Being Human2024-05-22T16:58:22-07:00

Being Human Initiative

PI: Jeanette Kohl, Center for Ideas & Society Co-Director

The Being Human Initiative serves as an incubator for innovative thinking between the disciplines and colleges at UC Riverside.

With the humanities at its center, it tackles “big questions” about the human condition in times of post-pandemic realities, climate change, rising nationalisms, and shifting academics. It promotes experimental research formats, cosmopolitanism and global education, and the power of dialogue across and outside of disciplinary thinking.

War in the 21st Century

We are all dreaming of a world without wars, yet the political developments of today’s world seem to point in a different direction. In this new series of talks and discussions, experts will provide insights in the historical reasons for wars, recent political developments, and possible future strategies of prevention and apeasement.

March 3, 2022 | 1pm PST | Virtual Event

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Four experts from UCR’s departments of History and Political Science will discuss how the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine could escalate into a full-blown war of historical dimensions. Why does Putin take such a gamble? What are the historical reasons behind Russia’s claims on Ukrainian territory? Which economic and political interests are involved? How do Ukrainian and Russian cultures differ, what do they have in common? And: Are there ways out of this war – before it spreads?

Discussants include:

Paul D’Anieri (Political Science)
Jana Grittersova (Political Science)
Georg Michels (History)
Kiril Tomoff (History)

Moderated by Jeanette Kohl, Co-Director, Center for Ideas and Society

January 22, 2024 | 12pm PST | Virtual Event

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The October 7th terror attack by Hamas triggered a devastating war. Besides the tragic human loss, the war – and how it ends – will have implications not only for the Palestinians and Israel, but also for the wider region and for US policy and interests. To examine what led to the war, how it can be ended and future options for Gaza and Palestinian-Israeli relations please join us for a discussion with Gaith Al-Omari (Washington Institute for Near East Policy).

Moderated by Michael Alexander, Maimonides Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at UCR and Muhamad Ali, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Middle East and Islamic Studies at UCR

Hosted by Jeanette Kohl, Co-Director of the UCR Center for Ideas & Society

Speaker Bio

Ghaith al-Omari, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Senior Fellow in The Washington Institute’s Irwin Levy Family Program on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Relationship, is the former executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine. He served as advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team during the 1999–2001 permanent-status talks in addition to holding various other positions within the Palestinian Authority.

Sponsored by the Being Human Initiative, Offices of the Chancellor and Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor, UC Riverside

January 30, 2024 | 5pm | Virtual Event

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“On October 7, 2023, Hamas carried out the deadliest attack on Israelis in the country’s history, killing over 1,200 people and abducting over 240 hostages. In response, Israel went to war against Hamas, seeking to decisively defeat Hamas and end its rule in the Gaza Strip. This war has so far killed over 20,000 Palestinians, displaced most of the civilian population, caused widespread destruction in Gaza, and created a humanitarian crisis. The war has also reverberated around the world, with massive demonstrations against the war and a surge of antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents against Jews and Muslims. In his presentation, Dr. Dov Waxman, will discuss the impact of the 10/7 attack on Israel, the war between Israel and Hamas and the growing controversy surrounding it. He will also discuss the Biden administration’s handling of the war, and the various options for governing Gaza when the war ends.”

Moderated by Michael Alexander, Maimonides Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at UCR and Muhamad Ali, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Middle East and Islamic Studies at UCR

Hosted by Jeanette Kohl, Co-Director of Center for Ideas & Society

Speaker Bio 

Dov Waxman is the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Professor of Israel Studies and the director of the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Before joining UCLA, he was the Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University, and he has also been a professor at the City University of New York and Bowdoin College. He has had visiting fellowships at Oxford University, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, and the Hebrew University. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from Johns Hopkins University, and his B.A. from Oxford University. He is the author of four books: The Pursuit of Peace and The Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation (2006), Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within (2011), Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel (2016), and most recently, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know (2019). His writing has also been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic, among other publications. He is currently working on a book about the politics of contemporary antisemitism.

Sponsored by the Being Human Initiative, Offices of the Chancellor and Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor

Big Questions! Cross-Disciplinary Conversations

In a series of new cross-disciplinary conversations, UCR faculty explore controversial topics and pressing contemporary issues together. The format provides an experimental platform of dialogue for scholars from all disciplines and schools at UCR.

Virtual Event on January 13, 2022 @ 12:00pm 


Unsettled by the thought that “we‘re all getting Covid“ (NY Times, Dec. 23, 2021)? Exhausted from the past two years? Asking yourself when this pandemic will finally be over and what the “new normal” will look like?

