Global Context".  On Saturday morning and afternoon, panels will address “Migration and Translation,” “Social Practice and Subversive Action,” and “Religion and Secularism.” Please register to guarantee a seat for the events in Oxford (remaining seats will be available on the day on a first come, first served basis).

The Global Humanities Initiative began in 2012 with a set of partnerships among scholars committed to trans-national exchange and the public engagement of the humanities.  An initial meeting was held at the University of Virginia in the spring of 2012.  There followed a conference on the “Humanities in Ferment” in Delhi, India in August of that year, and in May 2013, the GHI convened at Nanjing University to address “The Value of Humanities Research.”  The present conference marks a next stage in collaboration, as we look ahead to widening ties among scholars, artists, activists, citizens.

Ertegun House is running a graduate conference as part of this programme. More details will be available shortly.

The Programme

Please click here for a pdf version of the programme


The Activist Humanities in a Global Context
Ahdaf Soueif, Robin Kelley & Paul Smith in Conversation

17:00-18:30 | Pichette Auditorium, Pembroke College

Ahdaf Soueif, the booker prize nominated Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator, will be in conversation with Robin Kelley, the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA who has written extensively on social movements, the African diaspora and radical change, and Paul Smith, the Director of the British Council in the US whose previous postings include Egypt, India, Burma, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

To guarantee a seat please register (remaining seats will be available on the day on a first come, first served basis.) Go to register.


To guarantee a seat please register (remaining seats will be available on the day on a first come, first served basis.) Go to register for the whole day.

9.15 - 10.45 | Panel 1: Social practice and subversive action
Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford

This panel looks at the ways that Humanities scholars have engaged with social movements and policy on social issues in different cultural and national contexts. In particular the speakers will look at social change in India, Nigeria, Tunisia and China, but with a view to opening up discussion.

Chair: Professor Robin Kelley (UCLA)
Speakers: Dr Brinda Bose (University of Dehli), Professor Lai Olurode (University of Lagos), Professor Lu Andong (Nanjing University), Professor Amel Grami (University of Manouba)

10.45 - 11.15 | Tea
Research Common Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford

11.15 - 12.45 | Panel 2: Migration and translation
Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Migration and translation interact and exert pressure on one another. Migrants require translators; translation enables the migration of ideas. Our panel will explore the questions that arise from a variety of perspectives. Dr David Chirico (1 Pump Court) will discuss the role of translation in UK asylum interviews and court hearings. Professor Mona Baker (Manchester) will explore the extent to which volunteer translation done by individuals for collectives connected with the Egyptian Revolution supports or undermines the prefigurative agendas of these collectives, ie the degree to which it actualizes their political ideals, and will extend the definition of prefiguration to encompass textual, visual and aesthetic practices, principally in online media. Dr Cosima Bruno (SOAS) will look at questions of language and translation in Macau poetry which bears the residue of 400 years of migration from Europe, from the region of the Pear River Delta, and from the recent flows of immigration, foreign investors, tourists, media, and technology.

Chair: Dr Matthew Reynolds
Speakers: Professor Mona Baker (University of Manchester), Dr Cosima Bruno (SOAS), Dr David Chirico (1 Pump Court)

12.45 - 13.45 | Lunch
Ertegun House, 37a St Giles, Woodstock Road, Oxford

13:45 - 15.15 | Panel 3: Religion and secularism
Ertegun House, 37a St Giles, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Despite occasional claims we live in an age of post-religion and the dominance of the secular, debate about religion and secularism continues to mark our time.  The two colour ways of understanding and managing public life, whether we are dealing with societies where religion dominates or others where a secular modernity was thought to have ended the polemic.  Our panel will explore the pair of concepts and their intersections from a variety of angles.   Dr Humeira Iqtidar (Kings College, London) tackles “Tolerance in Times of War” by exploring the tensions and contradictions engendered by the official discourse of tolerance in Pakistan, where emphasis has been on 'educating' the masses into tolerance sponsored by successive governments, both military and civilian. Dr Prasanta Chakravarty (University of Delhi, India)  will be speaking on the idea of Indian notion of constitutional secularism and how community and ethical bond formation thwarts such legal ideas of modernity, and the implications of all of this for the humanities in his paper, "Icons, Death, Sampradaya: The National Popular and the Ascendancy of the Ethical Left". Professor Bruce Robbins (Columbia University, New York) pushes debate into the latest resurgence of interest in an argument for religion in public space with a paper on “Reflections on enchantment and post-secularism”. 

Chair: Dr Mohamed-Salah Omri (University of Oxford)
Speakers: Professor Bruce Robbins (Columbia University), Dr Humeira Iqtidar (King’s College London), Professor Prasanta Chakravaty (University of Dehli)

15.15 - 15.30 | Tea
Ertegun House, 37a St Giles, Woodstock Road, Oxford

15.30 - 16.00 | Looking back and looking ahead: closing discussion and round-up
Ertegun House, 37a St Giles, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Chair: Professor Michael Levenson (University of Virginia)


Photo: Soman


Race and Resistance across Borders in the Long Twentieth Century

Humanities & the Public Good

Contact name: Hannah Penny

Contact email:

Audience: Open to all