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Smith students talk about their work to Smith faculty at 2017 Collaborations, Smith College

Each academic year the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty offers a variety of lectures, luncheons and faculty development workshops that feature Smith faculty and visiting professors.

Chaired Professor Lectures for 2019–20

Lectures are held in Seelye Hall 201. All lectures are free and open to the public.

October 10, 2019

Nalini Bhushan, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy

November 12, 2019

Rosetta Cohen, Myra M. Sampson Professor of Education & Child Study

March 3, 2020

James Lowenthal, Mary Elizabeth Moses Professor of Astronomy

March 10, 2020

Patricia Cahn, Phyllis Cohen Rappaport ’68 New Century Term Assistant Professor of Mathematics & Statistics

March 26, 2020

Lauren Duncan, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology

April 21, 2020

Ruth Ozeki, Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities and Professor of English Language & Literature

Headshot of Mary Baine Campbell
The Smith College Department of English is pleased to host Mary Baine Campbell as the 2019–20 Ruth and Clarence Kennedy Professor in Renaissance Studies. Campbell is professor emerita of English, comparative literature and women’s and gender studies at Brandeis University, where she founded the creative writing program with Allen Grossman. She is a scholar of medieval and early modern travel writing, utopia and science (especially anthropology and cosmography), and also teaches poetry and environmental studies.

She will give three lectures at Smith drawn from her current book in progress, Dreaming, Motion, Meaning: Oenirics in the Atlantic World, 1550-1750. The book asks why dreams are no longer taken seriously in daily life and community affairs, given the prevalence of “dream” in the Anthropological Index. Has “dream” as a basic human activity and source of knowledge been corralled by the workings of European colonialism into the once-subjugated societies of its empires? How did that happen, and what can the written record show us about the neglected arts of dreaming? Are we of the supposedly post-industrial world in need again of access to that skill, in the face of climate crisis? Can we find our way back?

Lecture Dates and Titles

September 24: The Renaissance of Dreams

October 22: Dreaming and Knowing: The Case of Descarte’s Dreams

November 19: Atlantic Dreaming: Vision and Prophecy in the New World

All lectures take place on Tuesdays from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Alumnae Conference Hall.

Carol Zaleski
In 2019–20, the 62nd annual Engel lecture, Unfinished: William James and the Making of America’s Religious Classic, will be presented by Carol Zaleski, Professor of World Religions.
Thursday, January 30, at 5 p.m. in the Alumnae House Conference Hall, Smith College

For William James, the "right to believe” was a life-or-death matter: He attributed his recovery from suicidal depression to a decision to permit himself to believe in free will. In his Gifford Lectures, published in 1902 as “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” he extended this privilege to religion, providing a naturalistic but sympathetic interpretation of conversion, mystical states of consciousness, saintly affections and prayer. Though it lacked the fully worked out philosophical conclusion James had hoped to provide, the Varieties became an instant classic, prized by figures as diverse as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Muhammad Iqbal, D. T. Suzuki, and Bill Wilson (co-founder of AA). James’s admirers praise him for his robust defense of religious experience and its life-changing power; his detractors criticize him for his emphasis on private, eccentric, and extreme mental states. But the Varieties is best understood in the way James understood himself, his philosophical system and reality as a whole: as an unfinished project. In recounting the making of the Varieties, this talk suggests ways in which James’s oversights can be corrected, his exuberant pluralism more fully realized and his religious classic rediscovered for today. 

The Katharine Asher Engel Lectureship at Smith College was established in 1958 by the National Council of Jewish Women to honor the memory of Mrs. Engel, its onetime president, a graduate of Smith College 1920. Mrs. Engel’s life was one of generous participation in educational, civic, religious and welfare activities. In endowing the lectureship, the council hoped to “create a bond between a remarkable woman, her college and the organization to which she was devoted.” Under the terms of the grant, the holder of the annual lectureship must be a member of the Smith College faculty who has made an outstanding contribution to knowledge in his or her field.  