Join us at the Center for Ideas and Society for a conversation with David Lo, Senior Associate Dean for Research and Distinguished Professor for Biomedical Sciences at UCR’s School of Medicine, on the future of Covid-19, Omicron, and our life with the virus. This event is a follow up to our Oct 20, 2020 event “Covid-19 Vaccines and the Future of “Normal Life”.

Webinar moderated by Jeanette Kohl, co-director, Center for Ideas and Society.

Speaker Bio: David D. Lo, M.D., Ph.D., is the senior associate dean for research at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine and a distinguished professor in the Division of Biomedical Sciences. Prior to joining UCR in 2006, Lo had worked at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, the Scripps Research Institute, and the biotech company Digital Gene Technologies. Lo is Director of the BREATHE center (Bridging Regional Ecology, Aerosolized Toxins, and Health Effects;, and Director of the NIH-supported U54 Center for Health Disparities Research ( He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and a recipient of the Grand Challenges in Global Health award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hybrid Event March 7, 2022 @ 2:00 PM


The Covid-19 pandemic is confronting us with death – publicly, constantly, and on a scale previously unknown. The images of patients connected to ventilators, the frightening numbers of victims, the stories of lonely deaths in the ICUs of hospitals stretched to the limit: they are everywhere. It is one of the paradoxes of this pandemic that individual deaths from Covid-19 mostly happen in painful isolation, while death and dying have gained an almost morbid public presence. This roundtable asks what happens in the moments leading up to clinical death. It brings together two critical care physicians and a philosopher who discuss their experiences with death and their research on near-death reports. How do physicians experience the time preceding clinical death? What do they do to ease the transition – for those dying, and for those left behind? What happens in the dying body and brain, physiologically and from the point of view of philosophy? And why do the narratives of near-death experiences often show such striking parallels?


John Martin Fischer received his BA in philosophy from Stanford University, and his PhD from Cornell. He has published widely on free will, moral responsibility, and the ethical and metaphysical issues surrounding death. He was the director of the 5.2 million dollar Immortality Project (funded by the John Templeton foundation) from 2012 to 2015, and he is currently Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at UCR and University Professor in the University of California.

William Stigall, MD, graduated with a BBA in Business Honors from UT-Austin and a MD from UT-Southwestern in Dallas. He is a practicing pediatric intensivist in both pediatric cardiac and general pediatric ICUs at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, TX. He is also a practicing and teaching bioethicist, who holds a master’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Dallas (with a focus on classical philosophers) and has taught Bioethics at UD for a decade.

Brigham C. Willis, MD, MEd, graduated from UCSF School of Medicine, completed his residency at Children’s Hospital and Research Center at Oakland, and finished his training in a fellowship in pediatric critical care medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He is currently Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education at UCR’s School of Medicine. He also holds a master’s degree in Higher Education from Arizona State University. Brigham’s many areas of interest include pulmonary cell biology and physiology, cardiac physiology, and medical education.

Moderated by Jeanette Kohl, co-director, Center for Ideas and Society

Co-sponsored by the UCR School of Medicine.

March 18, 2024 @ 1:30pm | CHASS INTS 1128

As part of the Disciplines in Dialogue series, the Center for Ideas and Society invites you to a cross-disciplinary discussion on the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in higher education. The event will feature esteemed faculty members from BCOE and CHASS, including Ilya Brookwell, Yue Dong, Barry Lam, and Paea LePendu.

The discussion aims to explore the potential and challenges of AI in higher education and is open to faculty, staff, and students who are interested in this topic.

The discussion format will be an interactive moderated discussion from experts followed by a Q&A with the audience and breakout sessions. The attendees will gain insights from diverse perspectives across different disciplines, explore the potential applications of AI in teaching, learning, and research, discuss the ethical considerations and challenges associated with AI in education, and contribute to shaping the future of AI in the institution.

Light refreshments will be served after the event. If you are curious about the potential of AI in higher education, we invite you to join us for this stimulating discussion.

Coming soon. Winter 2024.

Post-Pandemic Futures: Ways Forward

The pandemic provides a unique chance to revisit our past and rethink our visions for the future. This sequence of events is dedicated to the current paradigm shifts that affect our lives, our work, and the education of our students. In lectures and roundtables, possible ways out of the current crises and the role the Arts and Humanities can play in shaping our futures – at UCR and beyond – will be discussed.

Virtual Event on December 14, 2022 9:30am to 11am

“How can previously excluded voices be empowered to tell their own histories about these objects?”

Join us for a workshop on the 100 Histories of 100 Worlds, in 1 Object project, an international network of scholars, museum curators and cultural interlocutors who collectively uncover hidden or suppressed histories of curated items in the British Museum, one object at time.

