NEH Summer Institute: Philosophy and Sexual Violence

The application deadline is March 1 for the NEH Summer Institute, “Diverse Philosophical Approaches to Sexual Violence,” directed by Ann J. Cahill and to be held at Elon University in North Carolina. Feminist philosophers will appreciate the central themes including embodiment, consent, and the role of the state! The visiting scholars contributing to the Institute include Debra Bergoffen, Susan Brison, Louise du Toit, Nicola Gavey, Renée Heberle, and Sarah Clark Miller.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Riots in Baltimore

In the Atlantic:

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead? . . . When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.

And in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,

America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Uncertain Iranian lives: Sakineh, lawyers, and human rights activists

The life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani remains in the balance

“A year after public attention was cast upon Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s plight, her life appears to remain in the balance.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old woman from Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, was sentenced in 2006 to be stoned to death for “adultery while married”.  She was also sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for her role in her husband’s murder which,  according to her lawyer, was reduced to five years’ imprisonment for complicity in the murder. She remains in prison in Tabriz.  In a letter sent by the Iranian Embassy in Spain to Amnesty International Spain on 8 July 2011, the Iranian authorities reiterated that she was sentenced to death by stoning and to 10 years’ imprisonment for murder…”

for more, click here

also, Fears grow for lawyer of woman in Iran stoning case

Lawyer still in prison after speaking to foreign media about case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

for more, click here

Interested readers might also wish to check out:

What do Iran and the U.S. have in common?


Urgent petition to save Sakineh

The NEH Responds

You may recall our stories about a philosopher and single mother who was accepted to an NEH summer seminar then given 12 hours to put in place childcare arrangements on another continent that would satisfy the seminar organisers. The story got a lot of attention. The philosopher in question contacted the NEH, who fairly quickly assured her that the demand was at odds with their policies and that she was guaranteed of a place on the seminar. But many philosophers felt that, given the publicity the event had received, a public NEH response was called for– which would make clear to potential applicants (and organisers!) that the NEH was firmly opposed to such demands. (And which would also make clear that these weren’t just unfounded internet rumours.) And so, many philosophers wrote letters to the NEH to this effect. (This wasn’t circulated on blogs, because we wanted to keep the philosopher’s name unsearchable.)

I don’t know if the NEH has formally issued a public statement, but as one of the letter-writers I’ve now had a reply, and there’s no request for confidentiality. So I figure it’s OK to publicise it. Here it is:

The National Endowment for the Humanities has apologized to Professor
[X] and is in the process of resolving this issue to her
satisfaction. We have assured her that she is welcome to attend the
institute to which she applied and, at her request, have also extended
the deadline to make it possible for her to apply to another seminar if
she so chooses.

The NEH does not discriminate against applicants for our summer
institutes or any other grant programs on the basis of sex, race, color,
national origin, age, or disability. Asking an applicant to provide
information regarding child care is inappropriate and should have no
bearing on the selection process. Qualified applicants who tell the NEH
that they will participate full time in our programs should be taken at
their word.

Further update: The NEH plans to contact Inside Higher Ed, and they’ve given Prof X permission to circulate all their correspondence with her as she sees fit. Oh, and it’s the chair of the NEH who is emailing her on this. Yeah!

Update on NEH seminar

You may remember our post from a few days ago about a single mother who was accepted to an NEH summer seminar then given 12 hours to arrange childcare on another continent to the satisfaction of the seminar director– or be withdrawn. There was a giant outpouring of outrage round the blogosphere, and an article on Inside Higher Ed, in which an NEH spokesperson made clear that this was against their policies. You’ll be pleased to know that the philosopher/mother in question has been in touch with an NEH lawyer. E writes that “he asked for her patience while the matter is being investigated but made clear that the NEH does not support the kind of demands that were being made of her.”

This is looking likely to be a big, and remarkably rapid win for the Femisphere– hurrah! And many thanks to all of you for helping to spread the word and also to offer support and advice when it was much needed.

And it’s also a lovely teachable moment. The woman who had all this happen to her writes: “Ironically, I’m teaching the chapter on Woman’s Situation in _The Second Sex_ … tonight and we were scheduled to discuss the extent to which things have (and haven’t) changed since then. Now I’ve got the perfect example! It illustrates both the sameness (co-director response) and the change (huge mobilization against that response).”

I do love happy endings. Hope this really does turn out to be one.


Andrew Altman asked us to post this:


Christopher H. Wellman and Andrew Altman will be co-directing an NEH
seminar this coming summer on the topic, “Philosophical Perspectives on Liberal Democracy and the Global Order,” with guest speakers Arthur Applbaum, David Estlund, Thomas Pogge, and Debra Satz. The seminar will be held at Washington University-St. Louis, June 1-25. Two slots are reserved for graduate students. Additional information and application instructions are available at

NEH Summer grants for 2009: correction

This may seem early, but usually institutions require that grant application for this sort of award  be submitted to the research office a month in advance of the date due.  Note that staff and – in  fairly limited circumstances  – graduate students may apply. 

I can’t find any  mention of independent scholars.  If any one knows about their eligibility, I’d appreciate your letting us know.  It may be that they’re just omitted from this notice, which is for colleges  and universities. Thanks to Emeritus for pointing out that independent scholars are covered by “c” below.