Carol Zaleski earned her B.A. from Wesleyan University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in the study of religion from Harvard University. She has been teaching philosophy of religion, world religions and Christian thought at Smith since 1989 and was appointed to the chair in world religions in July 2006.

Zaleski is the author of Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times and The Life of the World to Come (both Oxford University Press). She is the co-author, with Philip Zaleski, of The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Prayer: A History (Houghton Mifflin), The Book of Heaven (Oxford) and The Book of Hell (forthcoming, Oxford). She is currently working on a book about the search for immortality. She is a columnist and editor-at-large for Christian Century, and has contributed articles and reviews to The New York TimesFirst Things, AmericaSecond SpringNova et Vetera, Communio, ParabolaThe Journal of Religion and The Journal of the History of Ideas.

Zaleski regularly teaches Philosophy of Religion; Introduction to World Religions; The Inklings; The Catholic Philosophical Tradition; Heaven, Hell, and Other Worlds: the Afterlife in World Religions; and seminars on C. S. Lewis, William James and John Henry Newman.

Martha Merrow
This spring, Martha Merrow joins the Smith College community as the 2019–20 William Allan Neilson Professor. Merrow will deliver a series of three public lectures. Videos of the lectures will be available on the Kahn Institute website following each lecture.

Martha Merrow is an American chronobiologist. She currently chairs the Institute of Medical Psychology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Her career focuses primarily on investigating the molecular and genetic mechanisms of the circadian clock. Since joining the Ludwig Maximilian University in 1996, Merrow has investigated molecular and genetic mechanisms of the circadian clock as well as daily human behavior and medical psychology.

Lecture Dates and Titles

Feb 10, 2020: Circadian Clocks: How Daily Biological Rhythms Rule Life on Earth
Some behaviors are so obvious that we don’t stop to think about how they are regulated, or how they might be encoded in our DNA. Sleeping, for example, is regulated by a biological clock that measures time in units of about a day. Most organisms on earth show similarly profound behaviors that occur at specific times of day. In this lecture, we’ll explore the extent of daily timing in the biosphere – in bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Our entire environment is oscillating!

March 09, 2020: The Problem of Circadian Clock Synchronization and Why DST Is a Bad Idea
Circadian clocks are tuned to regular signals from the environment called zeitgebers. The most dominant of these is the light dark cycle, which is entirely predictable from day to day and year to year. Organisms use the light and dark signals to synchronize their biological clocks. This process is a bit of biology that resembles physical principles of entrainment of oscillators. We’ll discuss how different, inter-individual circadian clocks entrain themselves to a zeitgeber and also the problem of asymmetry: it is easier to delay a clock than to advance it. Some of you may have noticed this in your experiences with jetlag!

March 30, 2020: Lilliputian Landscapes: A Survey of Microbiome Biology In Respect to Time
One of the most fascinating developments in biology is the understanding that microbial communities are essential to health and well-being. We still lack an understanding of how stable microbiomes form and are maintained. Perhaps there are some clues in how the microbiome changes according to time of day or time of life. In this lecture, the state of the microbiome in the gut, mouth, lungs—and even your hotel room—will be discussed. We’ll try to find some systematic principles in these massive collections of microbes that accompany us throughout our life.


Liberal Arts Luncheons

Liberal Arts Luncheons are sponsored by the Committee on Academic Priorities (CAP) and in 2019-20, the LAL series joins with Sigma Xi to offer alternating presentations on Tuesdays in McConnell Auditorium, unless otherwise noted.  Talks begin at approximately 12:10 p.m., a complimentary lunch is offered in McConnell Foyer (first come, first served). 

