The North American University and the World: Sacred Spaces and Heretical KnowledgeSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact email@example.com for more information. :
For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy.
From August 19-28, 2002, the International Institute brought together five visiting scholars and public figures, along with eight University of Michigan graduate students and faculty, to consider the challenges posed by the events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath to the internationalizing project of the North American university. Kathleen Canning (history and women‘s studies), David William Cohen (anthropology and history) and Michael D. Kennedy (sociology, vice provost for International Affairs and director of the International Institute) developed the intellectual plan for the program and a position paper around which the seminar discussions unfolded. Cohen and Kennedy convened the seminar through its eight sessions (while Canning was on the way to Freiburg to direct the U-M‘s exchange program there in 2002-2003). The “Sacred Spaces” seminar was funded by the Ford Foundation through its “Crossing Borders: Revitalizing Area Studies” grant to the International Institute.
The formulation “Sacred Spaces and Heretical Knowledge” framed the position paper. “Sacred Spaces” posits the North American research university as both of and in the world, while marking the university‘s openness and commitment to the cultivation of broadly shared communities of learning that move beyond national boundaries toward an articulation of universal values and needs. The decade-long internationalization of American higher education toward recognition of global interests and universal values seems now to have been a passing moment. “Heretical knowledge” refers to the possibility that open inquiry, reasoned engagement, intellectual rigor and responsibility to the world are now at risk in a post-9/11 era of belligerence and heightened attention to national interest. How is a full opening of the North American university to the world to be sustained or reconstituted in this new era of heightened national interest and declared/undeclared war?
The position paper, completed in April, was sent to the five visitors who produced written responses circulated to all the participants in early August. In preparation for the seminar discussions, the graduate student members of the seminar worked through sets of readings relating to the position paper and the visitors‘ work. In addition to each day‘s discussions, seminar participants attended a performance of Glenda Dickerson‘s Kitchen Prayers, a special seminar discussion of Ross Chambers‘s paper “Terrorism and Testimonial: Consequence of Aftermath” and a screening of Zareena Grewal‘s new film By the Dawn‘s Early Light: Chris Jackson‘s Journey to Islam.
Motivated by these events and the position paper and its responses, the seminar produced an extraordinary discussion of the various perspectives with which both the North American university and 9/11 might be viewed. We explored the different temporalities and urgencies of knowledge, from the manageable “response” to an attack to the need to figure how best to represent violence in its historical variety and depth. We considered how violence is remembered differently across the world, from the Holocaust in Europe and the partitions of South Asia in the 1940s to the way in which 9/11 also inspires recollection of the September 11, 1973 coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. We also considered the shifting presence of “unfinished nations,” with concerns about security now potentially supplanting issues of rights, health, poverty and development, as well as popular aspirations, in the relations between North (or West) and South. We considered the layers of race and racism in America and across the world and the tensions emergent around universalizing definitions of racism. We discussed the ways in which religion becomes another powerful marker of difference even as world religions share common philosophical and theological principles. Finally, we were drawn to the challenges that religious revival has presented to the secular presumption of the US and to church-state relationships across the world.
While we might agree about what focused our discussion, by no means did we find convergence in our interpretations. For example, significant differences emerged regarding the centrality of American presumptions, from ordering the value of knowledge to the definitions of terror. We witnessed very different evaluations of the standing and possibilities of secularism in the constitution of a global ecumene. As well, there were quite different reckonings of the possibilities for the engagement of North American scholarship in addressing religious, cultural and economic difference in the world and in attending to questions of evil. The inequalities in academic research and knowledge production globally were seen to position the North American university as exceedingly privileged, in some views, and as substantially irrelevant, in others.
Even as we discussed the challenges of religious identification and American presumption in the definition of knowledge politics and global publics, the North American university itself returned to focus. By articulating its complex and contradictory relationships to global interests and values as well as to national, state and market interests and values, new and important questions about how the university acts or should act in respect to its position in and of the world were considered. Responsibility emerged as a key word in examination of the role of individuals, disciplines, universities, nations, religions and other communities in addressing one‘s own position in the world and the positions of others. What are the political, cultural, epistemological, moral and religious grounds of understanding responsibility in the context of 9/11?
It is anticipated that a published volume will emerge from these discussions combining individual papers and the position paper reanimated and complicated through the integration of various intervention including dissent, marking absence, clarification, dialogue and debate and citation. The International Institute will host a forum on November 15, 2:00-4:00 p.m., 1636 SSWB/II, to discuss the expanded version of the position paper.
Increasing Engagement at Home and AbroadJuliet S. Erazo, anthropology and natural resources and environment
After viewing a play that highlighted various concerns of Afro-Americans, one seminar participant suggested that if Al-Qaeda leaders knew more about this country‘s complexities, they may have sent Muslim missionaries instead of suicide bombers. I was reminded of how the US is viewed in many parts of the world: home to a wealthy, consumerist, Godless and care-less society that does everything in its power to convert all others to its capitalist, self-centered project.
Unfortunately, most academics have not done enough to contest this image, failing to truly engage with their colleagues and broader publics abroad. Seminar participants lamented that most international involvement by academics is limited to activities such as rapid-fire expertise on how to “solve” economic or development “problems,” mining of information and analyses by foreign scholars for career advancement; or disinterested acts of charity, such as free lectures or book donations (often for tax deduction purposes). If the American university intends to be truly international, involvement must center on dialogue, not exploitative or demeaning relationships. To begin, this could entail long-term, reciprocal relationships with foreign universities, co-authoring with local scholars and increased citing of foreign journals and sponsoring more foreign scholars‘ participation in US scholarly communities. Engagement requires ongoing work and commitment, not efficiency, charity or Empire tactics.
