As we reach the midway point of the academic year, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to connect with the broad Weatherhead Center community. I have been part of the WCFIA for a long time, first as a Harvard Academy postdoctoral fellow, as a Faculty Associate, as chair of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, and now as acting director of the Center. The comparative and international research mission of the Weatherhead Center matches my interests well, and I’m thrilled to be part of such a dynamic interdisciplinary research group.
The ongoing Weatherhead Research Clusters focus on topics that warrant sustained attention, including security, inequality, religion and politics, populism and challenges to democracy, and multipolarity. In addition to presenting their ongoing work in the Weatherhead Forum, the clusters sustain a vibrant array of activities for students, faculty, and visitors. One of the most interesting is the new Freedom School: A Graduate Seminar on Theory and Praxis for Studies of the African Diaspora. This interdisciplinary group meets regularly to discuss books from a syllabus cocreated by students. It includes students working on dissertations and general research topics and is funded by the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Religion in Public Life in Africa and the African Diaspora.
In addition to supporting research activities, the Center also helps faculty and affiliates share their research with a broader public audience. One such platform we use is our monthly Epicenter newsletter, which is full of new publications and media mentions. Our communications team also puts the publishing spotlight on such timely topics as Brexit, Syria, and the Trump administration’s impact on the world through their ongoing blog series. Please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute to these public conversations.
While my time as acting director is limited, I was thrilled to be here for the launch of the new WCFIA Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs. From the war in Yemen, the civil strife in Syria, and the devastation in Iraq and beyond, a diverse array of conflicts in countries with Shi’a minority or majority populations has emerged as a significant dynamic on the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape. In this context, Iran’s foreign policy in the region and its relations with its network of allies is a significant topic of study, particularly in light of its role and influence in regional geopolitics. This is all the more salient given the ongoing nuclear standoff between Iran and the United States and the ongoing contest for regional hegemony between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Beyond concrete regional effects, these emerging developments impact global politics—including international security, foreign policy concerns, and global energy markets. In addition to its focus on the politics of sectarianization, the project also calls our attention to the dynamics of desectarianization. This is a key focus of my own research agenda and a topic that I think is ripe for more attention, as I detail in my report for the Century Foundation, Lebanon, the Sectarian Identity Test Lab.
Finally, few research topics rise to the level of global concern quite like climate change. To that end, the Center recently hosted a Manshel Lecture in American Foreign Policy by Kathryn Sikkink, the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. In this talk, Professor Sikkink called for all actors socially connected to the climate change problem to step up and take responsibility for change. The talk drew on theories of forward-looking responsibility for justice, and provided practical and evidence-based ideas for the most effective actions for individuals and institutions to address climate change. We devoted one of this issue’s fall features to this timely topic—please read “Toward a Politics of Responsibility: The Case of Climate Change” for a transcript of Professor Sikkink’s talk. A video recording of the lecture is available on our Vimeo page.
Enjoy the winter break!
Weatherhead Center Acting Director
Photo credit: Alexandria Mauck