Mason’s Center for Humanities Research!

The George Mason University Center for Humanities Research (CHR) supports Mason faculty and students across the university who are pursuing innovative and consequential research in the humanities and humanities-related disciplines; enhances the visibility and impact of this work; and advances Mason’s reputation for humanities research.  

The Center aims to demonstrate and promote the value of the humanities as a public good. Humanities research grapples with complex issues, encourages informed critical dialogue, facilitates cross-cultural and inter-generational understanding, promotes engaged citizenship and inclusive public discourse, and feeds the public imagination.

Much of the work undertaken by scholars in the Humanities is solitary. And yet, Humanities research thrives when scholars engage in intellectual exchange. The CHR is therefore premised on the model of the residential fellowship. Fellows, both faculty and graduate, work and exchange at the Center. By enabling faculty to pursue their own independent research projects in the space of Center, in a dynamic intellectual environment, synergies emerge, energizing and advancing each researcher’s own project.

CHR Theme for 2020-2021: Dissent

“Dissents speak to a future age” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Kamil and Rifat Chadirji Photographic Archive, courtesy of Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries

While US constitutional history memorializes Justices John Marshall Harlan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William O. Douglas as the “great dissenters,” the phrase “I dissent” resonates today with the minority reports authored by the recently deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, stripped of its customary adverb of collegiality, “respectfully.” One might think, for example, of her strongly-worded dissent in the case of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (2014), where the court ruled in favor of exemptions for closely held, for-profit companies who claim religious beliefs. Her statement of dissent is unapologetically charged with the anger of one who had witnessed the gradual establishment of women’s rights over the course of the 20th century, only to be presented with cases that sought to limit them. Even as we celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s notorious dissents, the Black Lives Matter movement reminds us daily, and with urgency, how crucial dissent is to our democracy and to the ongoing struggle for racial justice.

In the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s passing, and in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter Movement, the Center for Humanities Research invites applications from faculty and advanced PhD candidates whose research broadly interrogates or intersects with the notion of dissent. Articulations of dissent not only signal a deviation from the common opinion: the create the space for personal, social and political change.

While our theme takes inspiration from the legal sphere, we ask: which other discursive spaces have been opened by dissent over time? In which historical, philosophical, religious, and imaginative texts, contexts, cultural sites and/or practices can we locate dissent? Whose words, acts and gestures are given credence as dissent, and how do the imbrications of race, gender, sexuality, age, class and ability render dissent legible or allow it to be dismissed? If the voice of dissent is generally defined as the minority opinion, then how does such dissent gain traction, and influence, or even become the voice of the majority? How can we trace the relationship between individual dissent and the larger contexts from which it originates, or the uprisings that result? What does public, collective, or shared dissent look like? Or in the words of the late Justice Ginsburg, how do “dissents speak to a future age”?

Our first cohort of Research Fellows for 2020-21 were selected to work on projects that explain the importance of dissent, broadly construed, to an ongoing research project in any humanistic field of inquiry. They have been meeting via Zoom twice weekly to discuss and develop their projects.

CHR Theme for 2021-2022: Pasts/Presents/Futures

Our theme for 2021-22 will be Pasts/Presents/Futures. The deadline for applications has passed and we will be announcing our new residential fellows this summer.

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