Volume I, Issue 1 Fall 1998--Online edition
Message from the IGCS Director
Walter Rodney Conference
Africa and the Challenge of Globalization
Africa and Diasporic Studies
International Book Launches
Interview with Dr. Mazrui
IGCS Philosophy Conferences
IGCS and Oxford
IGCS-Braudel Center Colloquium
North Africa Conference and Festival
IGCS Symposium on Peacekeeping In Africa
IGCS and Languages Across the Curriculum
Most of the time, this newsletter will be non- controversial –but the inaugural issue may not be.
The Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS) has five major commitments. First, research and publications; second, conferences, seminars, and public lectures; third, the teaching roles of individual faculty members in their own departments; fourth, serving the wider local and national community; and fifth, playing a constructive international role, including a role in the positive aspects of globalization. We need to share our experiences with the campus and the wider community. Hence this newsletter.
The Director of the Institute has had a detailed personal newsletter of his own for almost a quarter of a century. For almost a decade, that newsletter has included material pertaining to the emerging IGCS. But a personal newsletter is no substitute for an institutional report of this kind. Today a new voice is born.
IGCS was born out of the conviction that there is a missing agenda in the study of world politics and international relations. That missing agenda is the impact of such cultural forces as religion, language, ideology, race theories, and the culture of gender on relations between societies. An obvious example is how the Muslim holy month of Ramadan influenced the timing of U.S. bombing of Iraq in December 1998.
A less obvious factor was whether the whole crisis was influenced by a pervasive Western fear of a Muslim country equipped with weapons of mass destruction, whether that Muslim country was Iraq, Iran, or any other. There was already a country in the Middle East with weapons of mass destruction, but that country was not Muslim. Did that explain Western complacency about that country's weapons? Israel, like the United States, has weapons of mass destruction.
From time to time, this newsletter may include controversial comments or observations. But the essential purpose is to provide information about the work of this institute, and to seek collaboration with other units and other colleges and universities especially within the SUNY system. Welcome aboard!
A conference engaging the work of Guyanese intellectual and activist Walter Rodney
took place from November 6th to November 8th, 1998 at Binghamton University under
the partial sponsorship of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies. Rodney taught
at Binghamton University before returning to Guyana as an activist, where he later
was assassinated. Prestigious scholars and activists attended from different parts
of the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, joining Rodney's family
members, friends, and colleagues from Guyana.
The conference included panel presentations and discussion groups dealing with Walter Rodney's contributions to historiography, social movements and the understanding of the African Diaspora. Starting with Rodney's commitment to writing and his activities with the Working People's Alliance Party, the panelists discussed contemporary activism and scholarship. While panelists conceded to the necessity of writing for larger audiences rather than fellow academic colleagues, they also acknowledged that the social and historical circumstances today differ from those of the sixties and seventies.
A panel, sponsored by the Institute of Global Cultural Studies and entitled "Africa between Globalization and Modernization", discussed the issue of Reparations for the African slave trade. The panel included Ambassador Dudley Thompson and Professors Ali Mazrui, Jacob Ade Ajayi, and Ricardo Laremont. Thompson, Mazrui, and Ajayi are members of the Group of Eminent Persons on Reparations that was formed by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to pursue ways of demanding reparations for African Slavery.
Thompson and Ajayi presented lectures on the need for reparations and the ways by
which their committee is asking the international community to acknowledge their demands.
Mazrui discussed the current state of Africa between globalization and marginalization
while Laremont analyzed the issue from political and legal perspectives.
The main initiators and organizers of the Walter Rodney conference were Binghamton University students, led by Jesse Benjamin, Dennis Canterbury and Manuel Chavez. Special resource persons were Professor Tiffany Patterson of the History Department, Professor Darryl Thomas of the Africana Studies Department, and Professor Ricardo Laremont, Associate Director of IGCS.
The 22nd Annual conference of the New York African Studies Association (NYASA) was
held last April 24-25 at Binghamton University. It was organized by the Department
of Africana Studies, the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, and NYASA. Conference
panels explored Africa's challenges and possibilities in this new era of globalization.
The conference also helped to set the Association's agenda for the coming year.
Participants addressed themes that went beyond technological and economic aspects of globalization by considering additional political, social and cultural implications. The inter-disciplinary conference, one of four major conferences sponsored by IGCS during the 1997-1998 academic year, was a great success according to Prof. Darryl Thomas, the Program Committee Chair and Chair of the Africana Studies Department at Binghamton University. In addition to the academic panels, the conference featured a large number of student participants, a screening of The Africans Revisited 1998, a film narrated by IGCS Director Ali Mazrui, and an awards ceremony honoring those who had made significant contributions to African Studies throughout their careers. Among the recipients were Professor Elliot P. Skinner, who received the Distinguished Africanist Award, Samite Mulando and Kassahun Checole, both of whom received Distinguished Service Awards, and Guillaume Yoboue, who received the Distinguished Teacher Award.
