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In Focus: Amanda Lucia

Amanda Lucia
Second Project Fellow, Center for Ideas and Society

Department: Religious Studies
Rank: Associate Professor
Years at UCR: 7
Favorite Thing: Building my secret garden.
Top texts for a desert island: Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction; Max Weber, Economy and Society (Vols. I & II); Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus [Chosen not on the pretense of presenting myself as smart, but rather because these are texts that I can read and reread, again and again, and still always seem to find something new and interesting bit to “think with.” ]

Yoga class, Lightning in a Bottle, 2015.

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

What do we need to change about our own thinking to make the other people’s “strange”, “ridiculous,” “outrageous,” “insane” ideas begin to seem like common sense?

Q. How does this focus play out in your work?

Each project I work on is particular to its socio-historical context, but in general my research gets close to my subject matter, through the method of ethnography, meaning the practice of participant-observation conducted while living and working among my interlocutors. From these microcontexts, situated in the broader fields of guru studies, modern global Hinduism, and its peripheries, I have tackled theoretical issues related to gender, globalization, whiteness, and power in the guru-disciple relationship.

Q. Can you give us an example of a project that demontrates your approach?

My most recent book, with a working title of, White Utopias: Yoga, Transformational Festivals, and Countercultural Spirituality, is currently under review with the University of California Press. White Utopias is a bold book that questions why countercultural spirituality, in its various forms, has been and remains consistently and predominantly white, despite its proclamation with progressive and anti-racist ideals. The book deconstructs its foundations in religious exoticism, meaning the incorporation of ‘other’ religious forms in a search for authentic meaning, and shows how this translated into contemporary practices of white viscosity (“stickiness”) and cultural appropriation. Using both strategies of empathy and critique, I present my findings as a discordant, ambivalent, and provocatively uncomfortable window into these utopian communities, one that is both euphoric and vexed. My sustained and intensive ethnographic research shows that these fields are both radically transformative for the participants involved and problematically engaged in the logics of white possessivism.

Q. What other ideas do you have brewing?

Recently, I have been writing and writing and more writing! White Utopias took me from New Zealand, to Australia, to Black Rock City (Burning Man), to Quebec, to Joshua Tree, to Switzerland, to Squaw Valley. My eight years of ethnographic research included audio recordings from more than 97 interviews, 74 spiritual workshops, and 52 yoga classes, and infinite porto-potties! This year, it has been a reprieve to step out of the field for the final intensive writing stage. While finishing up White Utopias, I was also pleased to publish an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religions (JAAR) that leads into my next book project on sexual scandals among celebrity gurus. My article, “Guru Sex: Charisma, Proxemic Desire, and the Haptic Logics of the Guru-Disciple Relationship,” argued that the power dynamics of the guru-disciple relationship couples with the communal belief in the importance of physical proximity to the guru, and creates social environments ripe for sexual abuse (and deterrents to reporting abuse should it occur). For this project, I am the PI for a team of researchers, who have recently been awarded a five-year, $550,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. With these resources, I am very excited to get back to India more frequently for research.

Q. What have you learned from sharing your research into the classroom?

I have been studying countercultural spirituality for nearly my entire life, but it was UCR students that forced me to focus on the overwhelming whiteness of these fields. Discussing these populations at other universities, often times the predominant whiteness of countercultural spirituality went unnoticed, assumed, and unremarkable. It assumed the distinction of white normativity, which enabled these spaces to transcend racialization. But for my UCR students, the whiteness of these fields served as a barrier, a marker of exclusion, and a cultural designation, that rendered them inaccessible, as they were majority non-white identifying students. (In addition, class was another important intersectional aspect that was students often raised.) Because of UCR students, I began to see the that the Orientalist fascination with India, the countercultural “hippies,” and even today’s proliferations of meditation, yoga, and spirituality, are raced and classed in defining ways.

Q. Do you have a favorite podcast or film you urge folks to see?

So many! But right now, I am teaching ethnographic methods and I always encourage my students to see Almost Famous. It’s a great story about the fraught relationships and intimacies on acquires as an ethnographer in the field and the sometimes distressing interpersonal situations that the writing and publishing process can generate.

In Focus spotlights faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

June 3, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Matthew Mahutga

Matthew Mahutga
Co-Lead, 2018-19 Political Economy Seminars and the Globalization, Populism and the International Order Symposium

Department: Sociology
Rank: Associate Professor
Years at UCR: 10+
Favorite thing: My favorite past-time is just about anything on the Central California coast.
Fishing, hiking, food and wine are right at the top!
Text I would take to a desert island: How to Survive a Desert Island by Tim O’Shei (Capstone Press, 2019).

Hiking with friend Mark Martinez at Montaña de Oro State Park.

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My research examines the socio-economic consequences of political and economic change.

Q. Is your work purely theoretical, or does it have real-world implications?

Broadly speaking, I want to understand how political and economic processes that operate well beyond the control of the individual shape the life chances of individuals.

Q. What project are you working at present?

In my field, we are often working on multiple projects simultaneously. The two current projects closest to my heart examine income inequality. One focuses on both the predominant shape of income inequality, as well as its drivers. A key finding emerging from this project is that (a) distributional change in rich democracies is best described as income polarization and (b) this polarization is driven primarily by economic and political changes that work through labor markets in the “real” economy (i.e. through wages and salaries) , as well as extra-labor market processes (passive income of various kinds) that benefit top incomes (e.g. the 1%). The second project focuses squarely on the United States. Here we decompose household income inequality into a “within” and “between” racial group components to compare the impacts of socio-economic changes on household income across racial groups.

