Mandel Center for the Humanities

Mandel Lectures in the Humanities

 Turquoise Wave and Wang photo
The goal of the Mandel Lectures in the Humanities is to promote the study of the humanities at Brandeis University. The series launched in 2011 following the 2010 opening of the Mandel Center for the Humanities. Each year, prominent scholars deliver a series of three lectures and conduct an informal seminar during their stay on campus. The series is unique in its rotation of disciplines or fields within the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Following the completion of each year's lectures, the talks are published in book form for Brandeis University Press. The resulting series of books reflects both the interdisciplinary mission of the Mandel Center and the wide range of extraordinary work being done in the humanities today.

Jackie Wang to Deliver 2024 Mandel Lectures

Jackie Wang is a scholar, multimedia artist, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, and an American Democracy Fellow at Harvard’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. She is the author of the critical essay collection Carceral Capitalism (Semiotext(e), 2018), the poetry collection The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void (2021), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and the essay collection Alien Daughters Walk into the Sun (Semiotext(e), 2023). Her research is on racial capitalism, surveillance technology, and the political economy of prisons and police.


Lecture 1: The Deep Sea as the New Frontier of Accumulation

Lecture 2: Poetry and Tidalectics

Lecture 3: Oceanic Feeling and the Politics of Mysticism

The Deep Sea as the New Frontier of Accumulation (March 11, 5:30pm to 7:00pm, Rapaporte Treasure Hall)

Nauru is the world's smallest island nation. Across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Nauru came under the colonial rule of Germany, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, who exploited the island for its phosphate resources and geostrategic location in the Pacific. After the depletion of phosphate reserves in the 1990s, Nauru has struggled to find new revenue streams to replace terrestrial mining revenue and has begun to work with Canadian-owned The Metals Company (TMC) to explore deep sea mining. The “green energy” transition has launched a scramble for minerals such as lithium, cobalt, copper, and nickel, which are essential for electric vehicle batteries. Yet little is known about how the mining of polymetallic nodules on the seabed of the Pacific’s Clarion Clipperton Zone will affect delicate ocean ecosystems. This lecture will examine the complex interplay between colonial history, indigenous politics, and environmental advocacy in the context of deep sea mining. Nauru is an island that has suffered from extreme environmental degradation caused by the legacy of colonial-capitalist extraction. In order to maintain their sovereignty and ward off climate migration, Nauru has viewed deep sea mining as one of the few options they have for survival. Yet other indigenous leaders across the region of the Pacific have strongly opposed deep sea mining. Using the frameworks of racial capitalism and indigenous ecologies, this lecture will explore the contours of this debate between environmental activists and indigenous communities in the Pacific. 

Poetry and Tidalectics (March 12, 5:30pm - 7pm, Mandel 303)

How has the element of water irrigated the imagination, inspiring works of poetry that attempt to capture fluidity, both in form and content? Using Kamau Brathwaite’s concept of tidalectics as a point of departure, this lecture will explore the theme of water, with an emphasis on the role of water in the literary and ethical imagination across poetic traditions, particularly Caribbean and Black diasporic poetry and the writings of authors such as Dionne Brand and Édouard Glissant. Contrasting his philosophy with Hegel’s dialectics, Brathewaite’s concept of tidalectics draws from the syncopated rhythm of lapping waves, “humble repetitive ritual actio(n),” and the prosody of poetic language to understand the Caribbean experience. The lecture will examine the multifaceted nature of water symbolism: water as a giver and taker of life, the ocean as a graveyard, the sea as history, water as the principle of flux, and water as a geographical boundary and metaphorical boundary between states of existence. 

Oceanic Feeling and the Politics of Mysticism (March 13, 12-1:30pm, Mandel 303)

Between 1923 and 1936 the French novelist and mystic Romain Rolland exchanged twenty letters with Sigmund Freud. Inspired by his exchanges with Rolland, Freud elaborated the concept of “oceanic feeling” in his 1930 work Civilization and Its Discontents. In the book, Freud characterizes the "oceanic feeling" as an experience of boundlessness, signifying a regression to the infantile state where the infant perceives no distinction between itself and its mother. In contrast, Rolland views the "oceanic" as an affective state underlying all religious experience. This lecture will explore the notion of "oceanic feeling" within psychoanalytic, mystical, and philosophical discourses, with the aim of exploring how the dissolution of the self can give way to new social forms and affective states. The talk will examine psychoanalytic debates surrounding oceanic feeling, as well as Spinozist interpretations of oceanic feeling and its societal implications, which emphasizes the potential for these states to form the groundwork for collective social forms. 

Past Lectures

LaWhore Vagistan in performance

Kareem Khubchandani is an associate professor of theater, dance and performance studies at Tufts University whose research and creative work centers on queer, feminist and trans aesthetics, namely in South Asia and its diasporas. Performing under the name LaWhore Vagistan, Kareem utilizes drag performance as a pedagogical tool.

He is the author of "Ishtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife" (University of Michigan Press, 2020), which won the 2021 Association for Theatre in Higher Education Outstanding Book award, 2021 Dance Studies Association de la Torre Bueno book award, and the 2019 CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies Fellowship. He is also co-editor of "Queer Nightlife" (University of Michigan Press, 2021) and curator of

Dragademia — Dressing Up the University
4-5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27
Laurie Theater, Spingold Theater Center
Followed by reception in Merrick Theater

Lessons in Drag with LaWhore Vagistan
5-6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28
Laurie Theater, Spingold Theater Center

Divas, Drag Queens, Aunties and Other Academic Personas
5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1


Colm Tóibín, Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities

Columbia University

  • Lecture 1: "Between Heaven and Harlem: James Baldwin's Beginnings"
  • Lecture 2: "Stranger in Each Village: James Baldwin in the World"

Daphne Brooks

"We the People": Protest Music in America and the Black Freedom Struggle

Daphne A. Brooks, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of African American Studies, Music, American Studies, and Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies
Yale University

  • Lecture 1: "Invisible Music: The Sonic Idea of Black Revolution From Captivity to Reconstruction"
  • Lecture 2: "Solidarity in Sound: Grassroots Arrangements & Civil Rights Transformation"
  • Lecture 3: "'Scratching the Celluloid': Sonic Plotting & Planning While Facing the 21st Century Catastrophe"

Nancy LangstonEnvironmental Humanities and the New Mobilities of the Anthropocene: Climate Change and Animal Migrations in the North

Nancy Langston, Distinguished Professor of Environmental History, Member of the Great Lakes Research Center
Michigan Technological University


David Der-Wei WangThe Alien, The Ghost, The Post-human: Why Fiction Matters in Contemporary China

David Der-Wei Wang, Edward C. Henderson Professor of Chinese Literature
Harvard University

Resulting Book Publication: “Why Fiction Matters in Contemporary China” (forthcoming October 2020)


Dipesh ChakrabartyProvincializing Europe in a Warming World: On the Relevance and Limits of Postcolonial Criticism

Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College
University of Chicago


Wendy DonigerMemoirs of a Jewish Girlhood

Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Religions
University of Chicago Divinity School
also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought, and the College

Resulting Book Publication: “The Donigers of Great Neck: A Mythologized Memoir” (2019)


Ingrid RowlandDivine Spark of Syracuse

Ingrid Rowland, Professor of Classical and Renaissance Architecture
University of Notre Dame

Resulting Book Publication: “The Divine Spark of Syracuse” (2018)


James WoodLetters to a Young Writer

James Wood
Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism
Harvard University

Resulting Book Publication:The Nearest Thing to Life” (2015)


David NirenbergJudaizing Aesthetics: Painting, Poetry, Politics

David Nirenberg, Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Fundamentals, Middle East Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, and the College
University of Chicago

Resulting Book Publication: “Aesthetic Theology and its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics” (2015)