The theme of the conference arose from an IGCS workshop organized in 1996 on the theme of "Globalization, Democratization, and Africa." At this year's conference a special effort was made to focus on gender issues in the region. A number of sessions focused on the Guyanese scholar and activist, Walter Rodney. These sessions led in part to plans for a special conference on Rodney's legacy that was held at Binghamton University in November 1998.
The IGCS program of Diaspora Studies received a new boost when its Director, Dr. Ali Mazrui, accepted the invitation to become the Walter Rodney Chair of History and Governance at the University of Guyana at Georgetown. Guyana is a fertile field for the study of both the African Diaspora and the Indian Diaspora. Dr. Mazrui extensively interacted with both Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese during the year.
Because the Walter Rodney professorship is a high profile appointment in Guyana, Dr. Mazrui was received by the Head of State, President Janet Jagan, and by the leaders of all political parties. Dr. Mazrui lectured in several cities in Guyana, fulfilling his role as someone who was mainly the chair, in preparation for a longer-term incumbent.
Dr. Ricardo Laremont, IGCS Associate Director, is currently focusing on the African Diaspora in Cuba and its possible links to the Chinese Diaspora there. Laremont and his wife, Dr. Lisa Yun, an Assistant Professor at Binghamton University's English Department, have made preliminary investigations concerning Afro-Cubans, Sino-Cubans, and Afro-Chinese in Cuba, and are working together on an extensive research project that will result in several publications on the subject.
Hope and Challenge: The Iranian President Speaks, by the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, was published in 1997 as part of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies Publication Series, catching the attention of the media, academics and policy-makers worldwide.
The book fulfills what IGCS Publications Director, Dr. Parviz Morewedge, called the "sacred task of academicians to make available the views of a leader in one culture to the people of another culture." Hope and Challenge was translated by Alidad Mafinezam of Columbia University. President Khatami's other book, entitled Islam, Liberty and Development, has also been published by IGCS.
IGCS publications are intended to promote and foster the study of cultural forces and their influence on political and social agendas, both within and between cultures. The current IGCS roster of publications includes 13 books, 9 research papers, and 5 journals published and distributed by Global Publications, a not-for-profit organized research unit of Binghamton University.
For more information on IGCS Publications, contact Dr. Parviz Morewedge at (607) 777-4495
Dr. Mazrui was a keynote speaker at the Zimbabwe Book Fair, held in August 1998 in Harare, where he presented on "More Martyrs and Fewer Heroes in Africa's Political Experience: Implications for the African Child." Among the books launched at the fair was one by Mazrui and another about him. The first was The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in Africa's Experience, by Ali A. and Alamin M. Mazrui (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998). The other book launched was The Mazruiana Collection: A comprehensive annotated bibliography of the published works of Ali A. Mazrui, 1962-1997, by Abdul Samed Bemath (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1998).
Professor Mazrui was also a keynote speaker to inaugurate the Ubuntu Movement for Pan-African Cultural Cooperation, on October 31, 1998, at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Chicago. Also launched at the same event was a book edited by the late Omari H. Kokole, The Global African: A Portrait of Ali A. Mazrui (New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1998).
During the Summer of 1998, Dr. Ali Mazrui, Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, was interviewed by Michael Toler, a graduate student in comparative literature at Binghamton University. During the interview, Prof. Mazrui discussed both the current activities of IGCS and its plans for the future. What emerged is a portrait of an interdisciplinary institute attempting to study various world cultures within the context of their global interactions. What follows are selected portions of that interview.
Question: As this is the first issue of the IGCS newsletter, perhaps it is advisable to give those readers who are not familiar with the Institute a brief idea of what the purpose of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies is and what needs it seeks to address.
Ali Mazrui: We are trying to link up cultural studies with global studies. We started on the premise that there is a gap in the approach toward studying world politics and international relations. The cultural dimension is often neglected. Many people approach the study of world cultures either from the point of view of diplomacy or political economy or diplomatic history or politics in the narrower sense. We can include their cultural factors which condition the formulation of policies and the interaction between societies. So we look at the agenda of global cultural studies as not only the study of relations at the cultural level within societies, but as an analysis of relations between societies, because that is a particularly neglected area.
