Month: February 2017

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Dimitris Xygalatas

Xygalatas-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?
I am an Assistant Professor at UConn’s Anthropology Department and an affiliate of the Cognitive Science Program. Those two areas also reflect my background and training, which is interdisciplinary. I have conducted a combined 4 years of ethnographic fieldwork, but I have also worked in various social scientific laboratories. This allowed me to develop a research methodology which combines field and lab approaches and affordances.
-What is the project you’re currently working on? 
My research examines the effects of ritual participation at the individual and social level. One area of particular interest for me has been the practice of extreme rituals. I have studied some of the most intense rituals around the world, ceremonies that involve walking on fire, piercing the skin, altered states of consciousness, and other intense experiences. To do this, I often brought technological innovations into my field research, things like biometrics, cameras, motion detectors, and more. Using these quantitative methods has often raised important issues and questions. For example, as anthropologists, what are we to make of some of the discrepancies between our measurements and people’s phenomenological accounts? Say, when our quantitative observations about participants’ emotional reactions do not agree with what those participants report feeling, how do we reconcile these accounts? These are some of the questions that I am currently concerned with.
-How did you arrive at this topic?

I find ritual to be one of the most fascinating aspects of human conduct. It is a truly universal behavior, but we don’t think about it too much – we just do it. As an ethnographer, whenever I ask people why they perform their rituals, they typically respond along these lines: “that’s just what we do”; “we’ve always done it this way”; “this is who we are”. So, there is a sense of salience and sacredness about these practices; people agree that rituals are important to them, but more often than not they have no justification for why they are important. I find this quite puzzling, especially in the context of painful or stressful rituals, so the kinds of questions I am asking are concerned with what these costly activities offer to those who engage in them.


-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?
Anthropology studies some of the most meaningful aspects of human existence: the things we see as sacred or taboo, the things that unite and divide us, those that we see as worth fighting or dying for, the things that make us human. And yet, ironically, anthropologists often have a hard time reaching out to a wider public, beyond the world of academic conference rooms and obscure technical journals. In my own work, I try to keep this in mind, and to explore new ways of communicating ideas and findings, including electronic and visual media. I believe that as academics, especially those of us funded by taxpayers’ money, we have an obligation to engage with the public and make our findings available to everyone. Specifically with regards to my topic, I would like to contribute towards a realization that some of the cultural practices we might consider obsolete, superfluous, or even primitive, often play a very important role in who we are are individuals and communities, and that age-old traditions have been able to survive for so long because they are an inextricable part of our nature.

10 Projects, 1 Audacious Goal: Find Solutions to Help Cultivate Healthier Debate and Dialogue in America


UConn’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life project announces $2 million in fellowship grants for projects that will delve into newsrooms, classrooms and the halls of Congress

