News Archive: 2018

CT Faculty Offer 15 Critical Theory Courses in Spring 2019

CT faculty will be teaching 15 spring  2019 courses that count towards the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. These courses reflect the interdisciplinary breadth of the Program, with core and elective options in Comparative Literature, Gender and Women’s Studies, Music Rhetoric, Political Science, Philosophy, Film, Sociology, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

For more information on fall courses and the curricular requirements of the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory, please visit our Courses page.

Spring 2019 Critical Theory Courses:  CORE

  • Problems of Literary Theory | German | Karen Feldman
  • Queer Aesthetics | Film 240/Gender and Women’s Studies | Damon Young
  • Traditions of Critical Thought: French Theories and Their Aftermaths | French | Eglantine L. Colon
  • Rhetorical Theory and Criticism: Rhetorical Theory – On War and Revolution: Legal and Political Histories | Rhetoric | Samer Esmeir
  • Advanced Study in Sociology Theory: Marxist Theories of Politics | Sociology | Dylan Riley

Spring 2019 Critical Theory Courses:  ELECTIVE

  • The City, Arts and Public Space | City and Regional Planning and Rhetoric | Teresa Caldeira and Shannon Jackson
  • The Novel and Sociological Forms of Knowledge | Comparative Literature | Michael Lucey
  • Studies in Literary Theory: Kafka and His Commentators | Comparative Literature | Judith Butler
  • Philosophical Idealizations of Art and Modernist Practices | English | Charles Altieri
  • Fictional Writings of History in Post-Colonial Maghribi Literature | French | Soraya Tlatli
  • Decentering the Early Modern: Utopian Texts in the Atlantic World | Italian and Spanish | Diego Pirillo and Ivonne del Valle
  • Interpretive Theories and Music: Future Trends in Ethnomusicological Research | Music | Jocelyne M. Guibault
  • Michel Foucault: The Order of Things | Philosophy | Hans Sluga, Paolo Mancosu
  • Modern Political Theory | Political Science | Wendy Brown
  • Introduction to Nietzsche | Rhetoric | James Porter


Call for Papers: ICCTP Conference “Critical Theories in a Global Context” University of Brighton, January 23-25, 2019

The International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs invites 300-word abstracts for a conference, hosted jointly by the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton, UK, and the Department of Politics at Boğaziçi University, Turkey. Please send abstracts to before September 10, 2018.

The conference has three aims:

(a) to reanimate the analytical and critical tools of the past in addressing the xenophobic, fascistic, racist, and sexist tendencies of the present;
(b) to engage in debate with critical theoretical scholars from every part of the globe;
(c) to address the inequalities intrinsic to the global political order, while identifying the places, spaces and practices which inspire democratic politics today.

(more… )

Borowitz, Iqbal, Gerard Win Critical Theory Dissertation Awards

The Program in Critical Theory will support three Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2018-2019. Molly Borowitz and Basit Iqbal will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Philip Gerard has won a Critical Theory Research Grant.

Support for this year’s awardees is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, through the UC Berkeley College of Letters and Sciences, Division of Arts and Humanities, and the Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science.

Molly Borowitz is a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Languages and Literatures with Designated Emphases in Critical Theory and Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. Her dissertation, “Spiritual Subjecthood and Institutional Legibility in Early-Modern Spain and Spanish America,” examines the ways in which spiritual subjects construct themselves in response to interpellation and assessment by early-modern Spanish and Spanish-colonial institutions. The project places a corpus of 16th- and 17th-century texts on Catholic religious experience, including prayer manuals, histories of the New World, and correspondence from Iberian missionaries to the Americas, alongside 20th- and 21st-century theories of subject formation and politics. The dialogue between these two bodies of text illuminates the ways in which early-modern Iberians and Ibero-Americans exteriorize their experiences of  (more… )

ICCTP Launches Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory

The International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs (ICCTP) is pleased to announce the inaugural issue of Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory, a peer-reviewed, open access online journal with the aim of foregrounding the global reach and form of contemporary critical theory. The journal will be published three times a year.

Critical Times seeks to reflect on and facilitate forms of transnational solidarity that draw upon critical theory and political practice from various world regions. Calling into question hemispheric epistemologies in order to revitalize left critical thought for these times, the journal stages encounters between critical theory and related traditions of critique. It hopes to redress missed opportunities for critical dialogue between the Global South and Global North and to generate contacts across the current divisions of knowledge and languages in the South and across the peripheries. Critical Times publishes essays, interviews, dialogues, dispatches, visual art, and various other platforms for critical reflection, engaging with social and political theory, literature, philosophy, art criticism, and other fields within the humanities and social sciences. (more… )

CT Faculty Offer Six Critical Theory Courses in Fall 2018

CT faculty will be teaching six fall 2018 courses that count towards the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. These courses reflect the interdisciplinary breadth of the Program, with core and elective options in Comparative Literature, Gender and Women’s Studies, Rhetoric, Law, Education, Film, and German.

