Tufts-led research collaboration rethinks culture, history and politics with a comparative global lens

Mellon Sawyer Seminar in Comparative Global Humanities to bring distinguished visiting humanities scholars to Tufts; inaugural event features acclaimed director Mira Nair

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. Tufts University will launch the Mellon Sawyer Seminar in Comparative Global Humanities April 20 with a conversation with Oscar-nominated director Mira Nair, part of a multi-month, interdisciplinary initiative to innovate humanistic studies in literature, religion, history, philosophy and art by looking beyond national cultures to global stories of connection and conflict.

“Between Two Worlds: A Conversation with Mira Nair,” will feature a discussion with the internationally acclaimed director about her films, including “Monsoon Wedding,” “Mississippi Masala,” “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” and others. Nair’s work explores issues that the seminar will examine in depth, including race, gender, diaspora, cultural encounter, and inter-generational conflict.

The event will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. in Cohen Auditorium, 40 Talbot Avenue, on the Tufts University campus.  Nair’s visit will be preceded on April 19 by a screening of “Salaam Bombay!,” her Oscar-nominated debut film, at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge at 7 p.m.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through a $175,000 grant, the Mellon Sawyer Seminar allows Tufts faculty members and students to collaborate with researchers from other Boston-area universities and universities across the world.

The multi-session seminar will run through May 2017 and be housed at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts. It builds on Tufts faculty expertise on artistic, religious, and cultural exchanges and transformations through histories of colonialism, globalization, and immigration to and from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The seminar will explore research models that go beyond the study of discrete national cultures to conceive the humanities in relation to histories of encounters, connections, and entanglements.

“This innovative approach to exploring the humanities allows us to look at history through a wider lens, to think across fields of knowledge and to unsettle the objects, methods, and archives of research,” said Lisa Lowe, professor of English and American Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences who is helping to organize the Tufts seminar. “Our hope is that this seminar will enrich the humanities and forge significant connections between Tufts faculty and scholars around the world.”

Each session of the seminar will focus on a theme that brings together scholarship from comparative literature, world history, comparative religion, anthropology, and the arts. Topics include the study of colonialism, slavery, and indigeneity in the Americas; creolization and cosmopolitanism; religion’s imperial pasts and global futures; cinema and war memory; and human rights and transitional justice.

The seminar, organized by Lowe, Kris Manjapra, associate professor of History, and Kamran Rastegar, associate professor of Persian, Arabic and comparative literature in the Department of German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literatures, includes distinguished visiting scholars Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University and the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala, Uganda; David Chidester from the University of Cape Town, South Africa; Judith Butler of University of California - Berkeley; Audra Simpson of Columbia University; Françoise Lionnet of Harvard University; Shu-mei Shih of University of California – Los Angeles, and others.

The Mellon funding enables Tufts to create one-year appointments for two Sawyer Seminar postdoctoral fellows in the humanities. The Center for Humanities will sponsor another two postdoctoral fellows and two dissertation fellows, as well.  These young scholars will participate in the seminar and continue their research with the support of Tufts faculty and visiting scholars.

In addition to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Comparative Global Humanities project is funded by Tufts Collaborates, the Center for Humanities at Tufts, the Toupin-Bolwell Fund, the Tufts Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies, the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora, and the Hutchins Center at Harvard.

Full details on the Mellon Sawyer Seminar in Comparative Global Humanities project are accessible at http://as.tufts.edu/comparativeglobalhumanities/.


Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.

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