L. Benjamin Rolsky

L. Benjamin Rolsky received his PhD from Drew University in American Religious Studies. His work has appeared in a variety of academic and popular venues including Method and Theory in the Study of Religion and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion as well as The Christian Century, The Los Angeles Review of Books, CNN Opinion, and the Religion and Culture Forum at the University of Chicago. His research and teaching interests include religion and politics, the study of popular culture, and critical theory. Rolsky’s first monograph, The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond, was published last year with Columbia University Press. Once complete, he plans to begin research on a second book project that examines the history of the New Christian Right across the 20th century.

A Year in Review

Welcome to the CCA’s annual report for 2019-20. What a strange year this has turned out to be. Like almost all universities in the United States, Rutgers closed its doors in March and moved to online instruction. CCA, too, moved online.   Colin Jager Professor, Department of English Director, Center for Cultural Analysis  

Christiane Fischer

Christiane Fischer is a Ph.D. candidate in the German Department at Rutgers University. She is currently working on her dissertation, “Between Skin and Surface: The Cinematic Cut in German Film and Literature 1989-2018”, which centers on global image economies and investigates various intersections of image production, distribution, and consumption in contemporary German film, literature and media art. More specifically, her project focuses on the transition from analog to digital media technologies, thereby examining the limits of representation and the possibility of an “authentic” image. Before joining Rutgers in 2016 Christiane completed her B.A. in comparative literature at the University of Vienna and the University of St. Andrews.

Religion in Public

The Religion in Public working group will explore critically the intersections of religion, race, secularism, and American public life from the colonial period to the present. Its aim is to cultivate an interdisciplinary space that is open to theory and method from both the humanities and the social sciences. In addition to showcasing the research of those associated with the Center for Cultural Analysis (CCA), the working group will host visiting scholars in order to cultivate collaborations across and between disciplines. The working group is also dedicated to amplifying the work and research of those connected to the Shelter Project: a Luce Foundation funded effort between Rutgers, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and local community partners that investigates how the pandemic COVID-19 is affecting those on the ground in local communities in and around New Brunswick. Additional programming and curricular projects connected to both the CCA and the Shelter Project will be highlighted by the Religion in Public working group.   Organizers   Colin Jager, Professor of English and Director of the CCA. Professor Colin Jager writes and teaches about romantic literature, politics, and culture, about secularism and religion, and about cognitive science and theories of consciousness. He is the author of articles on all of these topics, published in The Wordsworth Circle, Qui Parle, ELH, Studies in Romanticism, Pedagogy, Romantic Circles Praxis, Public Culture, and elsewhere. In 2017-2018 he was Interim Chair of the Department of English; in fall of 2018 he was also the Leverhulme Visiting Professor of English at Lancaster University, England. He is currently the Director of the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers. He is the author of two books: The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era (2007), and Unquiet Things: Secularism in the Romantic Age (2015), both published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. The first studies the ubiquitous presence of the argument from design in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, arguing that its cultural and aesthetic importance undermines the familiar equation of modernization with secularization. The second emphasizes secularism rather than religion as its primary analytic category, and proposes that romantic-era literary writing possesses a distinctive ability to register the discontents that characterize the mood of secular modernity. Professor Jager is currently working on two projects. The first, provisionally titled On Not Being Reconciled, is a study of literature and religion, with particular reference to Adorno and Kierkegaard. The second is a book on the political possibilities of Romanticism, provisionally entitled Careless Steps.     L. Benjamin Rolsky, Part Time Lecturer in Religion. L. Benjamin Rolsky is an adjunct instructor at Monmouth University and a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. His work has appeared in a variety of academic and popular venues including the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and Method and Theory in the Study of Religion as well as The Christian Century, The Marginalia Review of Books, CNN Opinion, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. His research and teaching interests include religion and politics, the study of popular culture, and critical theory. Rolsky’s book, The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond, was just published by Columbia University Press. Rolsky is currently researching a project that will explore the history of the Christian Right as an artifact of the Culture Wars in the recent American past.  