Q. If you had the authority to make one economic policy change in the U.S., what would it be and why?

My preferred policy changes in the US address the most important macro-economic changes since the late 1970s—globalization, technological change and financialization. These processes disproportionately benefit high-skill workers. Some of them also penalize low skill workers. Skills are correlated with pre-tax and transfer incomes. My one (well, maybe two) policy change would be (a) a significantly more progressive federal tax code and (b) larger transfer payments targeted at geographic areas most hard-hit by these processes. The more progressive tax code would extract revenue from those who disproportionately benefit from these macro-economic changes. The targeted transfers would help to redevelop areas that have been disproportionately harmed by these macro-economic changes.

Q. What about the other aspect of your work: teaching?

The most valuable lesson that teaching taught me is that most people (including students) don’t find the content of my work or pedagogy inherently interesting. This has caused me to consistently focus on how to be a better, more engaging teacher.

Q. Where can we find out more about your range of interests?

Interested readers can read most of my published research by visiting

In Focus spotlights faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

June 3, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Anthony Jerry

Anthony Jerry
Convener, Blackness Unbound, Faculty Commons Project

Anthony’s Stats

Department: Anthropology
Rank: Assistant Professor
Years at UCR: 3

Q.  Summarize your research in one sentence: 

My work seeks to highlight the ways that blackness has historically been conceived of as the means of production and the ways that this conception continues to inform the possibilities of experiences and expressions of contemporary blackness in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest.

Q. How does your work add to current conversations in the field?

The essential contribution my research is making is to take a critical look at blackness through the lens of citizenship, and therefore re-introduce the Black experience into a contemporary theoretical conversation on citizenship.

Q. What questions are you pursuing now?

Currently, I am working on two projects; 1) I am wrapping up my first major research project on the process of Black recognition in Mexico, and 2) I am looking at youth experiences with citizenship in the U.S. Mexico border region.  My research in Mexico looks at the possibilities for African descendants in Mexico to be represented as national subjects within the multicultural era, the impact of Black recognition on the overall Mexican national origin myth, as well as the related impact of Black recognition on the geopolitical relations within the U.S. Mexico border region.  My second project is taking a relational approach to citizenship and focuses on youth experiences in the U.S. Southwest with 1) first generation citizenship, 2) “coming out” experiences, 3) first experiences with the “n-word” as a racial epithet, and 4) experiences of police brutality, in order to explain how a number of competing social inheritances position subjects/citizens in relation to each other.

Q. How do you link your projects with specific communities?

As part of my newest research project, I am building a publically available research/teaching archive focusing on youth experiences with citizenship in order to provide a resource for k-12 education and youth activists.  This work, in collaboration with my non-profit organization, The Cultural Media Archive, is a way to engage with the public around issues of sexual and racial discrimination experienced by youth.

Q. It’s often said that we learn the most when we begin teaching. What has your teaching experience taught you?

The most valuable lesson that teaching has taught me is to never lose sight of the fact that real learning is experiential and dialogic and can only happen in the classroom if the classroom space is used as a space to facilitate conversation.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.  

May 28, 2019|Tags: |

UCHRI Grant Award Winners

Congratulations to the following UCR faculty for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2019-20!

Ademide Adelusi-Adeluyi
Department of History
Imagine Lagos: Speculative Cartography and the Making of a 19th Century African City
✪ Junior Faculty Manuscript Workshop

Alejandra Dubcovsky
Department of History
At the Frontlines of a Forgotten War: Violence, Gender, and Conflict in the Early South
✪ Mid-Career Faculty Manuscript Workshops

Dana Simmons
Department of History
Hungry, Thinking with Animals

✪ Mid-Career Faculty Manuscript Workshops

Erith Jaffe-Berg
Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production
Legacies of Commedia dell’Arte: “Others” and the production of theatre from early-modern Italy through modern-day California
✪ Conference Grant

April 30, 2019|

In Focus: Farah Godrej

Farah Godrej
Senior Fellow, Center for Ideas and Society, 2017-2020

Department: Political Science
Rank: Associate Professor
Years at UCR: 12
Favorite places:  Walking the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, or strolling the coast along the Pacific Ocean.  Staring at nature, whether in the form of plants, trees, fauna, or water, is a crucially rejuvenating practice.
Top three texts I would take to a desert island:
* A “wisdom” text:  The Bhagavad-Gita, the self-inquiry manual I turn to again and again.
* An “intellectual” text: Karl Marx’s The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, which reminds us what human flourishing really looks like.
* A “comfort” text: anything by Enid Blyton (with a particular fondness for the “Mallory Towers” series), whose distintinctly English approach to children’s literature was a staple of my childhood in postcolonial India.

Summarize your research in one sentence:

My research seeks to uncover what happens to traditions like yoga and meditation when they travel from their point of origin in the Indian subcontinent, and take on new life in other times and places.

Why study yoga?

Self-care practices like yoga and meditation have now become part of a global discourse on wellness, health, and well-being. It’s easy to think of these practices as largely benign, nonviolent, peaceful and even countercultural.  But less is known about the darker and more insidious side of these practices—can they function as instruments of social control in increasingly inegalitarian social and political contexts? My research shows that depending on how they are taught and disseminated, these practices can produce responses toward injustice that are either passive, compliant and docile on the one hand, or revolutionary, insurrectionist and empowering on the other.