Date Lecture Presenter(s)
Sept 10 Sigma Xi  
Sept 17

The Gay Christian Socialist Who Invented the 'American Renaissance' - This talk draws on my work on a biography of the literary critic and Harvard professor, F.O. Matthiessen, whose 1950 suicide was interpreted as an early Cold War martyrdom. In addition to assessing Matthiessen's importance for the study of American literature and our understanding of the non-Communist Left in the 1940s and 1950s, the talk touches on the possible significance of the fact that Matthiessen's Skull and Bones ring was among the items he left on the desk in the twelfth-floor room of Boston's Hotel Manger before he stepped out of that room's window and to his death.

Michael Thurston, Provost & Dean of the Faculty, Helen Means Professor of English Language & Literature
Sept 24 Sigma Xi  
Oct 1 Value of the Black Ballet Star: Politics of Desire in the Economy of Institutional Diversity: This presentation interrogates ballet’s emerging displays of diversity, which foster recognition of subaltern subjects but do not always transcend coloniality and racism. Problematic politics of desire are at play whenever subaltern bodies, as in the case of the Afro-Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta (Royal Ballet), are consumed for an audience’s pleasure and simultaneously fetishized as icons of institutional diversity. Against a background of racism and xenophobia, hedonistic consumption of the subaltern body in ballet characterizes a Marcusian regime of repressive tolerance in which difference is celebrated onstage while offstage the other is stigmatized as a burden to the nation. Lester Tomé, Associate Professor of Dance
Oct 8 Sigma Xi  
Oct 15 Fall Break, no presentation  
Oct 22 The World of the Super Small: The world of the super small is super weird. In this talk I will introduce the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which is our best guess for explaining the world of the super small, and some of the mind-bending results that come from the theory. While the model seems to work really well at explaining the world of the super small, we know it is not fully correct. We will discuss how we test the model, what it is missing from it, and how research done at Smith College is contributing to the global effort of making a better model. Will Williams, Physics
Oct 29 Sigma Xi  
Nov 5 Film and Filmmaker Q & A: Drip Like Coffee (2019) is an intimate portrait of a Black woman whose desire for her female co-worker complicates her relationship with her boyfriend. Through the presentation of a short film and discussion, this session explores themes of identity, desire, and intimacy between Black women in cinema. This film work creates visibility among Black queer femme characters and their love for one another, shattering the heteronormative binary portrayal of lesbian characters.  Anaiis Cisco, Film & Media Studies
Nov 12 Sigma Xi  
Nov 19 “GeoArt” – Selected Examples of Communicating Geosciences Through Art: This presentation includes examples of creative ways of communicating geologic information through various art forms. Besides examining stone sculptures at the Smith College Museum of Art, the examples include creating a stone mosaic in the traditional Italian Pietre Dure Florentine style, staging a dance performance at a site of geological significance, and collaborating on a poem about stone sarcophagi. Bosiljka Glumac, Geosciences
Nov 26 Thanksgiving Week - No presentation  
Dec 3 Sigma Xi  
Dec 10 Patching a Broken Sky: Myth, Metaphor and Soft Power: Does China’s quest for soft power threaten us? One answer, I offer, lies in the ancient myth “Nuwa mends the sky.” To explore ways cultural practices rediscover and transform foundational metaphors, I analyze this myth’s three vehicles: brokenness, patching (or mending), and Sky. This literary history and broader analyses of metaphor offer a window on China’s current rhetoric, self-regard and global mission. Recognizing the power of such tropes -- including “Be water, my friend” in Hong Kong -- allows us to understand on their own terms key dominant narratives invoked by the Chinese government, media, and citizens. Sabina Knight, World Literatures

Sigma Xi Luncheons

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, meets regularly for talks and a complimentary lunch throughout the year. Talks are open to all faculty, staff and students.

Talks begin at approximately 12:10 p.m. in McConnell Auditorium. A complimentary lunch is offered in McConnell Foyer. Please visit the Sigma Xi website for the schedule.


Faculty Development Events

The Office of the Provost offers a variety of faculty development workshops and events throughout the year. Please visit the office’s Faculty Development webpage for the schedule.