Brandeis to host year-long seminar on gender-based violence

From left to right, headshots of professors Harleen Singh, Anita Hill and ChaeRan FreezePhotos/Mike Lovett and Heratch Ekmekjian

From left to right, professors Harleen Singh, Anita Hill and ChaeRan Freeze.

With support from a prestigious Sawyer Seminar grant from the Mellon Foundation, Brandeis faculty will host a major series of nine scholarly seminars in academic year 2023-24, examining the roots of — and resistance to — gender-based violence.

"Imperiled Bodies: Slavery, Colonialism, Citizenship and The Logics of Gender-Based Violence" will bring together scholars of literature, history, art, and law from around the world and from Brandeis to explore gender-based violence in the United States, Mexico and Central America, Jamaica and Trinidad, India, South Korea, and Israel/Palestine from the nineteenth century onward. The seminar series will also examine disruptive events that unsettle the everyday acceptance of gender-based violence.

The application process was led by University Professor Anita Hill, Harleen Singh, Director of the Women’s Studies Research Center and associate professor of literature, and women's, gender and sexuality studies, and ChaeRan Freeze, the Frances and Max Elkon Chair in Modern Jewish History.

The Mellon Foundation’s John E. Sawyer Seminars program was established in 1994 to provide support for collaborative research on historical and contemporary topics of major scholarly significance. Mellon describes the year-long seminars as “temporary research centers” which bring together an interdisciplinary mix of scholars to conduct intensive comparative studies. This will be Brandeis’ third Sawyer Seminar.

“At its core, ‘Imperiled Bodies’ will identify the universal `logics of gender-based violence’ that cut across cultures and time periods, while the individual sessions will examine them in their own historical and geopolitical context,” said Singh. “Our global, interdisciplinary approach seeks to make sense of how we continue to view and experience but not really “see” the gender-based violence that pervades our lives.”

“We refer to the ‘logics’ of violence because violence is never irrational or unexplainable, but rather intentional, structural, and deeply embedded in every facet of everyday life,” Freeze explained.

The new seminar will coincide with the 75th anniversary of Brandeis’ founding, and amplify the history of the university’s long engagement with social justice, through both academic and public-facing events. Each of the nine sessions will be led by a Brandeis faculty member, and an edited volume based on the proceedings will be published in the following years.

“Gender-based violence has been embedded in many cultures, governments, and economic systems throughout history, and still to this day. In bringing together scholars who are examining how and why gender-based violence persists, who it harms and whose power it maintains, we hope to envision how nations and communities can identify and detach themselves from the foundations of gendered violence,” said Hill.

Hill’s testimony during the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings is one example of a disruptive event, as it prompted a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace, and resulted in regulations prohibiting practices that women had long been expected to endure as an ordinary part of employment. More recently, Hill has worked with women in Hollywood seeking to institute reforms in the aftermath of the revelations about now-convicted film producer Harvey Weinstein and others in the film industry.

Professor Singh’s research in the representation of sexual violence in India considers literature, film, paintings, and popular culture from 1947 to the present. As the director of the Women’s Studies Research Center, her leadership of the seminar will bring together scholars, artists, students, and the community in a sustained conversation on gendered violence. This seminar will also be the first time the Women’s Studies Research Center and the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis have collaborated on a grant and award of this size.

The seminar will draw on the diverse faculty and resources across Brandeis, including the Heller School of Social Policy and Management, the Mandel Center for the Humanities, the Women’s Studies Research Center, the Hadassah Brandeis Institute, and the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project. The Rose Art Museum, and the Kniznick Art Gallery will provide space for exhibitions connected to the themes of the seminar. Campus resources such as the Gender Sexuality Center and the Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center will provide support for students who will attend the sessions and programming events.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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