Do you practice yoga? If so, what kind and for how many years?

I have been studying many different styles of yoga, for about twenty years.  I consider myself a lifelong student of a wide variety of yogic traditions, and have been influenced most by the Iyengar and Ashtanga styles of postural practice, although I continue to train in and study many other postural styles and lineages.  I also continue my decades-long study of a variety of meditative lineages, such as Kadampa and Shambhala Buddhism, vipassana, Siddha Yoga, kundalini yoga, and various secular, nondenominational variants of these practices by Western teachers such as Eckhart Tolle and Sally Kempton. My course, “The Yogic and Meditative Traditions of South Asia,” aims to give students a basic introduction to the wide array of yogic and meditative practices, especially as they evolve and travel to the West in contemporary times.

You recently received an award. Can you tell us about it?

Last year, I was awarded the University’s highest teaching honor, the Campus Distinguished Teaching Award for 2017-18.  This was perhaps the greatest highlight of my twelve years at UCR, and the most rewarding moment of my career thus far.

Any tips or insights on teaching you can share?

My students can learn as much from each other as they can from me: having the confidence to both believe in and express your own views is a learned skill.  Pedagogically, I owe it to them to instill this confidence in themselves, and to foster an environment in which they learn to respect themselves, not shy away from the sound of their own voice, or devalue their own intellect, while also learning to value others’ views in the same way. The transmission of information is only one aspect of our job as educators, and the true goal is for us to impart a certain kind of “humanness” and human flourishing through our dialogical interactions with them.

A favorite podcast that you encourage students to download…

Season 3 of the podcast Serial which takes us inside the most ordinary cases in the Cleveland court system, putting the absurdity and brokenness of our criminal justice system on full display.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.  

April 30, 2019|Tags: |

2019-20 Mellon Humanities Fellows

Introducing the 2019-20 Mellon Humanities Fellows at the Center for Ideas and Society.
Please join us in congratulating our colleagues who have received a year-long residency fellowship at the Center.

David Biggs

Over the next year, I will conduct a study of base-periphery shorelines in the Pacific (California, Guam, and Vietnam then continuing to sites in the Philippines, Okinawa, Hawai’i, and several atolls) with historical attention focused on the people—scientists, troops, families, refugees, laborers—and non-human life forms that circulated between them. This site-based focus will allow me to take advantage of rich troves of U.S. military records that not only document military actions but also “misfit” stories of protest, weedy invasives, and hybrid communities through texts, photography and maps, detailing what Espiritu (2017) terms the “military colonization” of the Pacific.

Marissa Brookes

Whether private governance is viable, let alone sustainable, is a question that has attracted great interest in recent years. To date, however, the literature on labor and private governance has focused on single-issue corporate campaigns, country-level agreements, and global framework agreements, leaving aside questions of campaigns’ and agreements’ contributions to private governance over the long run. My project thus examines labor transnationalism’s long-term impact on employment relations through an analysis of national and global unions’ evolving relationships with TNCs to hypothesize that the private governance arrangements that most effectively protect workers’ rights are those that emerge out of many years of active conflict, in contrast to top-down agreements drawn up without a historical context of struggle.

Matthew King

The Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, an autobiographical adventure tale authored by one of pre-modern Asia’s most ambitious travelers—a turn of the 5th century CE Chinese Buddhist monk named Faxian—is one of the earliest and most detailed accounts of Central and South Asia’s pre-Islamic Buddhist societies and one of the few surviving accounts of life along the Silk Road. Adopting an inter-Asian frame aimed at historicizing, and thus displacing Europe as the source of modernity in Asia, this project analyzes the translations of the The Record over time to show how Orientalist scholarship was re-purposed at the frontiers of the Western episteme, setting the ragged edges of empire, nationalist movement, socialist experiments, and the bloody displacement of refugee communities into radical different times and horizons of expectation.

Jade Sasser

My second research project takes up questions of gendered health, environment, and technology through a focus on women’s everyday household energy use in the global South. In this project, I explore international development narratives and projects focused on distributing “improved” cookstoves to impoverished women, interventions that rest on a framework that identifies solid fuel use and traditional stoves as health and energy-related problems of the rural poor, specifically women, and that purports to alleviate the problems of gender inequality, rural poverty, and sustainable energy use through a technological solution: fuel efficient stoves.

Stephen Sohn

With this fellowship, I will complete my monograph, War Everlasting: The Militarized Technogeometries of Korean American Literature, which will be  the first of its kind to showcase how Korean American literatures repurpose the technologies and vocabularies associated with war in order to imagine less violent outcomes, on the one hand, and to combat the erasures of the defenseless and the expendable, on the other. This language of warfare—or as I call it, militarized technogeometries—is deeply embedded in the writings penned by Korean Americans, conditioned by Korea’s longer history as a site of conquest and violence, and employed by these writers to reconsider who must be represented, and how survival can still be achieved (and imagined) despite the war machine’s drive to instrumentalize technology for the production of death.

Funded by a $1 million award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Mellon Investments in Humanities Faculty grant advances the excellence of humanities scholarship at UCR by enriching research and intellectual community.

Learn more about fellowships at the Center for Ideas & Society.

April 21, 2019|

Call for Graduate Fellows: Global 19th Century 2019-20 Workshops

The Global Nineteenth-Century Working Group at the Center for Ideas and Society invites applications for Graduate Student Fellows in 2019-20. The Fellowship includes participation in two events:

1) A one-day, interdisciplinary workshop, loosely organized around the sub-themes of “Architectures,” “Devotional Practices” and “Empires” in the long nineteenth century, to take place on Friday, September 27, 2019. At this event, three local and three invited faculty will share works-in-progress. Graduate fellows will read these works in advance and participate fully in the discussions, lunch, and informal conversations with the faculty.

