Drew University: Dean Hopper Conference,  20-21 September, 2019,

Mead Hall, Drew University


Refugees, Citizenship, and Belonging: Towards a History of the Present

    Over the past five years, the denunciation of refugees and the assertion that they pose a mortal threat to the nation have become increasingly mainstream political tactics. The so-called “caravan” of refugees from Central America was central to President Trump’s rhetoric during the recent Congressional elections. Last June, Italy’s populist government denied a rescue boat with more than 600 migrants permission to dock in its ports. In neighboring Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz made an opposition to refugees the center of his political strategy. Kurz’s stance lies in stark contrast to that of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. But Merkel’s decision to welcome refugees from Syria in 2015 is often seen as a fatal political (if not moral) error.

The current focus on refugees, and the familiar claim that we are experiencing a “refugee crisis” is clearly a response to geo-political events. But it is also a moment in our discursive history. As such, the present situation calls for a historicization of the major terms and concepts of our political debate. How have the experience of immigration and international integration shaped our understanding of national identity? How have different countries constructed their histories in response to changing times? What understandings of citizenship and belonging have encouraged politicians and commentators to identify refugees as a dire threat? How and with what consequences have different political parties shaped their policy and rhetoric on refugees? In asking these question we follow the lead of Rita Chin in her recent book, The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History. There she shows how changing understandings of religion, culture, and liberalism have contributed to the perception that multiculturalism in Europe had failed. As for Chin, our turn to the past is also an opening to the future. In understanding how our current debate is informed by its history, we can better see our way beyond the apparent impasses of today. In working out the intertwined cultural histories of refugees, citizenship, and the nation, perhaps with Homi K. Bhabha we can imagine new forms of belonging that do not posit the refugee as an enemy. The seventh annual Dean Hopper Conference of Fall 2019 (20-21st September) will examine these and related questions, placing the current “refugee crisis” in cultural, historical and political context.

      Keynote Speakers:

      Judith Surkis, Rutgers University

      Professor Surkis specializes in Modern European History, with an emphasis on France and the French Empire, gender and sexuality, and intellectual, cultural, and legal History. Her research and teaching range across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, examining questions of sex and citizenship, colonialism and postcolonial migration, as well as critical theory and historical methodology.

      Her new book Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930 is forthcoming from Cornell University Press in 2019. The book shows how colonial law framed Algerian religious difference as a form of sexual difference and how Algerians worked within and against this legal frame. Progressively detached from land, the French colonial construction of Muslim law was bound to the bodies of Algerian persons and their families. This legal genealogy of French Algeria elucidates why “the Muslim question” became a sexual question– and why it remains one, still today. She has also begun work on a new project, The Intimate Life of International Law: Children and Sovereignty After Decolonization examines how population movements tested the boundaries of postcolonial sovereignty by focusing on international family law conflicts. Taking the case of the children of binational couples as a point of departure, it examines postwar transformations in kinship, women and children’s rights, feminism, and global legal orders in a shared analytical frame. She also publishes regularly on questions of historical theory and methodology.

      Professor Surkis’s work has been funded by fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study and the Pembroke Center for Research and Teaching on Women.

      Professor Jonathan Golden, Drew University

      Jonathan Golden (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is director of Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict, an interdisciplinary center focused on global peacebuilding and interfaith leadership. He is convener of the Certificate in Conflict Resolution and Leadership offered in the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. Golden, who in 2016 won the Thomas Kean Scholar/Mentor Award, is assistant professor in the Departments of Comparative Religion and Anthropology. He teaches courses on interfaith leadership, peace and conflict studies, and the Middle East. Golden is the author of Ancient Canaan and Israel: New Perspectives and the forthcoming Dawn of the Metal Age, as well as numerous articles. He is currently working on a third book based on interviews with ex-combatants and victims of conflict who become peace activists. He holds several certificates in conflict resolution and works closely with interfaith and peace organizations in New Jersey and around the world.

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