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Latest Books

Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts, and Seas Have Shaped Asia's History

Asia’s history has been shaped by her waters. In Unruly Waters, historian Sunil Amrith reimagines Asia’s history through the stories of its rains, rivers, coasts, and seas–and of the weather-watchers and engineers, mapmakers and farmers who have sought to control them. Looking out from India, he shows how dreams and fears of water shaped visions of political independence and economic development, provoked efforts to reshape nature through dams and pumps, and unleashed powerful tensions within and between nations.

Today, Asian nations are racing to construct hundreds of dams in the Himalayas, with dire environmental impacts; hundreds of millions crowd into coastal cities threatened by cyclones and storm surges. In an age of climate change, Unruly Waters is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Asia’s past and its future.

The Hell of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy

From the New York Times–bestselling author Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions dissects the faults and foibles of recent American foreign policy—explaining why it has been plagued by disasters like the “forever wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan and outlining what can be done to fix it.

In 1992, the United States stood at the pinnacle of world power and Americans were confident that a new era of peace and prosperity was at hand. Twenty-five years later, those hopes have been dashed. Relations with Russia and China have soured, the European Union is wobbling, nationalism and populism are on the rise, and the United States is stuck in costly and pointless wars that have squandered trillions of dollars and undermined its influence around the world.

The root of this dismal record, Walt argues, is the American foreign policy establishment’s stubborn commitment to a strategy of “liberal hegemony.” Since the end of the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats alike have tried to use U.S. power to spread democracy, open markets, and other liberal values into every nook and cranny of the planet. This strategy was doomed to fail, but its proponents in the foreign policy elite were never held accountable and kept repeating the same mistakes.

Donald Trump won the presidency promising to end the misguided policies of the foreign policy “Blob” and to pursue a wiser approach. But his erratic and impulsive style of governing, combined with a deeply flawed understanding of world politics, are making a bad situation worse. The best alternative, Walt argues, is a return to the realist strategy of “offshore balancing,” which eschews regime change, nation-building, and other forms of global social engineering. The American people would surely welcome a more restrained foreign policy, one that allowed greater attention to problems here at home. This long-overdue shift will require abandoning the futile quest for liberal hegemony and building a foreign policy establishment with a more realistic view of American power.

Clear-eyed, candid, and elegantly written, Stephen M. Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions offers both a compelling diagnosis of America’s recent foreign policy follies and a proven formula for renewed success.

Dynasties and Democracy: The Inherited Incumbency Advantage in Japan

Although democracy is, in principle, the antithesis of dynastic rule, families with multiple members in elective office continue to be common around the world. In most democracies, the proportion of such "democratic dynasties" declines over time, and rarely exceeds ten percent of all legislators. Japan is a startling exception, with over a quarter of all legislators in recent years being dynastic. In Dynasties and Democracy, Daniel M. Smith sets out to explain when and why dynasties persist in democracies, and why their numbers are only now beginning to wane in Japan—questions that have long perplexed regional experts.

Smith introduces a compelling comparative theory to explain variation in the presence of dynasties across democracies and political parties. Drawing on extensive legislator-level data from twelve democracies and detailed candidate-level data from Japan, he examines the inherited advantage that members of dynasties reap throughout their political careers—from candidate selection, to election, to promotion into cabinet. Smith shows how the nature and extent of this advantage, as well as its consequences for representation, vary significantly with the institutional context of electoral rules and features of party organization. His findings extend far beyond Japan, shedding light on the causes and consequences of dynastic politics for democracies around the world.

Piety and Patienthood in Medieval Islam
Ragab, Ahmed. 2018. Piety and Patienthood in Medieval Islam. New York: Routledge. Publisher's Version Abstract

How did pious medieval Muslims experience health and disease? Rooted in the prophet’s experiences with medicine and healing, Muslim pietistic literature developed cosmologies in which physical suffering and medical interventions interacted with religious obligations and spiritual health. This book traces the development of prophetic medical literature and religious writings around health and disease to give a new perspective on how patienthood was conditioned by the intersection of medicine and Islam.

The author investigates the early and foundational writings on prophetic medicine and related pietistic writings on health and disease produced during the Islamic Classical Age. Looking at attitudes from and towards clerics, physicians and patients, sickness and health are gradually revealed as a social, gendered, religious, and cultural experience. Patients are shown to experience certain sensoria that are conditioned not only by medical knowledge, but also by religious and pietistic attitudes.

This is a fascinating insight into the development of Muslim pieties and the traditions of medical practice. It will be of great interest to scholars interested in Islamic Studies, history of religion, history of medicine, science and religion and the history of embodied religious practice, particularly in matters of health and medicine.

The Development Century: A Global History
Macekura, Stephen J., and Erez Manela, ed. 2018. The Development Century: A Global History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract
This anthology offers a cutting-edge perspective on how development has shaped the history of the modern world. Stephen J. Macekura and Erez Manela have gathered together leading historians to examine development on the international, regional, and national levels, as well as local manifestations of development initiatives and transnational organizing on behalf of alternative approaches. Themes include the relationship between empire and development, the role of international institutions, the influence of the Cold War, decolonization and post-colonial development strategies, reform and resistance to development, development and global health, and the ecological effects of development. The Development Century examines how ideas and discourses about development have shaped its practices on the ground; explores the ways in which policymakers and experts attempted to implement development through specific institutions and policies; and analyzes development initiatives and their effect of local environments and people.
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Affiliate Spotlight

Steven Caton

Steven Caton

Executive Committee; Steering Committee; Faculty Associate (on leave fall 2018); Harvard Academy Senior Scholar. Khalid Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulrahman Al Saud Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University.

Research interests: Linguistics; cultural studies; gender; Yemeni poetics and politics; US men's movement; and water sustainability.

William James Hall 320
Cambridge, MA 02138
f: (617) 496-8355
p: (617) 495-1886
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