Q: Clearly this is an important subject of inquiry and IGCS has been instrumental in furthering Cultural Studies in this direction. But the practical functions of the Institute go beyond research, don't they? Could you outline the activities of IGCS for us?
AM: Well, we definitely approach this first and foremost through research and publications: books, articles and scholarly journals. Secondly, we do believe in trying to reach the wider public so we also use the media, both print media and electronic media. Thirdly, a number of us are also involved in public lecturing, in some cases, worldwide, on issues relating to global culture and global cultural relations. These three areas are our primary activities. And because we are based in the university, we obviously have a great interest in courses and in influencing teaching towards a global perspective.
Q: In much of your teaching and writings you have talked about religion as a cultural force. How do you foresee the role of IGCS in regard to the question of how religion affects both culture and politics?
AM: As you know we have on one side, through Dr. Parviz Morewedge and his activities and interests, a philosophical and theological side. He promotes and encourages both publications and panels at our annual conferences addressing the theological side of religion and teaching. Dr. Ricardo Laremont and I are much more interested in the social and political aspects of religion and the impact of religion on social and cultural processes. Consequently we are interested in encouraging publications on both aspects.
We are, for the time being, working more on Islam than on other religious heritages, although we pay special attention to the interaction between Islam and those other heritages. Although we have been particularly interested in the three major monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Professor Ricardo Laremont has been increasingly looking at other religions in Asia and how they influence societies and political processes. Overall, we regard religion as a major influence on cultural behavior in societies, for even ostensibly secular societies maintain notions, such as good and evil, that bear the stamp of religious influences.
Q: You are probably known in the realm of international media for the PBS/BBC series The Africans, which has positioned you as one of the foremost Africanists in the world. How would you describe the Institute's future activities with regard to the African agenda? How do you envision the Institute's activities in regions beyond Africa?
AM: There are two concepts that originated with me. The first one deals with Africa's "triple heritage", by which I meant, and continue to mean, the confluence of the indigenous culture, the Islamic culture, and the impact of the West in Africa. Of course the indigenous culture also includes religious traditions which we continue to explore. Up until now we have focused on Islam and Christianity. The other concept which I believe I coined is "Global Africa," by which I mean Africa and its diaspora and the complicated interconnections between them. This diaspora is global, not just in Africa and the Americas. Africa's sons and daughters are scattered in other parts of the world as well. So our interests in Africa include those two domains, which are enduring concerns.
But in addition, we are very concerned about Africa's political and economic problems at the moment, so we continue to be drawn toward those issues and to examine their impact on the lives of ordinary people. We are organizing a conference to take place in Italy, primarily of African specialists to discuss how peace-keeping and peace-making relate to demilitarization, development and democratization within countries. Whenever African countries organize in order to keep the peace in the region, as Nigeria has attempted to do in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and Uganda has attempted to do in Rwanda and in the Congo, this affects not only the target countries but also the countries which intervene. So we are getting all such people--some of whom are soldiers who have participated in peace-keeping, some others are scholars--to come to the conference in Italy.
Q: Your timing is particularly apt given the changes that are taking place in Nigeria. Do you have any preliminary comments on the transition the nation is currently undergoing?
AM: Well, Of course, I was personally shocked by the death of Chief Moshood Abiola, because he was somebody I knew personally and with whom I had a gracious relationship over the years, and who apparently had become a symbol of Nigeria's desire for a democratic order. So when he died just on the eve of his release, it was a major shock. The man who succeeded General Abacha, who is the one who kept Abiola in jail for so long, but Abdulsalam Abubakar, is a little bit of a Mr. Clean. So there is still a sense of optimism. He is uncomfortable with his political role, which is really a good sign. And I must hope he doesn't develop a taste for it. His first moves seem to be in the right direction, although he can't hope to satisfy everybody, so he has his critics.
Q: Do you have any new initiatives that you are considering with regard to studies of the diaspora?
AM: We are considering following up The Africans television series with a possible television series on the African diaspora which we have conceptualized with the word "Branches" as distinct from Roots. Now, it is tougher to raise money in the 1990s than it was in the 1980s when The Africans was produced. We are still not sure we can make it because the scale of aspiration involved would cost quite a lot of money. But at the moment the ambition is to go for it and to celebrate the year 2000 with this series.
Q: There is a similar project regarding the study of Islam, is there not?