2) At a second event, to be scheduled in Spring 2020, the graduate fellows will present their own pre-circulated works in progress.

The Fellowship stipend is $200. Applicants must be enrolled in a graduate program at UCR and should determine that receipt of the stipend will not negatively impact their current funding. Please send a c.v. and a brief (150-200 word) abstract describing the research topic you would like to present at the Spring 2020 event and confirming availability for the Sept. 27 workshop. The research topic is open to anything related to the Global 19th century; it need not conform to the September workshop categories.

Faculty Project Coordinators

Fatima Quraishi
Art History

Heidi Brevik-Zender
French and Comparative Literature

Jonathan Eacott

Applications should be sent by Friday, May 3 to Katharine Henshaw (

April 18, 2019|

Lalami wins leading literary prize

Laila Lalami, a creative writing professor and author of several books, is the winner of the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize.

She was one of five finalists announced last month, selected from authors nominated by publishers, critics, agents, authors, and other author representatives.

Lalami, who received a $50,000 prize, said she was thrilled to receive the award and honored to be in the company of the other finalists. “This award is a wonderful gift of time, which I will use to work on my next project, a book of nonfiction about the relationship between the citizen and the state, exploring the ways in which it can be undermined by race, gender, and national origin,” she said.  “This is a book I have been writing for a while, but it feels especially pressing at this particular moment in American history.”

The Simpson Literary Prize has been awarded annually since 2017 by the Simpson Project, a collaboration of the Laffayette Library and Learning Center Foundation and UC Berkeley’s English Department.

Joseph Di Prisco, chair of the Simpson Literary Project, said Lalami stood out with her “magnificently accomplished works of fiction” as well as her stylish and powerful essays and opinion pieces. “Ms. Lalami brilliantly guides us through the labyrinth of the past, and she illuminates the shadowy stories of our lives here and now, wherever and whoever we are,” he said.

Read Full Article

April 15, 2019|

In Focus: Stephen Sohn

Stephen Sohn
Senior Fellow, Center for Ideas and Society, 2017-2020
Mellon Term Professor 2019-2020

Stephen’s Stats:
Department: English
Rank: Professor
Years at UCR: 5 years
Favorite sport: Tennis
Current favorite television show: Killing Eve and The Good Place (tie)
Preferred desserts: Anything custard based!
The text I cannot do without: Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life

Stephen’s favorite local dessert, Vanilla Custard Bun from Uncle Chuang’s Bakery.

Q. Summarize your research in one sentence…

I am interested in thinking deeply about literature and culture in all of its myriad forms, so I read a lot.

Q. Does your work center on a main idea or theme?

Broadly speaking, the central issue I am concerned with necessarily involves how we simultaneously engage the political and aesthetic dimensions of literature and culture.

Q: What are you working on now?

My current project explores depictions of war and violence in Korean American literature.

Q: Any teaching tips or great resources to share?

The most valuable lesson that teaching has taught me is to emphasize that all students try get to know each other’s names before a quarter is finished (even despite a larger class size).

For resources, a podcast that I encourage students to listen to is the Minorities in Publishing Podcast, which always has interesting interviews. I also enjoy 88 Cups of Tea! Check them out here:

Q: Any new or exciting developments?

Recently, I received a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Award, which allowed me to conduct research related to my developing book project concerning war and violence in Korean American literature. In 2018, I published my second book, Inscrutable Belongings: Queer Asian North American Fiction (Stanford University Press).

Learn more about Stephen’s books:

Inscrutable Belongings
Racial Asymmetries
Asian American Literature Fans

Or get in touch:

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.  

April 8, 2019|Tags: |

Lalami on short list for literary prize

UC Riverside Creative Writing Professor Laila Lalami is one of six finalists for the 2019 Simpson Literary Prize, which honors mid-career fiction authors.

Lalami is the author of multiple award-winning novels, including her most recent book, “The Moor’s Account.” Her new novel, “The Other Americans,” will be published later this month.

The $50,000 Simpson Literary Prize has been awarded annually since 2017 by the Simpson Project, a collaboration of the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Foundation and UC Berkeley’s English department.

The finalists, announced March 6, were selected from authors nominated by publishers, critics, agents, authors, and other author representatives. The prize winner will be announced in April.

Lalami said she was delighted to be named a finalist.

“It’s an honor to be included on this prestigious list with Rachel Kushner, Valeria Luiselli, Sigrid Nunez, Anne Raeff, and Amor Towles,” she said.

Lalami’s “The Moor’s Account was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and has won several awards including the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Fiction, the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the Arab American Book Award for Fiction.

Read Full Article

March 18, 2019|

In Focus: Jade Sasser

Jade Sasser
African Studies Workgroup, Co-organizer, Humanities Interdisciplinary Project, 2018-19

Jade’s Stats:
Gender & Sexuality Studies
Rank: Assistant Professor
Years at UCR: 5 years
Favorite things: Swimming, coffeeshops, and karaoke
Non-academic class I would love to teach: “Motown Music for Beginners”
Top three most important texts: Feminist Political Ecology (Rocheleau, et al.); Gender and Climate Change (Nagel); and This Changes Everything (Klein). Not light reading, but texts I can’t do without.