The Cliché

Toxic masculinity, generation X, the angry black woman, or the super rich who don´t pay taxes: Socio-political clichés threaten to limit human rights and freedom of speech as much as they trigger and frame necessary social debates. We build and consolidate these signifiers in different social spheres: In the news, on the street, and more increasingly as hashtags on social media. The foreshortening of a social identity suggested by the cliché calls for a close analysis, one that will include etymological, historical, phenomenological, as well as psychoanalytic considerations. This working group aims at scrutinizing the term “cliché” from its roots in media archeology in order to open up the question how the arts subvert or solidify the social cliché. While the notion of the cliché calls for a critical investigation of such key aesthetic concepts as representation, image, documentation, and storytelling, our working group takes its starting point from the original usage of the term “cliché,” namely as a typecast used in early printmaking. A token of technological reproducibility, the cliché therefore suggests a specific time frame that ranges from the period around 1900 to the present. We define the “cliché” first and foremost as a medium, i.e. a container that stores and transmits a certain set of socio-political information. In other words, the cliché can be read as symptomatic of paradigmatic shifts in the history of social interaction. Putting a strong emphasis on the contemporary era, the working group undertakes a discourse analysis of recent phenomena that witness a rising petrification of social clichés concomitant with iconoclastic tendencies in both the high and low culture of visual media. We are currently experiencing a vast stream of image production in conjunction with continual destruction and restitution of visual content, which often reduces the definition of “art” to a mere platform for documentation and identification. Further to art’s dominantly representative function, one can observe a backlash in existing debates about inclusion and diversity. Prominent examples are the various polemics around the #MeToo movement, an increasing number of lawsuits and public campaigns against artworks such as Dana Schutz's "Open Casket," or the growing attention for (post-)migrant auto-fiction on global bestseller lists. Investigating the history of the double bind between social typecasting and freedom of expression, the working group makes an effort to expose the structural shortcomings of image proliferation and sedimentation in the digital age in order to examine the symbolic foundations of community-building in the past and present.   Organizers     Christiane Fischer (GREELL)            Regina Karl (GREELL)

Slavery + Freedom Studies Working Group

This interdisciplinary Working Group brings together faculty across departments whose work engages with the problem of slavery, freedom, and the post-emancipation world transhistorically and cross-culturally, from ancient Rome, Asia, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. This working group will encourage and acknowledge the value of scholarship that approaches bondage and freedom within particular disciplinary conventions, amid regional or imperial or national contexts, and in specific eras. However, we also hope that this interdisciplinary space will allow participants to cross-pollinate ideas and provide comparative frameworks that will help strengthen the legibility of our work across fields, historical periods, and disciplines. Topics to be discussed include but are not limited to studies of slavery and politics, economics, gender, resistance and revolt, abolition, and emancipation, in addition to the long afterlives of slavery. More concretely, we plan to discuss classic and new works in the field, workshop works-in-progress, and invite a guest speaker each year. The Slavery + Freedom Studies Working Group looks forward to drawing and building upon the strong legacy of slavery and emancipation scholars at Rutgers, exemplified most recently by the Rutgers Scarlet and Black Project chaired by Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, Dr. Deborah Gray White. "Writing About Slavery? Teaching About Slavery? This Might Help"    Organizers   Yesenia Barragan (History Department, New Brunswick): Yesenia Barragan is Assistant Professor of Latin American History who specializes in the history of race, slavery, and emancipation in Afro-Latin America and the African diaspora in the Americas. Her current book project, Frontiers of Freedom: Slavery and Gradual Emancipation on the Colombian Black Pacific, is under contract with the Afro-Latin America Book Series of Cambridge University Press. She is also the Principal Investigator for “The Free Womb Project,” a bilingual (English and Spanish-language) digital collection of “Free Womb laws” across the eighteenth and nineteenth century Atlantic World. Her next book project explores the migration of free and fugitive African Americans to Latin America in the antebellum period.          Nathan Jérémie-Brink (New Brunswick Theological Seminary): Nathan Jérémie-Brink is the L. Russell Feakes Assistant Professor of the History of Global Christianity at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. His scholarly and teaching interests include Christianity and slavery in the Early Modern Atlantic World and the early US republic, the Haitian revolution and the Black Atlantic, the African American antislavery activism and print culture in the early 19th century, and the digital humanities. His current book project recovers the foundational contributions of African American activists, pastors, churches, and organizations to the abolitionist movement in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. He is also currently writing an article that recovers the experience of a cohort of African American farmers from Illinois who served as a vanguard for black emigration from the United States to the Republic of Haiti in the 1820s.       Adam Xavier McNeil (History Department, New Brunswick): Adam Xavier McNeil is a PhD Student in History focusing on African American women’s experiences in the American Revolutionary era. In his work McNeil captures specifically how Black Loyalist women understood notions of freedom, belonging, and citizenship during the war and in its aftermath. Adam regularly contributes to academic blogs Black Perspectives and The Junto and regularly interviews scholars about their newly published work for New Books in African American Studies.

Working Groups

Group Leaders: to begin planning an event, fill out the meeting planning form or large event planning form and email to admin@cca.rutgers.edu. Each year, the Center for Cultural Analysis sponsors numerous Working Groups and provides administrative support to several Affiliated Groups as part of our commitment to critical inquiry and interdisciplinary research. Bringing together scholars from across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, these groups meet regularly to explore common interests, discuss salient questions, and plan small- and large-scale events. Convened to support faculty and graduate student research, they are an integral part of our mission to enhance interdisciplinary scholarship across Rutgers University.

Brittany Friedman

Brittany Friedman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Faculty Affiliate of the Program in Criminal Justice and the Center for Security, