The Dome of the Rock Goes to the Berkshires

May 10, 2019

​A talk by A. M. Awad (Director)

Harvard Hall 103

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA 02138

5:30pm - 7pm

The unreal story began with a political experiment: after joining the board of trustees at Williams College, an Israeli Knesset member proposed building a replica of the Dome of the Rock in the middle of campus. In this talk, we will trace the origins of his proposal, following its controversial turn to BDS, as a liberal arts college in western Massachusetts confronts the history of an Islamic shrine. Along the way, we will engage the relation between aesthetics and politics and ask what role imagination can play in critical thought.


All are welcome.

The Humanities on the World Stage

April 05, 2019

​A talk by A. M. Awad (Director)

Emerson Hall

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA 02138

6:30pm - 8pm

As STEM dominates the aspirations of Arabs in the US, their contributions are measured in scientific output, entrepreneurial activity, and professional count. On the other side of the Atlantic, American-branded universities and centers shape the region, and knowledge production is associated with their size and visibility. Somewhere in between, a class of Arab bureaucrats navigates international organizations without much say in their structure or direction.


What happens when the participation of Arabs on the world stage is assured but only if certain roles are played? Is it possible to critically and creatively expand on these roles, as well as reflect on the stage itself? If so, what resources are available from the history of knowledge production in the Arab world? And at a time of crisis in governance, society, and identity, how might this knowledge uniquely address difficult issues facing humanity as a whole?


In this conversation, we will approach the above questions by looking at the status of the humanities in the region. Calling upon the history of philosophy, literature, and sociology, we will discuss innovative institutional frameworks, as well as pedagogies, research projects, and curricula in Amman and Cairo, Morocco and Iraq. Attendees are invited afterward to consider critical partnerships among scholars, politicians, and members of civil society.

All are welcome.

Beyond the Logic of Rights: On Refugees in the Arab World

May 10, 2018

​A talk by A. M. Awad (Director)


Trinity College, University of Cambridge

Scholarship on the global South has frequently focused on the political rights of individual citizens as enshrined in constitutions and other foundational legal documents.  Yet the language of right has been used and contested outside institutional arenas by a range of political actors. This talk will offer an account of a collective right - the Palestinian right of return - against the politics and history of the United Nations' response to the Palestinian question.

Kafka Goes to Palestine: Reflections on Politics, Pedagogy, and the Destination of Literature

May 01, 2018

A talk by A. M. Awad (Director)


Land Lecture Hall, Harvard University

For more than a century, Franz Kafka has posed a challenge to interpretation. Philosophers have debated his work while theologians have probed its mystical elements. Recently, the legal battle over his physical papers caused controversy in Israel, momentarily suspending the Zionist identity of religion and the nation-state. At the heart of this history are two questions which remain with us today: what can literature do? and for whom does it belong?


In this talk, we will trace the destination of literature within and beyond colonial borders. By following Kafka to the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, we will consider the reception of certain European writers in the Arab world (despite, as it were, the whereabouts of their physical papers). How might such reception, in turn, inform the Anglo-American academy, where the conditions for interpretation - and the humanities at large - face their own layered crisis?

What is a Museum? Function vs Freedom

June 30, 2017

A talk by A. M. Awad (Director)

The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts

As Spring Sessions comes to a close, this talk will offer a public interpretation of the Superfine Art Show. Guided by individual artworks, as well as their collective exhibition in the National Gallery, it will speculate upon the struggles enacted between form and content, buildings and people, function and freedom. A conversation will follow.

A Word for Love: A Conversation

April 03, 2017

Emily Robbins (Ethics and Exile '17) discusses her book, A Word for Love, with Rula Quawas (Ethics and Exile '17).

Readers Bookshop, Amman

Emily Robbins has lived and worked across the Middle East and North Africa. From 2007 to 2008, she was a Fulbright Fellow in Syria, where she studied religion and language with a women’s mosque movement and lived with the family of a leading intellectual. Robbins holds an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and in 2016 she received a second Fulbright to study in Jordan. Her writing on Syria has appeared in Lit Hub and The New York Times. A Word for Love is her first novel. 