Q. Summarize your research in one sentence…

Environmental issues are social issues, and they impact different groups differently!

Q. Is there a key intervention you are trying to make?

My work aims to focus attention on how small and large scale environmental problems are also everyday problems of the body, health, and social activism. Specifically for women.

Charcoal-burning stove. Antananarivo, Madagascar. 2018

Q: What are you working on now?

My current project analyzes women’s everyday cooking practices and their exposure to household air pollution in Africa and Asia. I spend a lot of time in kitchens, coughing over the charcoal or firewood stove that’s being used to cook, while the gas stove sits unused in the corner.

Q: What has teaching students taught you?

That there are endless ways to get an idea across and make it stick. Funny ways, serious ways, dramatic ways. But the way that works best is always to make it relevant to students’ actual lives.

Q: Do you have a go-to film or podcast you encourage students to access?

I always have my students watch a documentary called Hands On: Women, Climate, Change because it is about everyday actions women environmentalists are undertaking around the world. Climate change seems like a big scary monster that will crush us all—until we start to see that there are actions we can take, starting right now. The women in the film are all ages, including as young as UCR students. Hopefully it makes students feel a little more like they can make a difference.

Q: Anything else new or exciting we should know about?

I have recently published a book about my first project, titled On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change.

Learn more or get in touch!

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.  

March 6, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Donatella Galella

Donatella Galella
Performing Difference, Project Lead, Faculty Commons Project, 2018-19
Casting in Color, Project Lead, CIS Conference, 2019

Donatella’s Stats:

Department: Theatre, Film & Digital Production
Rank: Assistant Professor
Years at UCR: 4 years
Favorite performer: Raúl Esparza
Favorite Star Trek Captain: Benjamin Sisko
Top three texts to take to a desert island: If we think about texts broadly, then I would choose Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness, the entire television series Steven Universe, and the Off-Broadway cast recording of The Fortress of Solitude.

Q. Summarize your research in one sentence…

Figuring out how contemporary American audiences, critics, and producers take pleasure in and profit off of theatrical productions that espouse racial progressiveness but also socially reproduce systemic white supremacy.

Q. Is there a key question that you are trying to answer?

How does theatre represent race, and reinforce, challenge, or change racism? 

Original playbill for “The Great White Hope,” which Donatella analyzes in her book, “America in the Round.”

Q: What are you working on now?

I recently published two articles on race and musicals: “Being in ‘The Room Where It Happens’: Hamilton, Obama, and Nationalist Neoliberal Multicultural Inclusion” argues that this hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton mobilizes a multiracial cast and bootstraps narrative to advance a centrist political project. “Feeling Yellow: Responding to Contemporary Yellowface in Musical Performance” theorizes how racial hierarchy and identity shape emotional reactions to musicals, specifically how Asian Americans deal with performances of stereotypical Asianness by non-Asians. My first book, a critical history of the first professional regional theatre in Washington, D.C., comes out in March 2019!

Q: What does the experience of teaching teach you?

I always ask my students to connect epistemology with power: How do we know what we know? That being said, students point out my own gaps. Last fall, a Pacific Islander student told me that they took my Asian American Theatre class presuming that I would teach a PI play–but I didn’t. I’ve been thinking about AAPI linkages and my ignorance. I just read Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance by Stephanie N. Teves.

Q. How does your theatre background inform your methods or your approach to research?

My theatre training (and theatregoing) taught me to think of performance beyond the page: How do design elements from the staging to the costumes to the space tell the story? What do audiences and critics make of the performance? How do aesthetics, politics, and economics shape theatre production?

Q. If someone could only see one play in their lifetime, what show would you recommend?

Soft Power, book and lyrics by David Henry Hwang and music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori. I saw it three times within one month. It’s everything. But it has more meaning if you are familiar with The King and I.

Learn more about Donatella’s book:

Or get in touch!

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.  

February 26, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Robb Hernández

Robb Hernández
Arte Público, Project Lead, Humanities Interdisciplinary Project, 2018-19

Robb’s Stats:
Department: English
Rank: Assistant Professor
Years at UCR: 7 years
Favorite place: Boulder, CO (what can I say, I’m a proud hometown kid!)
Favorite film that I encourage students to see: Mona Lisa Smile (Columbia Tristar, 2003) I love the way that Katherine Watson (played by Julia Roberts) is able to use the modern art and radically transform students’ perception of themselves and the world around them in 1953 Wellesley College.  Plus, the film gives an an ordinary Van Gogh paint by numbers the platform it deserves!
iPhone or Android: iPhone!

Robb’s hometown, Boulder, Colorado.

Q. Summarize your research in one sentence…

I elucidate how the aftermath of AIDS activated alternative archives, radical modes of queer preservation and custodianship for queer Latinx artists ravaged by disease and devastated by cultural neglect.

Q. Is there a key question or thread that runs through your work?

I am centrally interested in not only how AIDS generated another afterlife for Latinx art beyond institutional mediation but also, how Latinx art might be redefined when we confront the lost oeuvres and visual vocabularies of queer artists little known because of the consequential erasures caused by AIDS.

Q: What are you working on now?

My current project is retracing the speculative impulse in contemporary Latinx and Latin American art and thinking through how charged nativist discourses of “the alien” have engendered empowering iconographies, personas and otherworldly possibilities. By empowering the alien as a cosmic action, optic or perspective, Latinx artists circumvent the paralyzing reality of borders, walls, and militarized detention by looking skywards.

