The Annual Symposium, usually held during the winter semester, is one of the college-wide events sponsored each year by the Humanities Center. Its featured speaker is an invited guest whose expertise includes the subject of that year’s annual theme; other speakers at the Symposium are usually BYU faculty, from the College of Humanities and elsewhere around campus.

2019 – 2020

On Being Vulnerable, Part II: Faith after the Anthropocene

September 13 – 14, 2019 (B192 JFSB, the Education in Zion Theater & Sundance Resort)

The Humanities Center’s Annual Symposium follows last year’s format and features nine distinguished guests including one of our own faculty. The first of two days being held on Friday, September 13th on BYU campus in the JFSB, and the second on Saturday September 14th at Sundance Resort. All sessions will be plenary. More information can be found on the symposium’s website at:

The Anthropocene signifies a new, mutually vulnerable relationship between Earth and humanity. We depend on it, but it also depends on us. Is it possible to imagine ourselves transformed for the better in the face of ecological peril? How might our vulnerability inspire us to reconceive our place in the cosmos, alongside each other and, potentially, before God? “Faith after the Anthropocene” refers to ways our current condition of generative catastrophe modifies our beliefs and practices, whether religious or secular.

While retaining the insights from Hannah Arendt that helped direct our thinking during last year’s symposium – that is, while continuing to give special thought to the role the humanities play in helping us recognize and respond to the prospects of our own vulnerability – we might take our lead this year from Bruno Latour. In a recent essay, Latour proposes three territorial constructs – Globe, Land, and Earth. He deems Globe and Land illegitimate inasmuch as they correspond with typical Left/Right distinctions (globalization versus nationalism, science versus tradition, progressive versus conservative, utopia versus Heimat, etc.). His point is that modernity cannot remain on its current course – there is no “Globe,” there is no “Land” – so we must learn to think differently. Faith, whether taken affectively or institutionally, will play a crucial role in formulating a theory and habitus of Earth; and Earth, in turn, will impact whatever we mean by faith. Thinking those two together is the object of this symposium.

2018 – 2019

On Being Vulnerable: “Crisis” & Transformation

September 20 – 21, 2018 (B192 JFSB, the Education in Zion Theater & Sundance Resort)

The Humanities Center’s Annual Symposium will take a new format this year and will feature nine distinguished guests from around the world and three of our own faculty. The first of two days being held on Friday, September 21st on BYU campus in the JFSB, and the second on Saturday September 22nd at Sundance Resort. All sessions will be plenary. More information, including registration, can be found on the symposium’s website at:

How do humanities disciplines register feelings and meanings associated with vulnerability? One common response to vulnerability, whether for individuals or institutions, inclines toward protectiveness and self-defense, and understandably so. But vulnerability also opens us to transformation. What might the prospects of dynamic change mean in an era of widespread “crisis” in the humanities, when humanities disciplines are increasingly portrayed as indefensible? Might the greatest chance for the survival of the humanities depend, ironically, on how their proponents embrace that very trait?

2017 – 2018

Therapeutic Criticism

October 6, 2017, 3:00 – 4:30 PM, JFSB B192 (the Education in Zion Theater)

Amanda-AndersonAmanda Anderson, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities and English at Brown University, and director of Brown’s Cogut Center for the Humanities. She is a literary scholar and theorist who has written on nineteenth-century literature and culture, as well as on contemporary debates in the humanities.  Her lecture is titled “Therapeutic Criticism.” Ideological criticism examines the relationship between individuals and the social forces that shape them. In the past few decades, two important but conflicting responses have formed to such criticism. This lecture will address the relation between these schools of thought, situating them within the history of criticism and paying particular attention to the psychologically divergent ideologies that they embody.

2016 – 2017

Getting It: Art and Attunement

February 3, 2017, 3:00 – 4:30 PM, JFSB B192 (the Education in Zion Theater)

1702-18 002Rita Felski is a William R. Kenan Jr., Professor of English at the University of Virgina, and editor of New Literary History. Her newest project focuses on forms of aesthetic attatchment: how and why we get stuck to works of art. Considering how the language of attunement can capture certain aspectsof aesthetic experience, Felski addresses if it is possible to talk about the agency and the presence of art works–yet without neglecting the many social factors involved?

Read a write-up of the lecture here.

2015 – 2016

Work of Art

November 13, 2015, 3:00 – 4:30 PM, JFSB B192 (the Education in Zion Theater)

Ccaroline_levinearoline Levine, Professor of English and the Chair of the English Department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, met with faculty to discuss her recent book Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, and Network, which outlines a provocative argument about the transference of structures and patterns in literature and novels to social structures. In addition to discussing her book, Professor Levine met with the women’s studies group and she sat down with Matthew Wickman, the Director of the BYU Humanities Center, for an interview for the BYU radio show Thinking Aloud on Classical 89. She is a very prolific and generous writer and thinker, and she challenged the audience with new ways of thinking about this year’s Humanities Center theme: The Work of Art.

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2014 – 2015

hayotOn Friday, February 20th, Eric Hayot will be on campus as the guest at our Humanities Center Annual Symposium. Hayot is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Penn State, and while much of his work is in Chinese he is also a major commentator on the humanities, with a great deal of wide-reaching (and very engaging) scholarship. There are two meetings associated with Hayot’s visit: an afternoon lecture (3pm in Education in Zion Theater) and a morning meeting with faculty (11am in 4010). That morning meeting will center around Hayot’s 2012 book On Literary Worlds, an examination of world literature from the perspective of a critique of modernism (and its vocabulary of novelty, progress, invention, etc.).

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2013 – 2014

Innovation and the Humanities

March 21, 2:30-5:00 PM, JFSB B192 (the Education in Zion Theater)

christopher-newfieldChristopher Newfield, Professor of English, University of California, Santa Barbara English Department: “What Are the Humanities For? Cultural Study and Human Development in the 21st-Century University”



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Bullough, RobertRobert V. Bullough, Professor of Education, BYU McKay School of Education: “Higher Education and the Neoliberal Threat: Fast Time, Place, and Identity”



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2012 – 2013

States of the Humanities: New Keywords On the Digital and Environmental Humanities

Friday, March 22, 2:00-5:00, JFSB B192


heiseUrsula K. Heise, UCLA English Department and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability: “The Animal in the Database: Biodiversity and the Epic Imagination”



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Mark Davies, BYU Department of Linguistics and English Language





steven2Steven Peck, BYU Department of Biology: “Conjuring the Natural World out of Digital Fictions: The Role of Narrative in Complex Ecological Computer Simulation”