AM: Yes, we have plans for a similar program to talk about the world of Islam and to attempt to relate it to contemporary issues of Islam and globalization, and tensions inherent in this that might affect populations of the Muslim world. As you know, there are now 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and, in the 21st century, one out of every four persons will be Muslim. And yet there is a powerful amount of ignorance of the Muslim world in the West. Part of the aspiration is to help meet this need for further education in the West about Islam and about the Muslim world.
Q: What is the relationship in your view between cultural literacy and peace?
AM: Cultural illiteracy is very dangerous. Most of the time, it is when you don't know much about other countries that the possibility of confrontation and misunderstanding can lead do disastrous consequences. One of my favorite examples is the United States' ignorance of the Vietnamese culture and Robert MacNamara's confession that if he had been just a bit more informed about the Vietnamese culture at the time when he was Secretary of Defense, his policies would have been very different. It isn't that the United States did not have experts in the Vietnamese culture, it is just that they never bothered to consult them.
So when we talk about clashes of civilizations as Samuel Huntington does, we need to remember that sometimes the greatest danger is when civilizations don't know anything about each other and they miscalculate or misinterpret the degree of peril.
Accordingly, I think cultural illiteracy as it extends to the society at large is the greatest danger. The Institute would like to play a small part in what is a big job of helping cultures to understand each other by promoting greater awareness of other civilizations.
Q: Do you see the role of IGCS as addressing imbalances within the field of cultural studies when it comes to these issues?
AM: Yes, part of our concern is to raise sensitivity to the political consequences of the lack of understanding between cultures and recognizing the importance of educating ourselves about the significance of cultural variables between societies where there might have been a big gap. Arising out of that concern, we hold conferences and lectures that attempt to narrow the divide within the United States and within the rest of the world. We have special relations with a number of institutions: Cornell, where I am a senior scholar and where we pay attention most of all to the African side of the agenda. Professor Ricardo Laremont is part of that effort. Then there is a School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia. I have entirely different experiences with some of my students there, especially those from the U.S. Armed Forces who are Muslims learning to become Imams in the armed forces.
We also have students who are Muslims from different parts of the world and in different occupations. A third institution is the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies. I spoke with the director just this morning about developing new areas of cooperation between us. I go there every year for one week. Then there is our relationship with the University of Jos in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and potentially one of the most critical in the African configuration of states and in world affairs.
Each year IGCS sponsors two conferences dealing with the history of philosophy. IGCS sponsored a conference on "Global and Multicultural Dimensions of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and Social and Literary Thought" at Binghamton University from October 23 -25, 1998. This international event is the annual conference of the Society for the Study of Islamic Philosophy and Science and the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy (SAGP), combined with special panels arranged by the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS) and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CEMERS) of Binghamton University.
More than 50 panels offered a variety of topics including: Ancient Philosophy; Islamic Philosophy; Neoplatonism; Medieval Christian Philosophy; Asian Philosophy and Aesthetics; African Philosophy; Italian Studies; Ethics; Epistemology; Classical Aesthetic theory Music; and Africana Research and Methods. While a majority of participants came from other parts of the United States, over 30 percent of the speakers traveled from Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa.
An annual conference on the History of Philosophy is also sponsored by IGCS. This event is held in the Spring, either at Hunter College of the City University of New York, or at Dowling College on Long Island. Last year's panels included scholars coming from Iran, Italy, Egypt, Indonesia, and Turkey.
The Oxford Center for Islamic Studies in England had a program of eight public lectures on Islam in the 1998 Fall semester (known at Oxford as Michaelmas term). Out of the eight lectures two were by Binghamton University Professors. Professor Ali Mazrui, IGCS Director, launched the series with a lecture on Islam and the Search for Global Culture. (Mazrui was the only Muslim Lecturer in the Oxford Series). He was followed by Professor Immanuel Wallerstein of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University whose presentation title was Islam, the West and the World.
Dr. Mazrui was also unanimously elected to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, starting with the Michaelmas Term 1998. He will be attending the annual meetings of the Board of Oxford for the next five years. The Oxford Center for Islamic Studies and IGCS are collaborating on books on Islam in Africa as part of a wider Oxford series of books about the Muslim world as a whole.
A continuing colloquium at Binghamton University, co-sponsored by the Fernand Braudel for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations and the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, has been co-chaired by Anthony King and Ali Mazrui. The theme for 1997-98 was "Religion and Global Society" and included the following sessions: "Islam and the Politics of Resistance in Algeria" (Ricardo Laremont); "Religious Fundamentalism in Comparative Perspective" (Richard Antoun); "Teaching World Religions: Finding a Common Humanity?" (Lance Sussman); "Salman Rushdie: Novelist on Death Row or Traitor to a Heritage?" (Discussion led by Ali Mazrui); "World Religions, Worlds of Gender" (Ursula King).
