CfP: The Humanities in Authoritarian Times (Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach)

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Call for Papers

The Humanities in Authoritarian Times

Convener: Adam Knowles, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

July 2nd and 3rd, 2020

Deadline: Feb. 28th, 2020

What challenges do the humanities face under the global rise of authoritarianism? How do the humanities respond to the pressures posed by the new power formations of the contemporary totalitarian and authoritarian regimes? This conference seeks to interrogate how the humanities resist, align with, and are co-opted by the political and market forces fostered by ethno-nationalism, neoliberalism, and the insidious rise of authoritarianism. As the lines between authoritarian and non-authoritarian regimes have become increasingly tenuous, so to have the lines of intellectual complicity. Moreover, as totalitarian movements established themselves in the 20th century, the humanities often provided significant ideological support to the totalizing narratives of such regimes. History, literature, philosophy, among others, helped to established historical narratives, national identities and theories of legitimation throughout the 20th century. These movements—National Socialism above all—have provided the standard formulae for understanding the mechanisms of authoritarian regimes. Do lessons drawn from the 20th century broaden our understanding of the current crises in the humanities? Or do they in fact narrow the field of vision? What role do the humanities play when democracies die?

By addressing the historical and regional specificities facing the humanities globally, this workshop seeks to address questions such as:

  • How do neoliberal economic pressures align with authoritarian regimes?
  • What form must humanities research and pedagogy take in order to withstand the logic of market justification and the standards of quantification under contemporary higher-education revenue models?
  • In what ways are the humanities co-opted by anti-democratic forces, as seen in the evocation of Hannah Arendt by the Erasmus-Stiftung affiliated with the party Alternative für Deutschland? When are the humanities simply targeted for elimination, as exemplified by the banning of Gender Studies in Hungary and the systematic defunding of universities under Bolsonaro in Brazil?
  • How do humanities scholars respond to the kind of violence recently witnessed on Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University?
  • How do scholars and students resist when they are forcefully conscripted into nation-building projects, as seen on campuses in India and Hong Kong? And how do they collaborate, as in the case of India’s RSS and ABVP?
  • How can student activism be mobilized as a source of resistance or in the service of fascist radicalization, as occurred during the phase of “Aryanization” of German universities in the Nazi era?
  • When do the market pressures of pre-professional training systematically render the humanities superfluous, as witnessed in the US and UK? How does the increasing precarity of scholarly careers undermine scholars’ ability to resist political pressures?
  • What sort of formal and informal mechanisms for ideological oversight exist to police scholars in the humanities, such as online watchlists maintained by voluntary vigilantes or student information officers in China or Turning Point’s “Professor Watchlist” in the US?

The intention of this workshop is to bring together a group of scholars to discuss how the humanities can respond to authoritarian regimes and to explore historical instances of complicity and resistance. A central goal of the workshop is to rethink the nature of complicity in order to understand the evolving scripts of resistance. It also seeks to examine what role the humanities can play in rebuilding democracies in the wake of authoritarian regimes or genocidal atrocities. The workshop will seek to explore how academics can balance the demands of professionalized disciplines in competitive quantified environments of productivity with current political challenges. How and what are we to think in the age of austerity? Is it possible that the university is no longer a site in which the humanities can flourish? If so, what kinds of new institutions must we begin to  imagine? The workshop seeks to ignite a conversation among scholars at different stages of their careers facing specific global challenges.

Proposals will be accepted from scholars at any stage in their career, including advanced PhD students, postdoctoral scholars, junior and senior faculty. Please submit a 500-word abstract to by Feb. 28th, 2020.

This two-day workshop is hosted by the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Germany and is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Participants will receive accommodation and meals during the duration of the workshop. Limited travel funding is available for scholars without access to sufficient travel funds. For questions about the conference please contact Adam Knowles (Drexel University) at



Categories: CFP