Q: Why is teaching important to you?

As a professor and curator in the Inland Empire, exhibition venues are rare and artist infrastructures are lagging. The classes I teach at UCR, a Hispanic Serving Institution, are often the first to engage Latinx students in the art museum as a site of research and social practice. Indeed, the disparities surrounding Latinxs entrance into the museum profession and even the field of art history, archive/information studies, and/or cultural heritage studies are staggering. Despite the burgeoning Latinx demographics in Southern California, the demand to rectify this egregious shortfall is critical. I continue to introduce students to the powerful role of museums and archives because curating Latinidad has never been more pressing.

Q: Any new or exciting developments?

My exhibition, Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas, will travel to the Queens Museum and Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City this spring (opening in April 2019). My co-curators and I are elated to bring UCR’s accomplishments in speculative studies, science fiction, and Latinx studies to new audiences on the east coast.

Q: What are three influential texts that you rely on?

Some texts that have historically stirred my ideas include Richard Meyer’s Outlaw Representation and in particular, his writing on Robert Mapplethorpe’s living room as a mode of furnishing desire. Jennifer Gonzalez’s Subject to Display on race, installation art, and material memory was a critical lynchpin in my thinking early on as a graduate student in American Studies. Lastly, Simon Doonan’s Confessions of a Window Dresser placed all things I love into center focus: queer memoir and extravagant tales of 80s fashion and shopping culture in LA, London, and NY. Doonan would share a small story about a young Chicano artist named Mundo Meza, which would have an unexplainable aftereffect on me changing the direction of my research and professional career in archiving and curation.

Learn more or get in touch with Robb:

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.  

January 30, 2019|Tags: |

She’s truly the colleague we all hope for

Dana Simmons

Dana Simmons has devoted her life to teaching. She is an associate professor in the department of history and has been teaching at UC Riverside for 13 years.

“With very little, if any, compensation, Dana has been tireless in her efforts to advance the careers of women faculty,” said Goldberry Long, UCR professor of creative writing. “She’s truly the colleague we all hope for, one who wants all colleagues to be successful.  She works on their behalf without any apparent desire for recognition or praise. Words fail me; she’s just wonderful.”

Simmons is a co-convener of the CHASS Women’s Mid-Career Research Initiative (CMCRI). The initiative’s goal is to provide a support network for female faculty and faculty of color, to collaboratively and collectively move towards career advancement at the mid-career level. The initiative offers writing retreats, workshops, panels, and assistance in goal settings for the faculty in research and writing.

The CMCRI was formed by UCR CHASS professors Erica Edwards, Jennifer Hughes and Michelle Raheja in 2011 with support from the UCR Center for Ideas and Society (CIS). CIS has also played a huge part in providing support, funding and providing a place where faculty can continuously learn from each other, and for them to demonstrate their love for their work.

“The reward is being able to share the daily triumphs and challenges of my colleagues and to know that the folks out there are watching out for each other,” Simmons said. “I see them as models for my work.”

Simmons was recently nominated by 30 women faculty for the Rachel Fuchs Memorial Award for excellence in mentorship and service to women and the LGBTQ community.

Simmons will be taking a sabbatical leave during spring quarter to complete her book, focusing on the history of the science and politics of hunger and food insecurity.

Read Full Article

January 29, 2019|

In Focus: Christina Soto van der Plas

Christina Soto van der Plas
Second Project Fellow in Residence, Winter 2019

Christina’s Stats:
Department: Hispanic Studies
Rank: Assistant Professor
Years at UCR: 2 years
Favorite thing: Sitting on a bench, painting the beautiful and chaotic scenery of the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro.
Top three texts to take to a desert island:

❖ The three volumes of Ricardo Piglia’s diaries which he published under the name of his alter-ego, Los diarios de Emilio Renzi.
❖ The Odyssey, of course, because I would be stranded in an island.
❖ The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s Seminar 20: Encore, a beautiful reflection on love and sex.

Christina's latest painting of the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro.

Christina’s latest painting of the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro.

Q. Summarize your research in one sentence…

I draw ideas from intuitions and fascinating patterns in literary or theoretical works and then fashion daring and seemingly weird hypothesis on a corpus of my choosing to rethink how our imaginaries and language structure our experience.

Q. How do you feel that your work differs from other scholars?

My research is unique because of its ability to create terms and definitions drawn from literature to rethink and shift the paradigms of my discipline (Latin American Literature), cutting across boundaries and crossing divisions. The underlying assumption of my research within contemporary Mexican and Latin American studies is that literature can not only be thought, but it is also a form of thought, thus bridging and traversing many of the impasses and divisions that have dominated much of literary criticism.

Q: What are you working on this quarter?

My new project Is about what I call the “New Chronicles of the Indies”. The project seeks to question the ideas of the three terms I chose as a title: “new,” “chronicles,” and “Indies”. It explores how the traditional chronicles of the discovery and conquering of the Americas have been rewritten or reformulated with different purposes and in different literary forms. I find logics and literary procedures more than themes or relationships with a historical setting. One of the overarching hypotheses of the project is that the chronicle is the literary genre that founded modernity in its speculative projections and exchanges of geography and economy.

Q: Anything else new and exciting in your world?

*I just came back from a trip to Mexico City where I was a keynote speaker for the first time! The talk was at my alma mater the Universidad Iberoamericana, where I studied my licenciatura (BA). Going back home, after seven years, and achieving all that I have was an amazing moment for me. One of the last essays I wrote, about the Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco, can be found in the book Mexican Literature in Theory (Bloomsbury, 2018). I am also writing a chronicle about San Andrea’s Fault and the Salton Sea.