This year's program focuses on the Political Cultures of Racism. The program started on October 22 with a lecture of Kelvin Santiago-Valles (Sociology, Binghamton University) entitled "Still Longing for the Old (Sugar) Plantation: the U.S. Racial Cartography of the Caribbean and the Pacific as An Embodiment of Humor, 1898-1910." The presentation concentrated on the representation of countries such as Cuba, Philippines, Mexico, and Guam, in American political cartoons, and the figures and forms of a colonial or neo-colonial imaginaries embedded within them. Other presentations included "De-racing the Nation: The Graphic Construction of Prejudice" by Jose Piedra (Romance Studies, Cornell University), and "Racism and the Development of Racial Identity" of Jane Connor (Psychology, Binghamton University).
In April 1998, IGCS sponsored a weekend conference organized by the Middle East and North African Studies Program at Binghamton University entitled "Aspects of Contemporary North Africa." The conference brought together scholars for a discussion of the contemporary situation in the Maghreb.
Coinciding with this event was the launch of a three-week festival of Maghrebi Arts, which included art, music, theater and literature from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. IGCS also sponsored the festival that was organized by Rachid Aadnani, Debbie Folaron, Tracia Leacock-Seghatolislami, and Michael Toler, four graduate students from Binghamton University's Comparative Literature Department.
IGCS is organizing a symposium that will bring together policy-makers, academics, military and government leaders to discuss regional peacekeeping, national demilitarization and Africa's development, according to Professor Ricardo Laremont, Associate Director of IGCS. The conference is the result of a long-standing interest in how the "regime of peace, which is necessary for development, can be created in Africa," said Dr. Ricardo Laremont, a member of the organizing committee.
The conference participants will take a close look at new peacekeeping efforts as well as at their methods, resources, and techniques. Peacekeeping in Africa has become increasingly regional and less international. The conference will examine the advantages and disadvantages of this approach, while considering the political effects of military intervention. The symposium will explore the extent to which active involvement in peacemaking and peacekeeping has salutary effects on an intervening state, especially in cases where the intervening state does not have a democratic tradition. Accordingly, much of the symposium may focus on Nigeria. "If Nigeria is the principal force involved in ECOMOG (the regional peacekeeping force for West Africa), and if the purpose of these soldiers and officers is to restore legitimate democratic governments in Sierra Leone and Liberia, will that experience carry back to Nigeria?" asked Professor Laremont. In bringing together both policy makers and academics, the conference fulfills an IGCS commitment to investigate "both the traditional theoretical/academic interests" of academia and the implications of "practical policies that have an effect on public policy.
"Ideally, Laremont says, the symposium will provide public officials with a broader theoretical framework that will enable them to draw comparisons across specific case studies, while allowing scholars and public policy makers to meet and exchange views.
The conference will be held June 7-11, 1999, at Villa Serbelloni, a world-class conference facility in Bellagio Italy that is owned and managed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Conference papers will be collected and published in book form, early in the year 2000.
It was a photo opportunity with a difference--Dr. Mazrui was photographed by the President of the Republic in the Turkish Republic of Cyprus where he had been invited invited to lunch with President Rauf R. Denktas. The President admired Dr. Mazrui's traditional African shirt and, being an enthusiastic amateur photographer, insisted on taking a photograph. Dr. Mazrui was the keynote speaker at a conference on the Eastern Mediterranean around the theme "Globalization: Social, Economic and Political Implications". The conference took place in Ercan, Turkish Republic of Cyprus, November 17-22, 1998.
Language plays a significant role in shaping relations between cultures and thus, it is a major concern of IGCS members who lent their support to the Languages Across the Curriculum (LXC) program at Binghamton University. The program is directed by Stephen Straight, Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology, in association with Marilyn Gaddis-Rose, Professor of Comparative Literature, and Ellen Badger, Director of International Student and Scholar Services.
Professor Ali Mazrui's course entitled "Cultural Forces in World Politics" serves as an LXC participating course. IGCS' Ruzima Sebuharara assisted School of Management Professors Martin Schulman, George Westacott, and Arieh Ullman, in the "International Business" and "World of Business" LXC courses. IGCS' Fouad Kalouche assisted Professor of Political Science David Cingranelli in the "Ethics and U.S. Foreign Policy" course.
Newsletter Editorial Team
Ricardo Laremont, Fouad Kalouche, Ruzima Sebuharara, and Michael Toler