CISRUL news, April 2015
Trevor Stack, CISRUL DIrector
The first item to report is the volume which Brill is publishing in May, with the title Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty. I am the lead editor of the volume, and I wrote the introduction and a chapter, and CISRUL co-hosted with the British Academy the original conference which gave rise to it, as well as hosting a workshop at Aberdeen in 2012. But we’re not going to leave the topic there. We’re holding a seminar in April to discuss how to take the debate forward, prior to following up with a special issue of the inter-disciplinary journal Citizenship Studies. Several CISRUL regulars—including Nadia Kiwan (French), Tamas Gyorfi (Law) and Chris Brittain (Divinity)—are considering contributing articles.
Meanwhile, we’re preparing a second CISRUL volume (see Publications tab), based on the topic of our 2013 and 2014 workshops—Political Community. The 2014 workshop was our biggest so far, and it also gave rise to an intense online debate, which was very helpful in clarifying the issues. The exchanges give some flavour of the energy and passion which some of my colleagues, and other participants, bring to the issues. Our debate has focused on my draft introduction to the volume, which I’m now rewriting for the umpteenth time, with a view to defining what we seek from contributors to the volume.
One of the chapters in the Political Community volume will report on the research that Rachel Shanks (Education), Nadia Kiwan (French) and I have been conducting in Aberdeen City and Shire schools (see Schools Research Project tab). We completed the classroom sessions, and Rachel has presented our findings at conferences in Lisbon, Glasgow and Edinburgh. One of the main findings is that, for many pupils, their political community is their school, and political communities beyond the school, such as the nation, do not (yet) feature prominently in their thinking. The Referendum did make a difference, though, and we’re in the process of organising a workshop for all UK researchers who were studying the response of 16 and 17-year olds.
On that note, I teamed up with Malcolm Harvey, a researcher on the ESRC Future of Scotland and the UK project, to deliver briefings on the Referendum to 16 and 17-year olds in local schools. In each school, Malcolm began by setting out the basic issues, and then we got pupils to come up with questions in small groups, which we then endeavoured to answer. The response was generally very good (although unfortunately the Shire decided against allowing us to do this—a missed opportunity for them, I believe). The emphasis was on informing the pupils, but I found that it useful for our research to observe the pupils debating the issues. I mentioned both our research project and the schools presentations in a media piece that I wrote on the eve of the Referendum.
All our events have benefited from lively contributions from our own PhD students. This year we had our first PhD student pass his viva—James King, who studied the views on politics of 3 of the main theologians of recent times (and this week’s Church of England bishops’ letter on the state of UK politics indicates theology’s continued role in public life.) Marek Szilvasi (EU Roma policy) is now awaiting his viva, and Alena Thiel (political claims among Ghanaian market traders) is about to submit her thesis. Ulisses Terto-Neto is getting close to finishing his thesis on Brazil’s Programme for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, while Anna Grudzinska continues to work on Polish nationalism, Hanif Baris on the Kurdish question in Turkey, and Chuck Sturtevant on indigenous politics in the Bolivian lowlands.
As our first generation of PhD students finish up, we were very pleased to have 3 new PhD students start in September. We were able to choose them from over 20 applicants:
- Rose Luminiello is our first PhD in History, and will study the role of the Catholic Church in late 19th and early 20th century France, Ireland and Poland. Her supervisors are CISRUL regulars Karin Friedrich who works on Polish history, and Michael Brown who works on Ireland.
- Eve Hayes de Kalaf is studying the effects of the Dominican Republic’s decision to defy the Inter-American Court of Human Rights by proceeding with the denaturalization of Dominican citizens whom the government identifies as of Haitian descent.
- Augustinus Mohn will investigate the extent to which human rights actually factor into the decision-making processes of European foreign policymakers and their advisers. For example, he will try to determine whether human rights actually figures in the decisions taken by German foreign ministers with regard to Ukraine. This is a challenging topic, but he will be ably advised by CISRUL colleague Matyas Bodig (Law) who is an expert on international human rights norms, as well as James Wyllie (Politics & IR) who is one of the leading experts on European strategic policy.
The latter 2 PhD topics deal with human rights, which has been one of our interests from the start, and is the focus of our 6th Century course “What Gives Us Rights?” The course has again around 130 students on it. It’s still a challenge to convey the topic to students who have little or no background, but we’re getting there!
We’ve continued, too, with our public engagement activities. As well as our work in City and Shire schools:
- I was involved in organising a public conference on Global Energy Equity in Glasgow last July, to coincide with the Commonwealth Games. This is led by the Centre for Sustainable International Development, directed by Hilary Homans.
- CISRUL colleague Andrea Teti (Politics) and I were contacted by USAID about their plans to develop a Civil Society initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. Andrea is an expert on both the Middle East and on the use (and abuse) of the “civil society” concept in democratization policy, and so was well-placed to advise them.
- We held a public workshop last March on a topic close to my interests—the anti-mafia vigilante movement in Mexico. Despite being focused on Mexico, we had around 60 attendees from around Aberdeen. I went on to publish media pieces on the vigilante movement as well as the UK stance toward Mexican human rights.
We also held 2 public lectures this semester:
- Thurs 5 March: Professor Michael Keating, who leads the ESRC Centre of Constitutional Change, spoke on the topic “Scotland as Political Community” This of course fits in perfectly with the topic of our Political Community book.
- Mon 30 March: Professor Stanley Hauerwas is perhaps the world’s best-known theologian, but is known to most of us as one of the authors studied by James King in his PhD. He now has a part-time contract at Aberdeen, but this was his first lecture on campus.
As well as the visiting speakers, we’ve held a series of reading-based seminars, as well as seminars where we try to work through problems that come up in our debates. This is important because sustaining debate across disciplines is a real challenge—for example, between disciplines like law, philosophy and theology which are concerned with how the world should be, and disciplines like history, anthropology and sociology which focus on how the world really is. We’ve found that only by sitting down and thrashing these issues out, can we keep the conversation going.
Finally, we’re focusing on encouraging prospective applicants for Postdoctoral Research Fellowships (e.g. from European Commission) to choose CISRUL as their host organization. To that end, we’re in the process of advertising funding to bring prospective Fellowship applicants for up to a week to develop their application with us.