For more information on fall courses and the curricular requirements of the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory, please visit our Courses page.

Fall 2018 Critical Theory Courses:

  • Aesthetics as Critique: Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory | Comparative Literature 221.1
    Robert Kaufman
  • Gender and Capitalism | Gender and Women’s Studies 235
    Leslie Lane Salzinger
  • Ethics without Morals: Nietzsche and Adorno | Rhetoric 240G.2
    James Porter
  • American Legal History | Critical Theory 290.1 | Law 267.4
    Christopher Tomlins
  • Sociocultural Critique of Education | Education 280A.1 Proseminar
    Zeus Leonardo
  • Cinema of Crisis | Film 240.2 | Germans 265.1
    Tony Kaes

Congratulations to Our New Designated Emphasis Students

The Program in Critical Theory is delighted to welcome seventeen new students to the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. The new cohort includes graduate students from ten departments in the social sciences, humanities, and professional schools. These new admits, which bring the total number of Critical Theory DE students to approximately 115 (the largest such program at Berkeley), are: (more… )

Obituary: Dr. Saba Mahmood, 1962-2018

A celebration of Professor Saba Mahmood’s life and work will take place on Monday, April 30 from 4:30PM – 7:00PM at the David Brower Center (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704). Please join friends and family in remembering Dr. Mahmood.

Saba Mahmood, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, passed away on March 10th, 2018. The cause was pancreatic cancer. Professor Mahmood specialized in Sociocultural Anthropology and was a scholar of modern Egypt. Born in Quetta, Pakistan in 1962, she came to the United States in 1981 to study architecture and urban planning at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University in 1998 and taught at the University of Chicago before coming to the University of California at Berkeley in 2004, where she offered her last seminar in fall 2017. At Berkeley, in addition to the Anthropology Department, Professor Mahmood was affiliated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Program in Critical Theory and the Institute for South Asia Studies (where she was instrumental in creating the Berkeley Pakistan Studies Initiative, the first of its kind in the United States).

Mahmood made path-breaking contributions to contemporary debates on secularism, opening up new ways of understanding religion in public life and contesting received assumptions about both religion and the secular. Against an increasingly shrill scholarship denouncing Muslim societies, she brought a nuanced and educated understanding of Islam into discussions of feminist theory, ethics and politics. Her publications and presentations have reverberated throughout the humanities and social sciences, profoundly shaping the scholarship of a new generation of scholars as they develop a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and critical approach to religion in modernity. As a scholar and teacher, she embodied and followed strong moral and political principles, offered keen analyses of colonial and capitalist power in her account of secularism’s modernity, and formulated new ways of understanding the subject of feminism, relational subjectivity, religious freedom, religious injury, the rights of religious minorities, and comparative legal analysis of religious and secular family law and sexual regulations.

Together with anthropologists Talal Asad and Charles Hirschkind, Mahmood showed secularism to be a complex political formation that produces differences among the religious traditions it seeks to regulate. In her words, “political secularism is the modern state’s sovereign power to reorganize substantive features of religious life, stipulating what religion is or ought to be, assigning its proper content, and disseminating concomitant subjectivities, ethical frameworks, and quotidian practices.” Secularism never escapes its own religious histories, nor does it ever achieve autonomy from the religious formations it aims to regulate. In fact, the distinction between public and private life central to secular reason draws its bearings from a modern Christian emphasis on private worship. This Christian religious framework, focused on belief, contrasts sharply with religions such as Islam which foreground strongly the role on embodied practices within religious life. As a result, she argued, secular epistemologies cannot grasp the way that Islam articulates religious values, misconstruing both the Islamic subject and the public meanings of its religious practices.

Within feminist theory, Mahmood challenged readers to understand that the pious Muslim women she studied in Cairo were not mindlessly obedient subjects, but engaged in distinct hermeneutical approaches to reading the Qur’an in schools of their own, cultivating religious practice as a form of ethical conduct. Challenging views of subjective freedom bequeathed by Western moral philosophy, she made a bold and challenging argument: to understand pious women within Islam one had to conceive of a subject defined in its relation to the textual and imagistic representations of the divine. Women who engaged in a religious practice of this sort, she argued, ought to be understood as engaging in ethical practices of self-cultivation. And yet, in these cases, the subject of ethics is not voluntaristic, a notion that would separate ‘free will’ from formative social and religious norms; rather, in Islam, the subject of ethics embodies a living and practiced relation to the divine, and requires a different notion of subject-formation. One consequence of this view was made clear in her intervention in the 2006 debates on the Danish cartoons caricaturing Mohammed. Those who claimed that such images were merely offensive missed the nature of the injury itself. Within Islam, she argued, the attack on the divine image is the same as the attack on the living and embodied self, since that self resides in that very relation.