2009 SUMMER STIPENDS AWARDS: $6,000  April, 2008   DEADLINE: October 1, 2008

SUBJECT:                   NEH Summer Stipends Program
           The National Endowment for the Humanities is again preparing for its Summer Stipends competition. The deadline is October 1, 2008. Over the past four years, NEH has awarded almost 350 Summer Stipends to allow faculty members to pursue their scholarship during the summer months. While the program remains consistent with previous years, I would like to call your attention to two important changes:

–An increased stipend. Last year NEH increased the amount of a Summer Stipends award to $6,000.

–A new method of applying. Beginning last year, just as with NEH Fellowships, Summer Stipends will be accepting applications online only through
Because of these changes, potential applicants and grants administrators are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves early with the new application instructions and guidelines posted on the NEH website at 


The act that established the NEH in 1965 says: “The term `humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, theory and criticism of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

NOTE: This long post has now been edited (May 27). Please follow the web link for more details.

APA Blog on Diversifying Syllabi

Jesi Taylor, a current undergraduate, writes:

Even a slight change can make a huge difference. Sometimes just dipping your toes into the lake of diversity can make your transformative space, the classroom, a more inviting environment that can, to some students, feel emancipatory. Many conversations with fellow students have made it clear to me that students feel inspired to learn and compelled to engage with the text when they see or feel a bit of themselves in the syllabus. At Brooklyn College I was thrilled to read Fanon and Beauvoir in my Existentialism and Phenomenology course and Mary AstellElisabeth of Bohemia, and Anne Conway in my Modern Philosophy course.  We even read a piece by Eileen O’Neill entitled “Disappearing Ink: Early Modern Women Philosophers and Their Fate in History”. With those texts as the topic of discussion, we were able to discuss issues related to race and gender as they relate to ancient and contemporary issues in Philosophy.

For the whole post, go here.


Nonviolence, Ideal Theory, and Epistemic Injustice

Jacob Levy has a great post up at Bleeding Heart Libertarians – Folk ideal theory in action (with thanks to Daily Nous for bringing it to my attention) – which made me want to say something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Earlier, we posted Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on nonviolence as compliance; as human beings, and many of us, American citizens, the issues Coates raises are of general interest, but there are important philosophical questions, I think, we should be asking ourselves now too. I know some philosophers bristle at the thought that our academic work should be constrained by such things as goals of social justice —  but set that aside. Shouldn’t the modes of thinking we encourage at least not make things worse?

It seems to me, following Charles Mills, that ideal-theory approaches entrench substantial epistemic hindrances for theorizing justice. While we can attempt to engage in thought experiment, e.g., regarding what we might agree to behind a veil of ignorance if we knew nothing about our own social identity, we cannot engage in that thought experiment without thereby deploying a conceptual framework which is, itself, deeply shaped by our existing, non-ideal, social circumstances.  Taking Rawls’ for example, by choosing to set the non-ideal to the side until an account of the ideal can be developed, Rawls cut himself off from the means by which we might check the profound impact of inequality and injustice on our very form of thought. An ideal-theory approach to justice is not problematic merely because it is structured in such a way as to fail to offer sufficient guidance in a non-ideal world, but also because it obscures, and consequently risks transmitting the consequences of, that some of our very concepts have been shaped in ways that implicate matters of justice in the first place. There is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice which ideal theory is disposed to inherit, and engagement with the non-ideal is requisite for correction.

When I say that there is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice, I do not mean just hermeneutical injustice, as Miranda Fricker discusses (though, that’s relevant too), where we may lack some concept because the social group which could develop it lacks the social power or organization to do so. I mean instead that we have concepts which we take to have normative force – like nonviolence as an ideal (or ‘genius‘, or ‘atonement‘) – and these concepts may be perfectly worthy in some sense (that is, the sense in which mean for that concept to aim at), but in actuality they can be perverse, both ethically and epistemically. Note: It is not that I think nonviolence is in anyway perverse itself, and I do not mean that I advocate in any way for violence. What I do mean, though, is that our concept of nonviolence is confused. When embedded in our broader social-conceptual framework, nonviolence becomes something that is expected of those who are subjected to oppression, and violence against them as enacted by certain dominant social groups, or certain forms of the state, fails to be recognized as violence at all. It’s that moment when someone tells you in the span of just a few breaths that yet another death of a black man at the hands of police is an unfortunate event, but that they are saddened, or even heartbroken, by the destructive protests which followed. Violence against persons of color is conceptualized as unfortunate, whereas the destruction of property is conceptualized as violent. The concept of nonviolence is socially limited so as to be unequal in its application.

As Angela Davis said once in an interview:

If you’re a Black person and you live in the Black community, all your life, you walk out on the street every day, seeing white policeman surrounding you. When I was living in Los Angeles, for instance…I was constantly stopped. The police didn’t know who I was, but I was a Black woman, and I had a natural, and I suppose they thought that I might be a “militant”…

You live under that situation constantly, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Whether I approve of guns? I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs–bombs that were planted by racists…From the time I was very, very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that at any moment, we might expect to be attacked . . .

In fact, when [one] bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church? I have to pick up Carole, we heard about the bombing, and I don’t have my car.”

And they went down there, and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then after that, in my neighborhood, all of the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and control our community every night because they did not want that to happen again.

I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just find it incredible. Because what it means is the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what Black people have gone through–what Black people have experienced in this country since the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.