Project participants
Benjamina E. Dadzie


Dr Mirjam Brusius, FRHistS, Research Fellow in Colonial and Global History, German Historical Institute

Moderated by Jeanette Kohl

Sponsored by the Being Human initiative at the Center for Ideas and Society

Among the various crises facing the humanities, the most serious of all is the erosion of a shared public sense that humanists make an authoritative contribution to knowledge. On the one hand, the tendency to associate objectivity with the kind of knowledge, explanation, and justification characteristic of the natural sciences leads many to conclude that the humanities (‘human sciences’) are not a form of knowledge at all. On the other hand, we humanities often reduce our knowledge claims to struggles for control of the social agenda, or to question-begging forms of bias-spotting. My talk will discuss ways in which knowledge claims of all kinds must account for the human standpoint. I will further propose that the humanities determine a domain of objectivity which can be properly understood as a reckoning with loss.

Hybrid Event

March 8 at 5:00pm
CHASS INTS 1113 OR online via Zoom


Paul Kottman, The New School for Social Research, New York, Co-Director of the Institute for Philosophy and the New Humanities

Paul A. Kottman is Professor of Comparative Literature and Chair of Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research, where he co-directs the Institute for Philosophy and the New Humanities. He is the author, most recently, of Love as Human Freedom (Stanford 2018), and the co-editor of the The Art of Hegel’s Aesthetics (2019). He also edits the book series Square One: First Order Questions in the Humanities for Stanford University Press. He is currently at work on a co-authored book with Markus Gabriel on ‘objectivity in the humanities.’

Co-sponsored by the UCR Department of Philosophy

Learn more

Virtual event on April 20 @ 2:00pm

A roundtable discussion  as we transition “back” to opening venues for the arts on campus, in the professional world, and in arts education. What does it mean to return to working in-person after such a long period of being away? What have we gained? What have we lost? How do hybrid modalities present opportunities for theatre spaces, museums, music, art and dance spaces to rethink how we make, share and educate in the arts?

Panelists include:

Barbara Fuchs (MLA President, 2021 & Department of English and Spanish and Portuguese, UCLA)
Kim Yasuda (Department of UCSB)
Susan Ossman (Anthropology and Global Studies, UCR)
Patricia Cardoso (TFDP, UCR)
Donatella Galella (TFDP, UCR)
Kimberly Guerrero (TFDP and CWPA, UCR)
Rickerby Hinds (TFDP, UCR)
Stuart Krieger (TFDP and CWPA, UCR)
Bella Merlin (TFDP, UCR)
Root Park (TFDP, UCR)
Esther Banegas Gatica (CWPA, UCR)
Paige Goodman (CWPA, UCR)
Aaron Higareda (CWPA, UCR)
Karly Thomas (CWPA, UCR)

Moderated by Erith Jaffe-Berg (TFDP, UCR)

Sponsored by the Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production, the Being Human project and the Arts and Humanities 2.0 initiative at the Center for Ideas and Society.  Funding is provided by the University of California Office of the President Multi-campus Research Programs and Initiative Funding.

Coming Soon! Roundtable organized by Michele Salzman (tbd)

Cosmopolitanism and Global Education

The Being Human Initiative is excited to be launching a new Guest Scholar program, funded by the VPIA’s office in its inaugural year 2023. We will host an international scholar who conducts a student workshop and gives a public lecture, inspired by ideas of Cosmopolitanism and Global Citizenship.
Being Human is also fundraising for graduate student travel grants, of which two will be awarded this year.

Finnish scholar Jussi Parikka will be our inaugural CIS Visiting Scholar in the winter of 2025. A renowned writer and professor in Digital Aesthetics and Culture at Aarhus University (Denmark), Professor Parikka will give a public lecture at UCR Arts as part of their “Pacific Standard Time – Digital Capture” initiative and he will hold a workshop for UCR students. The scholarship is funded by the office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs at UCR.

More information to follow.

Funded by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs

Brink and Elliott Graduate Travel Fellowships 2023

Thanks to the generous support of two donors, Barbara Brink and Georgia Elliott, two graduate students could travel to Berlin in the summer of 2023 to do research for their PhD projects: Sarah Faulk and Mariana Wadsworth. CIS co-director Jeanette Kohl took them on an excursion to museums in Berlin.

Desert Spotlight

With our new office on UCR’s Palm Desert campus, we are intensifying collaborations with the desert communities. A series of lectures on the desert environment and other activities in the making, so stay tuned!

The Joy of Curating: Inside the Getty’s Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts
April 6 at 6pm
UCR Palm Desert Center

Highlighting masterpieces of the collection, from objects collected by the institution’s founder to the most recent acquisitions, this talk by Anne-Lise Desmas, Senior Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, will offer a glimpse into the curator’s various missions. This program is in collaboration with UCR’s Center for Ideas and Society.

