Author: mem17025

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with William McMillan



1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

My project leverages my research on a theologically conservative but culturally flexible church in Manhattan to think through the limits, tension points, challenges, and opportunities for evangelical Christianity (in conversation with other religious traditions) in the contemporary era of advanced modernity.


2. What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

The training that I received in a particular theological tradition before transitioning to sociology actually helped broaden my perspective and provided me with greater flexibility and nuance in appropriating a particular set of religious commitments as an analytic or grid through which to make sense of the world. This paradox of pursuing a more robust set of convictions and arriving at a more capacious view of the world intrigued me and set me on the path to think through the adaptability and flexibility that is often entailed in a given religious tradition. One exciting development that I am anticipating is clarifying and substantiating ways that evangelical Christianity and other religious traditions are conversing with and/or positively articulating more immanent conceptual frames in response to today’s increasingly secular cultural climate.


3. What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

I am looking forward to rich conversations with other scholars, as well as genuine interdisciplinary exchange. It is a privilege to be part of such a talented and diverse academic community and to think through and dialogue about such weighty, relevant, and important issues.


4. Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to the table?”

Humanities scholarship brings to the fore questions of meaning, purpose, aspiration, value, and telos. Answers to these questions are existentially unavoidable, though they are sadly and far too frequently ignored. The power and promise of various technologies and societal changes are touted, as science elaborates more and more a detached description of the world—the world of things. While all well and good, these tools and descriptions only go so far. Important questions inevitably emerge, such as: How can one discern between better and worse uses of a given technology? Is bigger, faster, and more efficient always the best course of action when it comes to human beings? How might the tools and techniques of science help human communities over the long term? Such questions fall in the sweet spot of humanities research, which at the end of the day concerns wisdom and deep reflection on what it means to live a noble, honorable, and worthwhile human life.

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Richard Frieder


1.         Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

My project is called Hartford Listens.  The basic idea is to hold community dialogues using the “dialogue-to-change” approach in multiple locations around Hartford on an ongoing basis.


2.        What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

I have been doing community engagement work in Hartford for many years.  I have found myself constantly looking for ways to help Hartford residents and others achieve community-driven, positive change to make the city an even better place than it is today.  I discovered community dialogues or, more specifically “dialogue and deliberation,” several years ago, ie, bringing people together for facilitated, small group discussion that is designed to enable participants to tell their story, listen to others, build mutual understanding, and take action together.   I am especially intrigued with the “dialogue-to-change” method developed by an organization called Everyday Democracy.   I have organized a number of individual community dialogues of this kind, but the goal of Hartford Listens is to achieve a sort of a multiplier effect by holding dialogues continuously in a variety of locations around the city.  If this can be done successfully, it could potentially have a transformative impact in Hartford.  This work is especially important now when our nation is so fractured.  Community dialogues can help people find common ground.


3.         What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

I am very excited about being a Fellow at UCHI.  It will give me a chance to focus on my project with fewer distractions than I normally have, which is exactly what I need to move the Hartford Listens idea forward.  Just as important, I will be able to share ideas and perspectives with others, and learn from their work.  I know this will have a positive impact as I continue to develop Hartford Listens.  I am very grateful for this wonderful opportunity.


4.         Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to table?”

As it applies to my work, the humanities brings a great deal to the table.  The concept of balancing conviction with intellectual humility is one to which the Humanities Institute has devoted much research and energy in recent years, and it is very much intertwined with my work in dialogue and deliberation.  In addition, the Encounters series is a fine example of the important role of the humanities in dialogue work.


You SHOULD…See: Moonlight


“So intimate is moonlight reflected on still water that this spare, deeply moving film appropriately bears the name. Moonlight won a Golden Globe for Best Picture, an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and was the second lowest-grossing film in history to win an Oscar for Best Picture, its all-black, mostly unknown cast beating out favored La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.


So why is this particular coming-of-age story so worth seeing? In a word: hope. Told in three parts, the film portrays black lives that are at once complex, flawed, loving, and healthy [finally!]. Moonlight 

follows from boy to man the life of black and gay Chiron. Front-and-center in the film are hyper masculinity, economic depression, and drugs, yet these situational factors are not depicted as the inherent dysfunction of blackness. Unexpectedly, we admire and care about the 40-something drug dealer whose performative masculinity slips easily from his shoulders to tenderly parent semi-orphaned Chiron. We are both crushed and empathetic when Kevin, Chiron’s childhood playmate, as a teenager and to avoid his own beating by schoolyard bullies repeatedly knocks down and draws blood from his shy unsinkable friend, Chiron. And we feel Chiron’s interiority, the ebb and flow of his self-possession, his tenuous yet durable embrace of himself. As Chiron sorts through his gay black worth, stretching toward fulfillment despite domestic abuse and betrayal, we the viewers also internalize the power of honest connection and self-acceptance. For Moonlight, both black aggression (pariah) and self-erasure (hapless victim) indeed are myths. Chiron returns again and again to his gayness, blackness, and vulnerabilities, choosing to love rather than deny himself. As we watch, the desire to engage the best of our own lives and communities is overwhelming. Moonlight is a must see. ”


