Apart from its regular seminars, the ISI hosts a number of related activities. We are delighted to invite eminent figures for our Annual Lecture, which supplements and corresponds to our seminar in any given year; sometimes this takes on other formats, such as a symposium or panel presentation. We also host other panels and presentations from time to time, and co-sponsor other events on campus. Details on current and past activities are below.

Malcolm Purkey Lecture, September 26

The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute is very excited to announce that the first ISI lecturer this year will be Malcolm Purkey, a major figure in the history of theatre in South Africa. He will give a talk entitled The Market Theatre in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Belonging and Not Belonging. The talk will be on September 26th from 4:00-5:30pm in ILC S140. Beginning as a student playwright and director, he was a key figure in the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, was Artistic Director of South Africa's iconic Market Theatre, was a Professor at Witwatersrand University, and served as Dean (now Dean Emeritus) at the AFDA (Africa Film Drama Art) School for the Creative Economy in Johannesburg.  For more information, see

Deadline Extended: Call for Applications for 2019-20 Seminars

The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute invites fellowship applications for 2019-2020 on the theme of “belonging.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines belonging as “an affinity for a place or situation.” Affinities may confer the benefits of closeness, common feeling and understanding, unity, solidarity, and identity, but they may also impose the drawbacks of distance, lack of empathy and ignorance, disunity, alienation, and exclusion. All sorts of affinities make both these benefits and drawbacks possible and thereby challenge how we know our worlds and imagine better ones. Through the lens of belonging we can explore how ways of knowing produce affinities, and how affinities may also be understood as affective investments, whose values need to be inspected and measured. By wrangling with belonging, we can bring into clearer focus how the valuation of these investments animates and motivates different social, economic, intellectual, artistic, political, and ethical imaginaries.

For next year’s faculty and graduate student seminars, the ISI encourages you to think broadly about the topic of belonging. What does it mean to belong? Not to belong? How does personal choice determine belonging? How does power shape and become renegotiated within the economies of belonging in which we find ourselves at home, at work, in the streets, and on local, national, and international political stages? We invite meditations on and treatments of belonging that address citizenship and immigration politics, love, nationalist and neo-fascist movements, efforts to organize on the left, material and imagined communities of resistance, schools of thought, artistic periods, communities, movements, the family and kinship, species and other scientific taxonomies, intimate and state violence, networks of solidarity and resource sharing, friendship, identity, and the university.

The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute provides a forum for discussion and engagement across the disciplines. Each year the focal point of our activity is a seminar organized around a specific topic. No matter your field, period, cultural focus, discipline, or perspective, we call on colleagues from the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences to bring your own inspiration to our theme and tell us how you would like to approach it. We invite you to submit a proposal setting out your particular interests. Participating faculty fellows will receive a $2000 research allowance, and participating graduate student fellows will receive a $1000 research allowance. 

The proposal should describe in 1-2 pages the nature of your project and how you would present it to the seminar. The proposal should be accompanied by your c.v. Graduate student applicants should also have their principal advisor send a brief endorsement of their proposed project, which confirms that it contributes toward their progress toward their degree. The 8-10 faculty fellows selected and the 8-10 graduate student fellows selected will meet at regular intervals during the academic year to discuss presentations from each seminar member in turn (each fellow presents once). Among the obligations of the group are regular attendance at the meetings of the seminar. Meetings are for a two-hour interval at lunch, so you must be free at that time. Proposals should be sent by email to by April 12, 2019. Applicants to the graduate student seminar should also have their advisor’s endorsement sent to that address by the deadline. Please identify yourself as a faculty member or graduate student in the subject line of your message.

For more information on the seminar or ISI, please contact the Director, John Kingston and the graduate assistant, James Heilman, at Major funding for ISI comes from the Provost, and the Deans of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. 


Photos of "Hairdresses Are My Heroes" -- A Performance by Sonya Clark

The ISI is very pleased to pass on the news from Loretta Yarlow, of the University Museum of Contemporary Art that an event which ISI co-sponsored, “Hairdressers Are My Heroes,” a performance by Sonya Clark, was a great success. 

The performance involved an ancient African hairstyle from a sculpture in the exhibition Five Takes on African Art / 42 Paintings by Fred Wilson, re‐created by the hands of stylist Kamala Bhagat on the head of artist Sonya Clark. Clark’s work often features hair and combs to speak meaningfully about cultural heritage, gender, beauty standards, race, and identity, and this performance celebrated artists across time — from the original hairdresser who created the style, to the sculptor who created the piece, to the contemporary hair stylist, to Sonya Clark herself.

A video of the event can be seen here, and pictures of the event taken by Ed Cohen of MassLive are displayed below, with more pictures available here.