Q: How do you share your research with students and in your courses?

Two crucial verbs have always expressed what I am most passionate about: reading and writing. But now that I am a professor, I have permanently added a third verb to the list: teaching. And it is the perfect complement of the other verbs because the solitary acts of reading and writing are now supplemented with the opportunity to share and instill what I love about them. In my classroom you will often find a blackboard full of words, diagrams, arrows, and drawings of my students’ ideas that, together, we manage to connect by drawing constellations or categories for better understanding a text. I encourage students to think outside the box and pursue “strange” ideas that touch upon our lives.

Learn more or get in touch with Christina:

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.  

January 15, 2019|Tags: |

Happy Holidays

Warm wishes from everyone at the Center for Ideas & Society! This coming year in 2019, the Center will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary. As we move forward into the new year, we will look back at the Center’s history and impact over the last 30 years. Stay tuned!

December 17, 2018|

2018 Emory Elliott Award Winner

The Center for Ideas and Society is pleased to announce that the winner of the annual Emory Elliott Book Award is Sang-Hee Lee for Close Encounters with Humankind. Please join us in congratulating Sang-Hee for her outstanding contribution to scholarship in CHASS. An award celebration will be hosted in winter 2019. Details coming soon.

About the Book

What can fossilized teeth tell us about the life expectancy of our ancient ancestors? How did farming play a problematic role in the history of human evolution? How can simple geometric comparisons of skull and pelvic fossils suggest a possible origin to our social nature? And what do we truly have in common with the Neanderthals? In this captivating international bestseller, Close Encounters with Humankind, Korea’s first paleoanthropologist, Sang-Hee Lee, explores some of our greatest evolutionary questions from new and unexpected angles. This book is the perfect read for anyone curious about where we came from and what it took to get us here. As we mine the evolutionary path to the present, Lee helps us to determine where we are heading and tackles one of our most pressing scientific questions―does humanity continue to evolve?

The book was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Award by the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association. The award is given to honor a book that represents “the highest standard of scholarship and readability,” and informs “a wider audience of the significance of physical or biological anthropology in the social and biological sciences, and demonstrate a biocultural perspective.” It is now in five languages (Korean, English, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, and Japanese). Next year (2019) the Greek, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian editions will be out.

Learn about the Emory Elliot Book Award

December 12, 2018|

Climate change is worsening, but population control isn’t the answer

UCR News Article on upcoming Hot off the Presses speaker, Jade S. Sasser and her new book: “On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change.”

Jade S. Sasser’s new book highlights contemporary population control’s consequences for poor women in the Global South.

Over the past 100 years, the popularity of population control in the United States has ebbed and flowed. Once considered a responsible way to safeguard the planet and ensure its future viability, population control was later revealed as a coercive tool used to limit the reproductive freedom of low-income and minority groups.

Jade S. Sasser, an assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of California, Riverside, has spent nearly a decade studying the history of population politics and how they’re interpreted today. According to her, population control is far from a thing of the past; instead, some of its core messages have been repackaged to appeal to a younger generation of American activists.

The resulting narrative links population trends to environmentalism and sexual agency, positioning “empowered” women as key crusaders in the fight against climate change. If women are encouraged and given the materials to control and limit their reproduction, or so the thinking goes, both they and the planet will reap the benefits.

But there’s a problem, Sasser said. Certain women remain disproportionately targeted by such a narrative, the bulk of them poor women living in the Global South, or countries in Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia.

Sasser’s firsthand experiences with young women in the Global South — and their American activist counterparts — form the backbone of her new book, “On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change” (NYU Press). Described by its author as a “cautionary tale,” the book takes a critical look at the positioning of population growth as a source of climate crisis.

Read Full Article

November 27, 2018|

UCR professor’s American Book Award could boost other Inland authors

Author and UC Riverside Professor Rachelle Cruz gives a speech as she accepts an American Book Award on Sunday, Oct. 28. (Photo courtesy of Cati Porter, Inlandia Institute)

UC Riverside Professor Rachelle Cruz accepted an American Book Award on Sunday, Oct. 28, an honor that the Inland literary community says is a milestone not just for her but also for the region.

Cruz’s poetry collection, “God’s Will for Monsters,” was among 15 winners that the Before Columbus Foundation chose to recognize for  “outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community.”

The book centers around a shape-shifting figure from Filipino folklore called an aswang, which Cruz uses to explore intimate topics like secrets, shame and what it means to be a “witch.”

The child of Filipino parents, she strove for a nuanced look at the traditional culture and how Catholic teachings had changed and marginalized it.

Similarly, she hopes her work will reverse misconceptions about the Inland region, which she said has long had excellent writers but isn’t recognized for its talent.

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November 15, 2018|

Lee Explores Human Evolution in “Close Encounters With Humankind”

Photo by Jimmy Lai/ Student Photographer, CHASS Marketing & Communications

“Close Encounters with Humankind” is not your typical textbook. Every chapter starts with a question. Questions can be about the birth of fatherhood, or farming, or our changing brains.

“A lot of the textbooks talk about the beginning that happened billions of years ago,” Lee said, “but this book starts with a question each chapter.  Each chapter is an exploration.” The questions challenge the traditional progression of evolution and provide intriguing insights into the human origins through Lee’s research. Her conclusions and discoveries will keep readers absorbed and ultimately question whether humanity will continue to evolve.