Storrs, Conn. – A new $2 million fellowship grant program sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute and funded by the John Templeton Foundation will support 10 innovative projects that explore the broken landscape of American discourse and create enduring strategies to spur and sustain open-minded, reasonable and well-informed debate and dialogue.
The 10 interdisciplinary research projects focus on balancing two key features of democracy: intellectual humility and conviction of belief. Carefully curated out of an applicant pool of 110, not only for their individual merits, but also because they work in complementary fashion, each project will investigate how networks and institutions meant to connect us may be pushing people apart.
“Arrogance is easy in politics; humility is hard. These projects aim to rekindle the sense that we can learn from each other, and thus to help us restore a more meaningful public discourse,” says Michael P. Lynch, director of the Humanities Institute and Principal Investigator of the Humility and Conviction in Public Life project.
The research awards, ranging from $160,000 to $225,000, provide a substantial two-year fellowship to each grantee for an ambitious project that will put cutting-edge research to work on improving and revitalizing public discourse. In aggregate, the projects will not only examine how intellectual humility does or does not manifest in public discourse, but will also promote and assess humility at the individual and institutional levels.
Here are the thorny issues and pressing questions the grantees will tackle:
Defusing Extreme Views: What makes us argue so heatedly over things we know little about?
Phillip Fernbach of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his team will look at how we can improve public discourse not by turning laypeople into experts, but rather by making people aware of the causes of extremism and ignorance.
Encouraging Democracy in Action: How can we make communication between elected officials and their constituents more constructive and meaningful?
Ryan Kennedy of the University of Houston and his team will work with 16 congressional offices to study how an online tool that encourages deliberation might help constituents and their representatives arrive at common ground solutions.
Tackling Caustic News Site Comments: Can online news comments sections be designed to promote intellectually humble discourse?
Graham Smith of the University of Westminster, UK, and his research team will look for technical solutions that make comments sections more conducive to intellectually humble discourse. The researchers will test the potential of the solutions by recruiting people who usually read online news and randomly assigning them to different types of comments forums.
Dismantling Echo Chambers: Which online platforms best foster public discourse, and how can we improve them?
Mark Alfano of Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, and his research team will study how content flows in online communication networks and the interpersonal dynamics that influence online conversations about fraught issues.
Leaving ‘Expert Opinion’ to the Experts: Can people become more receptive to expert opinion?
David Dunning of the University of Michigan, Nathan Ballantyne of Fordham University, and team will look at how people interact with expert opinion and work to make people more receptive to it.
How Faith and Humility Can Coexist: Are religious convictions incompatible with intellectual humility?
Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso and her team will examine whether people of strong religious faith can be intellectually humble, and if not, will assess what biblical and non-biblical evidence might be effective in boosting their intellectual humility in public discourse.
Groupthink and Humility: How can groups and institutions become more humble and open to dialogue?
Benjamin R. Meagher of Franklin & Marshall College and Wade C. Rowatt of Baylor University will investigate how intellectual humility influences group performance and how groups can act with intellectual humility.
Humility on Campus: Can we teach students to engage in more productive dialogue?
John Sarrouf of Boston nonprofit Essential Partners and his team will develop new teaching strategies for promoting intellectual humility and constructively engaging differences in academia.
A Healthier Q&A: Can asking the right questions make political discussion more productive?
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong of Duke University and his team will work to determine which questions, and which contexts, produce humility and civility in public discourse and which produce polarization and inflexibility, with the ultimate goal of finding ways to promote a culture of democratically engaged inquiry.
Eliminating the Shouting Match: How can we discourage arrogance in politics and public discourse?
Alessandra Tanesini of Cardiff University and her team will design and test practical interventions designed to combat the growth of pugilistic behaviors in public discussions, such as shouting, mocking, dismissing and rudely interrupting others.
The Humility and Conviction in Public Life project supports interdisciplinary research and outreach on the nature of productive dialogue about morality, science and religion. Detailed information on each grantee can be found at For media inquiries, please contact Justine Morgan,

From the community Hartford Public Library, UConn and Atheneum Launch Encounters, A New Discussion Series, Feb. 4

What’s in a name? The creation of the United States of America made us a democracy and a republic. That creation story and the players in it are very much with us. “Hamilton,” is one of the biggest Broadway hits and presents founders Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr as flesh and blood men. With their flashes of brilliance and crippling personal deficits they invent a new government.
Politics has occupied public attention for the past year as we elected a new U.S. president. So a deeper dive into documents created by our founders is especially timely.
The Hartford History Center at Hartford Public Library, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute, are launching a community engagement partnership with a new discussion series called Encounters. The partners will provide discussion leaders to engage in topics aimed at strengthening our ability to know ourselves and one another through respectful and challenging dialogue. This February and March, Encounters will focus on the fundamental documents that define our democracy.

go to the full article

Tuesday February 7th, 2017 Nancy Fraser.




PAPER WORKSHOP, 2.7.17, 1:30-3:00 PM








PUBLIC LECTURE, 2.7.17, 3:30-5:00 pm


Exploitation-centered conceptions of capitalism cannot explain its persistent entanglement with racial oppression. In their place, I suggest an expanded conception that also encompasses an ongoing but disavowed moment of expropriation; in so doing, I disclose (1) the crucial role played in capital accumulation by unfree, dependent labor and (2) the equally indispensable role of politically enforced status distinctions between free, exploitable citizen-workers and dependent, expropriable subjects. Treating such political distinctions as constitutive of capitalist society and as correlated with the “color line,” I demonstrate that the racialized subjection of those whom capital expropriates is a condition of possibility for the freedom of those whom it exploits.

Nancy Fraser is Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor at the New School for Social Research and is Vice-President and President-Elect of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. She is also Professor II at the Centre for Gender Research at the University of Oslo and holds the Chair in «Global Justice» at the Collège d’études mondiales, Paris. Her most recent books are Domination et anticipation: pour un renouveau de la critique, with Luc Boltanski (2014); Transnationalizing the Public Sphere: Nancy Fraser debates her Critics (2014); and Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis (2013).

Sponsored by the Political Theory Workshop, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Asian/Asian American Studies, Political Science, Philosophy, Sociology, THE UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT HUMANITIES INSTITUTE.