Rula Quawas is a professor of American literature and feminist theory at the University of Jordan. She was the founding Director of the Women’s Studies Center at the university in 2006, and she was also the Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages in 2011. Rula’s research focuses on feminist readings of American and Arabic texts written by women writers. She has published numerous essays and book chapters on American and Arab women writers. Her books include From the Speaking Womb of the Desert: Stories from Jordan and Crossing Borders: A Narrative Journey into the Middle Eastern World.

Utopia and Art of the Possible

March 23, 2017

A talk by A. M. Awad (Director)

Ossama Al Mashini Theater, Jordan Ministry of Culture


The concept of utopia has had a troubled history. Beginning with the Republic, Plato’s perfected society necessitated the exclusion of poetry, or of what we might today call aesthetic practice. In the centuries to follow, similar Platonic ideals worked their way into medieval thought. Thomas More’s publication of Utopia, when the term was properly coined, came with ambivalence, and the book was interpreted by some as satirical commentary rather than a work of earnest speculation. Such ambivalence persisted into the 20th century, when the concept was used to consolidate phenomena as disparate as European fascism and liberation theology.

In this talk, we will situate the practice of art in Amman against the concept of utopia. In what ways does the utopian imagination serve as a veiled extension of, rather than emancipation from, the way things already are? Is utopianism, in its traditional form, an unwittingly conservative endeavor? And if the concept of utopia itself has been incorporated into consumer culture, with what other language can we go forward? In considering heterotopia as an alternative, we will explore modes of thoughts which push past the boundary between the possible and impossible. We will ask, in turn, what kind of art can we cultivate?

Blank Maps

April 04, 2017

Tala Elissa (Philosophy of Culture '15) launches Blank Maps, a podcast that sheds light on the issue of statelessness in the Arab world. It tells stories of people who have been stripped of their basic rights due to their statelessness, unearthing factors behind the lack of citizenship to understand what it is that citizenship offers and how it is related to identity and belonging.

Women's Rights in Jordan: A Critical Perspective

March 07, 2017

A lecture by A. M. Awad (Director)


The United Nations WFP Compound

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we will reflect on women’s rights in the region, focusing on the role of international governing bodies such as the United Nations. How do external forces, such as neocolonialism and neoliberalism, shape how we think about and practice female empowerment? What is excluded or repressed by those forces? With these questions in mind, we will discuss the uniqueness of the Jordanian context: to what degree can local practices - from Islamic and Arab history - inform our work? What new modes of thought and practice can we subsequently imagine and implement?

Islam and the State

February 12, 2017

A seminar by A. M. Awad (Director)

The British Institute (Comenius Leadership Course)

During the twentieth century, “Islam" was constructed to fit the structures of Western modernity: from various Islamic regimes, where the European nation-state is the framework for governance, to cities like Amman, where bourgeois culture dictates the form of religious practice. The past twenty years have intensified this process, as neoliberal development grew in size and scope.

In this one-time seminar, we will take a historical look at how Islam conceived of life before the state, taking the construction of local governance, community, and morality as the basis for critical reflections on the present moment. To what degree might pre-statist ways of life - and indeed their traces today - open new avenues of thought and practice in the realm of development?

Foucault and Friendship: A Conversation

August 09, 2016

A. M. Awad (Director) discusses friendship as a philosophical trope with Nader K. Uthman (Psychoanalysis '16).

Co-sponsored with Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture

A. M. Awad is Director of the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, where he teaches seminars on critical theory, and a Herchel Smith Fellow at the University of Cambridge. His research traverses continental philosophy and aesthetics. 

Nader K. Uthman is Summer Director of Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture in Amman. He teaches Arabic language, literature and culture at New York University, where he is Clinical Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.

The Ethics of Street Photography

October 12, 2015

A talk by Ramzi Nari (Philosophy of Culture '15) about his collection of photographs, comparing the history of graffiti in New York and Amman in light of documenting the art form with the photographic image.

Jordan Photographic Society

Modernity and the Limits of Democracy

October 26, 2015

A lecture by A. M. Awad (Director)


Co-sponsored with Jadal Culture


The dominant political ideology today - democracy - imposes itself as the ultimate solution to the crises of the Arab world. Such imposition, however, comes not only through military violence and economic reconfiguration, where it can be easily critiqued, but also in our everyday life. In this lecture, we will discuss the limits to democracy, engaging its relation to colonialism and capitalism, before asking the question of how pre-modern ways of life can inform us today.

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