In her last work, she studied the discrimination against Coptic Orthodox Christians in contemporary Egypt’s secular regime. Against the view that tribal and religious differences are evidence of the incomplete process of secularization, she showed how religious differences, and conflict, have been exacerbated under secular regimes of power. She argued that the discrimination and violence suffered by Coptic Christians have increased as the modern state more fully regulated and managed religious life, imposing its own rationales onto debates about religious doctrine and practice. Far from realizing ideals of civic and political equality, the secular state facilitated religious inequalities and inter-faith violence. Mahmood considered the norms and practices developed within Islam for negotiating religious difference, showing how such religiously informed techniques of civic governance are overridden by secular regimes of power.

Mahmood was the single author of Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (Princeton University Press, 2015) and Politics of Piety: the Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton University Press, 2005) which won the Victoria Schuck Award from the American Political Science Association. She co-authored Is Critique Secular? (Fordham University Press, 2011) and co-edited Politics of Religious Freedom (University of Chicago, 2015). Her work has been translated into Arabic, French, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and Polish. She published numerous articles in the fields of anthropology, history, religious studies, political science, critical theory, feminist theory, and art criticism and served on several journal boards and read for many presses. Professor Mahmood was the recipient of several honors and awards, including the Axel Springer Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, and fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and the University of California Humanities Research Institute. She was the recipient of a major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Initiative on Religion and International Affairs as well as the Harvard Academy of International and Area Studies. She also received the Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, as well as the Andrew Carnegie Scholars’ program as a young scholar. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 2013.

Saba Mahmood was a brilliant scholar, cherished colleague, and dedicated teacher and graduate mentor. Along with her ceaseless political passions and trenchant analyses, she keened to the beauty of the wilderness, the poetry of Ghalib, the delights of cooking and sharing excellent food. She cultivated with joyous attention her relationships with family and friends. She mentored her students with remarkable care and intensity, demanding their best work, listening, responding with a sharp generosity, coming alive in thought, and soliciting others to do the same. In her final months, she affirmed the values of thought and love, leaving now a vibrant legacy that will persist and flourish among all whose lives were touched by her life and work. She is survived by her husband, Charles Hirschkind, her son, Nameer Hirschkind.

CFP: Critical Theory Working Groups, 2018-2019

The Program in Critical Theory is now accepting proposals for working groups for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Topics of recent working groups have included Max Weber, Animal Futures, Critical Vitalisms, Critical Theory in Times of Crisis, and, most recently, Collaborations, Co-operatives, Coalition Building.

For the coming year, we are asking that working groups include graduate students and at least one faculty member. Groups should be initiated and led by graduate students, but supported and guided by faculty. The working groups should privilege shared reading and reflection. Participation in working groups is open to all CT students and affiliated faculty.  Various formats are welcome. We encourage projects originating across the range of the arts, humanities, and social sciences, including those that are interdisciplinary in nature.

If you would like to organize a working group, please send a brief description (up to 250 words) of the topic, shape, leadership (at least one grad student and one faculty member) and preferred duration (one or two semesters) of your activities to by Thursday, May 3. Only submissions from current Critical Theory faculty or Designated Emphasis students will be accepted for consideration.

The Program in Critical Theory will help 2018-2019 working groups with modest funding, logistical support, and publicity.

Announcing Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship | Applications Due April 10

The Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship is awarded to Critical Theory Designated Emphasis (DE) graduate students with records of achievement and promising dissertation projects. The fellowship supports students writing their dissertations with with up to $18,000 toward fees and stipend for a single semester of support.

Applications for the 2018-2019 Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship are due Tuesday, April 10, 2018, by 4 pm. Eligible students must be enrolled in the Critical Theory DE and not receive significant (non-teaching) financial support from their home departments during the period of the award. Applicants must have completed their Qualifying Exams and have an approved dissertation prospectus.

Application Guidelines

Applicants must submit a cover letter, a 2-3 page abstract of the dissertation, an academic CV, and a letter from the dissertation adviser evaluating the project’s promise. Applicants planning on having the prospectus approved by the end of May 2017 should explain this in the application cover letter, and should have the dissertation director, in his or her letter, evaluate the draft or proposed prospectus and the likelihood of its approval.

The committee will have the option of splitting the award in order to support more students.  In view of this possibility, applicants should specify in the cover letter whether they would prefer to have the award in the fall or spring semester.

Completed applications, including all supporting materials, must be received by Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at 4 pm.

Please submit applications to

Deadline for applications: April 10, 2018 by 4 pm
Award Announced: May 2018
Award Period: July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019
Award Amount: Varies according to applicant pool and funds available.

The Dissertation Fellowship is open to Critical Theory students in UC Berkeley Departments including Anthropology, Boalt Law School, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, English, Ethnic Studies, Film & Media, French, Gender & Women’s Studies, German, Geography, History, History of Art, Italian, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Rhetoric, School of Education, School of Public Health, Sociology, South & Southeast Asian Studies, Spanish & Portuguese, and Theater, Dance and Performance Studies.