Melina Pappademos,
Associate Professor, Department of History
and Director, Africana Studies Institute



You SHOULD…Hear: Songs in the Key of Life


“You should hear Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder. In 1975, Wonder had considered leaving the music industry, moving to Ghana and working with children with disabilities. At only 25 years old, he had already released 17 albums, sold millions, and won dozens of awards, including Grammys for Album of the Year (1974 and 1975).  After some prodding from friends, family, fans (and the biggest record contract for any artist in history), he returned to the studio to record. In the midst of the dominance of the carefree hedonism of disco, the double LP, was released in September 1976 to critical acclaim. Like his previous work, this LP proved to be a beautifully discursive exploration of the human condition. Wonder assembled a group of artists from different genres and filled the album with an aural style and literary brilliance that was organically balanced with social commentary and festive jaunts about mistakes of our youth. “Isn’t She Lovely” is as infectious and fun as songs get. “Sir Duke” is classic Wonder. With more hit singles than any Wonder LP ever, it’s a challenge to justify focus on one song, but Wonder’s highpoint is one of the best love songs ever, “As.”

Songs became Wonder’s best-selling album of all time. It won Grammy Album of the Year among three other Grammys. Auteurs from Prince to George Michael have praised it as the best album ever made. The list of awards and honors is too long to put here. When you hear it, know that it offers us many ways for its consumption. Focus on the sonic, and isolate the various instruments and vocals from Herbie Hancock or Minnie Riperton. Concentrate on the enthusiastic flow of Wonder on some songs, the playful laugh, improvisation, or prattle on another. Appreciate the jazz inflections on R&B vocals. Listen to tales of love, God, struggle and joy. It is a lush, incredible example of exceptional talent and a reminder of how important it is to encourage the creation of wonderous art. ”

– Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar
Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Music
Professor of History

You SHOULD…Read and Listen: Teaching Community


“You should have a reading and listening jam session, engaging bell hooks’ Paulo Freirean-inspired critiques of structures and systems of power in Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003) while absorbing the liberatory sounds of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet’s “Free to Be” (2004). In ensemble, these two works offer at once intensely personal and collaborative learning frameworks for creative action. In Teaching Community hooks interrogates how our gendered, sexualized and racialized bodies intersect and operate in the context of historically segregated educational institutions. Yet, she insists that when working in solidarity with and in diverse communities beyond the university, “democratic educators” can foster a pedagogy of hope. Similarly, as a cultural form born from resistance to oppression and as an expression of freedom, jazz music –as exquisitely interpreted by Marsalis in “Free to Be”– functions through three interconnected elements. It grounds us in the historical pain and blues of inequality and discrimination; it celebrates individual creativity and strength in improvisation; and it promises that, if we intentionally and empathetically listen to and collaborate with each other, the music and experience will swing!”


Mark Overmyer-Velázquez,
Professor of History and Latino & Latin American Studies
University of Connecticut – Hartford

You SHOULD…Read: The Anatomy of Fascism


“To help navigate these incredibly dark times and put them into historical perspective, you should definitely read Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism.  I meet people all the time who want to learn more about fascism, but don’t know where to begin.  The pile of books that have been published on the subject could form its own mountain, and the sheer range of options can be overwhelming.  I’ve had to take a big bite out of this mountain for my own research, and I can say that if you have time to read just one book on the subject, it should be this one.

I like it because of its accessibility and avoidance of jargon, its broad scope, and because it is attuned to the contemporary relevance of his subject.  As such, he’s not afraid to say that fascism lives on in present day.  Published in 2004, Anatomy of Fascism was not conceived with the current crisis in mind, which makes it less topical and more powerful in my view.  But I like it most of all because it’s argument is solid.  Paxton doesn’t pull any cheap shots to make his subject topical.  Instead, like a good historian, he honors the specificity of pre-WWII European politics and culture, and lets his readers draw their own conclusions.

Paxton, now retired from Columbia University, argues that fascist movements can’t be defined by their political platforms – these change as values change, and fascist states shifted their policies quite often anyway.  A steadier indicator of a fascist movement is its “mobilizing passions” – that is, the emotional triggers and underlying desires that fire up its political base (you’ll have to read the book to find out what these triggers are).  Further, he argues that fascist movements rely on the enablement of traditional conservatives: if an aging conservative establishment had not given Hitler and Mussolini the keys to the kingdom, their movements would have likely died on the vine.  With an eye to the present, Paxton writes, “Fascists are close to power when conservatives begin to borrow their techniques, appeal to their ‘mobilizing passions,’ and try to co-opt the fascist following.”



-Christopher Vials,
Associate Professor of English & Director of American Studies
University of Connecticut