Threatened Scholars: A Panel on Responses to Attacks on Academic Freedom Around the World

Panel Discussion | February 27 | 12-1:30 p.m. | 820 Barrows Hall

 Karen Barkey, Haas Distinguished Chair of Religious Diversity, University of California, Berkeley; Liora Israël, Senior Researcher in Sociology, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS)

 Thomas W. Laqueur, Helen Fawcett Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley; Kim Lane Scheppele, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

 Social Science Matrix

Scholars working around the world often come under threat of persecution or harassment, whether from oppressive governments or other sources. They may also be displaced by forces beyond their control, such as war or natural disasters. This panel discussion will focus on how universities and other institutions can support scholars who are persecuted or harassed because of their ideas and actions, or who are forced to leave their homes for other reasons.

Participants will discuss the various types of threats facing scholars around the world, as well as as solutions that have been developed by governments, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations, including Scholars at Risk, which works to protect threatened scholars and promote academic freedom around the world.

About the Panelists

Karen Barkey is the Haas Distinguished Chair of Religious Diversity and Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Empire of Difference and Choreography of Sacred Spaces: State, Religion and Conflict Resolution (with Elazar Barkan).

Mehmet Sinan Birdal is the Visiting Assistant Professor, International Relations and Middle East Studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He is the author of The Holy Roman Empire and the Ottomans: From Global Imperial Power to Absolutist States.

Liora Israël is an Associate Professor in Sociology in the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris and author of L’arme du Droit. With the support of a Fulbright grant, she is currently a visiting scholar with the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Law and Society.

Thomas W. Laqueur is the Helen Fawcett Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, and Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850.

Kim Lane Scheppele is the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. She is the author of Legal Secrets: Equality and Efficiency in the Common Law.

About the Solidarity Series

Sponsored by UC Berkeley's Social Science Matrix, the Solidarity Series will explore—and critique—the ethical foundations, concrete implementations, and prospective designs that have fostered or may foster connectedness, inclusiveness, and tolerance in a fragmented, exclusionary, and uncharitable world. These conversations, we hope, will be both an argument on behalf of the premises and practices of solidarity, and an exposition of the potential of the social sciences to contribute to it.

We live in a precarious historical moment, marked by defiance and divisiveness. In many places throughout the globe, the concentration of wealth among the very few, policies that favor the better off, and the dismantling of collective goods and social protections have fueled disaffection among those left behind—and, more recently, a turn toward populist politics. Shared—if not always adhered to—international norms of democracy and human rights are giving way to camaraderie among would-be despots and an upswing in nationalist, separatist, or sectarian movements. Social media has magnified the power of hoaxes and propaganda, and feeds eroding trust in fundamental social institutions.

This new reality poses a fundamental challenge to the very premises upon which the social sciences are founded. Both the public university and the disciplines it houses share the idea that the success of human society has depended on the development of common understandings and empathy, exchange and cooperation, resource sharing, and collective goals. It is incumbent on social scientists, then, not just to speak up on behalf of these values, but to mobilize their distinctive capacity to show how human societies have in the past—and therefore can in the future—rekindle the ties that bind people and groups together, revive a sense of shared fate and solidarity, and restore faith in the public purpose.

Although the differences between competing visions are stark, the present moment poses unique dilemmas that demand careful analysis and reflection. In the United States, Donald Trump’s election has fueled revanchist white nationalism even as it revealed unaddressed suffering in post-industrial and rural America. What kind of solidarity can exist between parties locked in bitter political conflict? Similarly, right-wing populism in Europe has drawn strength partly on the claim that it is only through exclusion that the achievements of post-War welfare states will be preserved. How should we respond to claims that in a world of ecological limits and fiscal retrenchment, we can only take care of our own?

The pernicious effects of a decline in social solidarity are clear; the way forward is less so. Strikingly, even a wholesale attack on progressive values has not led to any pause in factional infighting over how to defend them. It is here that we believe that the combined strengths of the social sciences can help spark or sustain a productive conversation.

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