The Humanities Institute

Founded in 1986, the Humanities Institute presents a thematic program each semester on a topic related to the humanities. As part of Scripps’ tradition of interdisciplinary education, this program includes lectures, conferences, exhibitions, performances, and film series bringing prominent and younger cutting-edge scholars to campus.

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Latest Program


The "War on Terror," 15 Years Later

September 2016 marks the fifteen-year anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and U.S. President George W. Bush’s declaration that the United States was now engaged in a global “war on terror.” While President Barack Obama later moved away from that phrasing, his rhetorical shifts did not necessarily signal changes in policy or outlook. Nor did Bush’s initial declaration necessarily mark a new beginning; recall that the Reagan administration declared a “war on terrorism” in the 1980s. What, then, does it mean to think about the period from 2001-2016 as characterized by a global war on terror? How does this framework highlight important changes while masking key continuities in U.S. foreign and domestic policies related to “national security”? What can we learn by comparing the “war on terror” to the “war on drugs” and the “war on trafficking” and how are these declarations of global war related to one another?

Shifts in political rhetoric aside, over the past fifteen years, the U.S. has waged this global war through extrajudicial killings, detention in offshore sites, rendition, torture, and drone attacks, as well as two major wars that included troop deployments. Inside the U.S., this war has involved surveillance and monitoring of both citizens and non-citizens, arrests and deportations, and racial profiling that included “special registration” requirements for Arab students and visitors. Hate crimes and violence against Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians increased alongside growing Islamophobia and anti-Islam bigotry. And because the worlds inside and outside the United States are of course interconnected, the global war on terror has seen the exchange of policies and practices across our borders – most clearly in the militarization of police forces across the country and in the violence to which prisoners and detainees are subjected. What have the consequences of various aspects of the global war on terror been for different groups of people around the world, including in the U.S.? How have these events, practices, and policies affected people’s lives? What new forms of discrimination, policing, surveillance, and warfare have emerged, and how are these forms related to earlier ones?

During Fall 2016, the Scripps Humanities Institute seminar and programming will address these questions and topics. Events may include public lectures or films on Thursdays at 4:15 or 7pm, talks/conversations with faculty as part of the Tuesday Noon Academy, and student-only workshops (open to students outside the seminar as well) with activists, organizers, lawyers, and journalists. By engaging with a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, including anthropology, cultural studies, history, journalism, legal studies, media studies, sociology, and political science, we will begin to better understand how this global war on terror has – and has not – changed both the United States and the world in the twenty-first century.

Upcoming Event

Tuesday Noon Academy – Pardis Mahdavi

October 4, 2016

Hampton Room
Malott Commons
Scripps College

From Trafficking to Terror: Connecting Two Global Wars

The “war on terror” and the “war on trafficking”, two seemingly separate initiatives, have become interwoven in recent years and conspire to castigate Muslim majority countries as sites of depravity, difference and danger, fueling Islamophobic rhetoric about the “clash of civilizations” (Huntington 1993). Both discourses are raced, classed and gendered, producing distinct tropes of victims and villains, while the intersection of these two “wars” presents a confluence of moral panics, or public anxieties pertaining to ‘immoral’ behavior, about sexuality, Islam and immigration (Cohen 1972). More disconcertingly, these discourses are resulting in a series of policies and sometimes militarized responses that are hurting vulnerable populations globally, but particularly in the Middle East. Each “war” seeks to marshal rhetoric about the other to further bolster its cause and justify the creation of harsh policies suffused with overt condescension. This presentation will critique the discourses on trafficking and terror, particularly focusing on their negative aftereffects in terms of policies pertaining to the Middle East.

Pardis Mahdavi, ( Associate Professor of Anthropology, Pomona College)focuses her work on gender and sexuality in the Muslim world, including sexual politics, labor migration and human trafficking. She is the author of Passionate Uprisings: The Intersection of Sexuality and Politics in Post-Revolutionary Iran (2008), Gridlock: Labor, Migration and Human Trafficking in Dubai (2011), From Trafficking to Terror (2013) and is currently researching impacts of gendered migrations on family and love across Asia.

This program is co- sponsored by the Scripps Humanities Institute and the Office of Public Events and Community Programs.