Connecting Colleges

The Center for Ideas and Society’s “Being Human” Initiative and the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development invite proposals for cross-campus, interdisciplinary mini research labs on the theme of Innovation Through Humanities. This is a continuation of our successful minilabs program in 2021/22.

Funded by the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development

View Call

In this new collaboration with UCR’s School of Medicine, the CIS hosts a series of lunch conversations among health professionals and thoughtful individuals from other disciplines with perspectives on medicine and society. The lunches are generously sponsored by Dr. Albert Stroberg and co-organized with Dr. David Lo, Associate Dean for Research at the SoM. Transcripts of the discussions will be available on this website.

Upcoming Events

1st Albert Lunch: Just a Job? Medical Education between Science and Practice
Nov. 1, 2023 | Center for Ideas and Society
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Participants: Lisa R. Fortuna, Jeanette Kohl, David Lo, Tanya Nieri, Adwoa Osei

Medical education has been steadily reducing basic sciences instruction in favor of clinical skills. In an age of new medical advances, is this the right direction, or are there other paths for the future of our medical students’ education? Should we consider changing the definition of physician?

2nd Albert Lunch: Mental Health
April 30, 2024 | 12-1:30pm | CHASS INTS 1111
View Transcript

Participants: David Lo, Bruce Link, Lisa Fortuna, Jeanette Kohl, Dana Simmons, Kalina Michalska

The topic of the second Albert Lunch is Mental Health and Neuroscience: Mental health is widely rated as the top health concern, yet it can be so difficult to define, and even more difficult to treat. We have an entire manual of mental disorders (the DSM-5); each edition reflects the fact that it is constantly being updated. Yet curiously, the entire National Institutes of Health, dedicated to treating all aspects of human health, has no funding priorities or mechanisms tied directly to elements of the DSM-5. That is, the biological aspects of neuroscience developed by countless billions of dollars from the NIH, as well as the institute’s ongoing research priorities, are not organized to match this catalogue of mental disorders. Admittedly, this description is a bit hyperbolic, but it reflects a situation in which society’s definitions of mental health, and the present state of knowledge of how our brains work, are not quite in alignment, and are often not advancing in the same direction. Indeed, here is a world where we can passively accept the idea that people can hold two or more completely incompatible “truths” at the same time.

The pandemic and society’s emergence from the most severe impacts of the shutdowns have also revealed a mental health care delivery system that was already inadequate for the need. The stress of the pandemic pushes a system that is falling even further behind, accompanying related mental health phenomena such as social isolation, fragmentation and polarization of society, and all its destructive effects on social norms. It might be appropriate to ask whether the present status of neuroscience and mental health care delivery needs a re-examination, along with an assessment of how society views mental health.

Coming Soon! Collaboratively hosted event with the UCR Center for Health Disparities and Research and the Brain Game Center (tbd)

Director’s Blog

Director’s Musings

By Jeanette Kohl Dear colleagues and friends of the CIS, As we all find ourselves in the midst of the fall quarter already, I write to you with some updates and good news from the Center. I am happy to announce three new initiatives in the Being Human event stream, all of which are part of our efforts to create a robust cross-disciplinary discussion platform, emphasize the role of the Arts and Humanities in our university, and increase international exchange. Thanks to the continued support of Rodolfo Torres, VC for Research and Economic Development, we will launch a second round of our successful mini labs, under the theme of Innovation Through Humanities. MiniLabs.02 supports experimental collaborations and cross-campus conversations with an interest in Humanities as a motor for innovation and problem-solving. The program provides opportunities for interdisciplinary brainstorming between faculty across different schools, with the potential for [...]

October 24, 2023|Categories: Director's Corner, News|Tags: |

Postcard from Hamburg

Dear colleagues and friends of the CIS, I hope you have all had a good start into the new academic year! My CIS letter today comes from Germany, where I am in residency at the Institute for Advanced Study in Hamburg (HIAS) until June 2023. It is a trip down memory lane for me. My mother and her family are from Hamburg, and as a child I spent many summers here and on the beaches of the nearby North Sea. I thought I’d share some impressions from where I am with you. The “Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg” is the second largest city in Germany with almost 2 million people. It is a wealthy town with a long history as the main trading hub of the “Hanse,” a powerful alliance of harbor towns that dominated the foreign trade in the North of Germany from the 12th [...]

October 27, 2022|Categories: Director's Corner, News|Tags: |

For more information or to propose a project/event/collaboration, contact Jeanette Kohl.

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