Questioning Authority

The Bulletin asks Humanities Institute Director Julia E. Liss about this semester’s Institute theme, “War and Peace.”

How did you decide on the theme “War and Peace”?

JEL: Each semester, themes are proposed and selected out of discussions with the Institute Advisory Committee, suggestions from other faculty, and the interests of the director. “War and Peace” is the result of this process. The topic is of obvious timeliness, but in particular, we hope to address the broader issues, precisely to help put our current moment in context and focus. And, having taught a course on war and American society on and off for about 15 years, I have a special interest in this theme and am looking forward to this semester’s discussions.

Do the lecturers plan to focus on generalities of war and peace, or will they concentrate specifically on current events?

JEL: Symposium and conference participants are scholars who have devoted their careers to these topics. I expect issues that have arisen in the past year to be subject to inclusion at these symposia, rather than used as primary focus. For example, Susan Jeffords does plan to speak on U.S. media representatives of women in Afghanistan, but she comes into the discussion with a broad expertise in the topics of media coverage, gender, and war. Similarly, Jonathan Schell, the peace and disarmament correspondent for The Nation, plans to address issues relating to nuclear war that have garnered recent attention but are also—and most important—of long-term significance.

It’s precisely this long-term perspective that I envision to be one of the more significant aspects of the fall program. There has been an easy tendency since September 11 to see current problems unique, as ones that have or will change our world completely. Just whether or not or to what extent this may be the case is something we can begin to address by looking more broadly in time and place—what has happened in the past, what has happened elsewhere in the world.

What are you hoping the audience will learn from these lectures?

JEL: It is my hope that students, faculty, and other community attendees will learn more about how warfare and efforts at peacemaking have shaped the world in which we live.

Several students who applied to be Humanities Institute Fellows expressed interest in how war affects societies and individuals, how peace might be achieved, and what peace might be; they also wanted to understand the world in which we live in more critical and analytical terms. It is hoped these discussions on such issues as terrorism (what is it?), violence as a form of state control, violence as a form of resistance, the culture and politics of the nuclear age, the role of the media, and the problem of human rights will both answer and provoke deeper questions.

This theme at this time could potentially be explosive—do you anticipate that lecturers will insert political ideology into their sessions, and, if so, do you feel that enough political balance will be represented?

JEL: Of course, the theme and issues at hand are necessarily heated, important, and potentially controversial. I think that it is an important opportunity—and obligation—at a college such as Scripps to be able to discuss difficult issues thoughtfully and freely. Precisely because of this, the program includes individuals who have a great deal of expertise in their field, some for many decades. The events of September 11, and its aftermath did not create their life’s work, but my guess is that all of them also find that there is a renewed interest in what they do.