Resource Gaps and the Globalization of KnowledgeCarrie Konold, political science
Critiques of the globalization of knowledge allege that the “global” is really the “American” thinly disguised, but to deal with this critique effectively, a serious and sustained conversation about resources and the production of knowledge must begin that includes colleagues and universities from around the globe. All too often, debates about the value of certain kinds of knowledge and access to resources center on US universities. If US-based scholars charge themselves with globalizing knowledge, however, we must address more fundamental inequalities in the international nation-state system reflected in knowledge production.
Throughout the “Sacred Spaces” dialogue, colleagues challenged the academy to discuss the realities of resources in non-Western universities and the challenges of publication. I emerged believing even more strongly that the US academic community must question the privileged position of its own research and must engage in scholarship that addresses gaps in resources and knowledge across national universities and nation-states. But if the globalization project is to continue, the university must also find ways to create partnerships and relationships of exchange that defy traditional dependency patterns and do not necessarily demand assimilation through “academic neo-colonialism.” To create a global public culture based on reciprocity, we must seriously and systematically address the international political economy of the university and its role in the production and distribution of knowledge.
Also challenged was the exclusion of non-Western scholarship from core disciplinary reading lists. See Bethwell A. Ogot, Science, Culture and Dependency in Africa, The Journal of the International Institute, Vol. 2, No. 3, Spring 1995.
Sustaining the University‘s Openness to the Learning of the WorldErica Lehrer, cultural anthropology
My title, a line from the first page of the position paper, was a central concern of the seminar. The line plays on the image of a fortress-like university with a “world” that begins beyond its gates. How is it that those “inside” this imagined university are closed off from the rest who inhabit “the world” and live by its somehow foreign learning? Don‘t all members of the university return daily into—and learn from—that very world? Why do they leave this “worldly” learning at the university gates?
Lisa Ruddick suggests that “the models for inquiry that dominate the humanities now …make a direct theoretical assault on the humane principles and aspirations that many students came into the discipline with. So students learn to interpret those aspirations, and the younger self that embraced them, as incoherent and shameful and are rewarded for treating that prior self with a kind of intellectual sadism.”*
Does the university help student-citizens to become worldly, or alien? Is academic education often learning against the world? Post-9/11, as we scramble to learn from “other sources,” one seminar participant‘s question resounds: “Whom is one willing to be educated by?” If we are unwilling to trust our own worldly selves, what hope is there for engaging the “worldly other.”
*Lisa Ruddick, “The Near Enemy of the Humanities is Professionalism.” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 23, 2001, B9.
September 11th and Challenges to Scholarly CommunitiesMonica Patterson, anthropology and history
In the wake of the September 11th events of last year, universities in the United States were tested and tried in many ways. As sites of international learning for students from both within and outside the US, universities across the country sought to come together as communities even while divisions on their campuses became more visible. As government leaders, members of the media and publics across the world sought to understand the reasons and appropriate response for the attacks, members of various scholarly communities were called upon to provide expertise that was deemed pertinent to the questions posed by our national leaders. Previously peripheral domains of expertise suddenly became both relevant and critical, while other scholarly communities found themselves outside of national interest.
One of the greatest challenges for the multiple and overlapping scholarly communities within universities was to determine and negotiate their relationship with a changing US state and to respond to its increasing demands. As some departments, schools and experts jockeyed for authority status, others sought to extricate themselves from certain types of involvement or to reconfigure and reframe the very questions being asked. For instance, what role would and should university administration play in responding to the US government‘s call to investigate and report the increasing number of suspicious persons in the new war on terrorism? Questions of responsibility, capability, legality, resources and ethics continue to be debated within a larger consideration of the meaning and limitations of academic freedom within this period of crisis.
The Independence of the US University?Hiroe Saruya, sociology
The events following September 11 and the subsequent pressure exerted on North American universities to conform to governmental influences lead us to re-examine debates over the freedom and independence of the university. To critically examine the idea of freedom within universities, historical study about universities is necessary. While some research universities in the United States—Princeton and Harvard for instance—have their roots in religious bodies, others, such as land-grant universities, were founded with state interests, and still others were founded by wealthy benefactors.
In comparison, the history of Asian universities by the very nature of their foundation calls into question their independence, since in Asia governments tended to largely contribute to the establishment of higher education. While historical origins of universities around the world may differ, there is convergence in their relationships with the governments, as we see in the US where research universities supported by the federal government have been heavily involved in state defense and area studies.
There is another question regarding the independence of American universities in terms of external sources. Many Asian governments send large numbers of officials as students to ‘prestigious‘ American universities, and also invest in those universities. The American university is a major institution that helps foreign countries pursue their national interests. Thus, the question of independence in the US universities from both the US and foreign governments requires historical research on the university itself with a comparative as well as global view, which captures interrelations among countries.
The Politics of RemembranceLingling Zhao, American culture
History is remembered, and individually or collectively, remembrance is a sociopolitical action. Through talking about fragmented stories or versions of history around 9/11, intellectuals and media helped to construct collective memories of it being selected, told, performed, anthologized and read. Remembrance has therefore served as a new way of constructing religionocity, ethnicity and collective identity of the US society, especially among intellectuals.
Sitting within a comparative global context, participants of the Sacred Space Seminar critically engaged the recent return to remembrance linked to the aftermath of 9/11. While there has already been a surfeit or excess of memories of 9/11 with the approaching of its one-year anniversary, the seminar‘s call for learning to remember and learning to represent is by itself another historical retrieval of 9/11, which endeavors not to be disabling and US-centric. If the politics of remembrance, roughly summarized, is that the past is in the present, the seminar‘s reflection on remembrance and representation is a political action that demands both faith in intellectual calling and courage to open up possibilities in limitations; the seminar is indeed revealing of such a historical moment called a post-9/11 world.