Lee wants her readers to perceive that we are always evolving and changing. “I want my readers to recognize that our today is made up of an infinite number of todays from the past. If readers can be familiar with the legacy of the depth of time, we hold in ourselves and to be even more curious. That is what I would hope for.”

Lee’s book is the recipient of the 2019 W.W. Howells Book Award and has been published in Korean, English, Spanish, and Chinese. The book is also scheduled to be published in four more languages next year. In the future, Lee would also like to explore more about women in human evolution.

Read full article

October 23, 2018|

The Center Receives $1 Million Grant

In a bold acknowledgment of the University of California, Riverside’s humanities programs, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $1 million to the university’s Center for Ideas and Society.

The award, which comes on the eve of the Center for Ideas and Society’s 30th anniversary in 2019, is the largest the center has ever received. It will support a series of fellowships for faculty members pursuing humanities and humanities-related scholarship, said UCR’s Georgia Warnke, center director and distinguished professor of political science.

“This award reflects confidence in UCR’s humanities faculty broadly understood and a welcome desire to sustain interdisciplinary and humanistically oriented scholarship,” Warnke added. “It’s truly transformative for the university.”

The grant reinforces UCR’s commitment to further enhancing its profile in the humanities and related fields at a time when funding and programming for such fields are under threat at public universities across the country.

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July 16, 2018|

Catherine Gudis Awarded Engaging Humanities Grant

Congratulations to Catherine Gudis (History), recipient of a UCHRI Engaging Humanities Grant for her project: Skid Row History Museum and Archives.

Catherine Gudis is Director of the Public History Program at UCR and teaches classes in public history and 20th century U.S. history, building on her twin interests in modern consumer culture and cultural and urban constructions of race, space, and place. She received her B.A. in Philosophy from Smith College and Ph.D. in American Studies (with distinction) from Yale University, where she also won the Yale Teaching Prize. Professor Gudis is the author of Buyways: Billboards, Automobiles, and the American Cultural Landscape (Routledge, 2004), which traces the relationship between automobility, advertising, and the commercialization of the urban environment. She has contributed to and edited Cultures of Commerce: Representations of Business Culture in the United States (coedited with Elspeth Brown and Marina Moskowitz, Palgrave/MacMillan, 2006) and museum books on art and culture, including Lions and Eagles and Bulls: Early American Inn & Tavern Signs (Princeton, 2001), Ray Johnson: Correspondences (coedited with Donna DeSalvo, Flammarion, 2000), Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990), Oehlen Williams (Wexner Center, Ohio State, 1999), and A Forest of Signs: Art in the Age of Representation (MIT, 1989).

June 12, 2018|

UCR archaeologist’s exhibition exposes an overlooked ancient Mesoamerican society

Catharina Santasilia (UC Riverside, Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology) has been featured in Medium’s latest issue. Santasilia was a participant in the Rise of Civilization in Mesoamerica Conference back in February 2018.

Forget the hat and whip made famous by Indiana Jones. For a preteen Catharina E. Santasilia, her love of archaeology started with Daniel Day-Lewis.

It was the actor’s star-making performance in “The Last of the Mohicans” that inspired the Denmark-born Santasilia’s lifelong interest in indigenous peoples and the things they left behind.

“I’ve always been curious,” said 34-year-old Santasilia, who goes by “Cat,” and is an international doctoral student in UC Riverside’s Department of Anthropology. “But two things happened after I watched ‘The Last of the Mohicans.’ I, like many girls, fell in love with Daniel Day-Lewis, and I developed a fascination with the Americas, which is one of the reasons why I wanted so badly to come to the United States.”

Her fascination — cultivated over six summers in Belize studying ancient Maya sites — came to a head in 2015, in downtown Riverside, of all places. Tucked inside a storage room at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, Santasilia made a discovery that would alter the course of her nascent archaeology career: a collection of nondescript boxes, bequeathed to the museum in 2003 by the descendants of a local archaeologist, which contained never-before-displayed remnants of a 3,000-year-old Mesoamerican society.

Read full article

June 12, 2018|

Thank you for a great year!

As the academic year draws to a close, we want to THANK YOU for your participation and support!

We’re celebrating another successful year of humanities-oriented programs at UCR. Over the last 12 months, the Center sponsored…

  • 5 conferences & workshops reaching over 360 people
  • 8 community events with over 450 participants
  • 9 faculty-led projects hosting 27 guest speakers
  • 8 faculty book talks including Emory Elliott Award winner: “Miss Burma” by Charmaine Craig
  • 24 graduate dissertation research grants
  • PLUS co-sponsorship of events across campus on topics such as nuclear disasters, media expertise, the Rohingya crisis, Native American pedagogy, careers for Ph.D. students, healing the Earth and much more!

We have more great programming on the way—
Film for Thought, a free summer documentary series!!

June 11, 2018|

UCHRI Awards Grants to UC Riverside Faculty & Students

Congratulations to Jody Benjamin (History), recipient of a UCHRI Junior Faculty Manuscript Workshop award for his project: The Texture of Change: Cloth, Commerce and History in Western Africa, 1700–1850.

Additional kudos for two UCR graduate students who have received Graduate Student Dissertation Support Grants from UCHRI:

Mackenzie Gregg: Plagues that Fascinate: Literary Leprosy and Queer Affect in the Victorian Fin de Siècle
Hannah Manshel: The Freedom of a Broken Law

May 22, 2018|
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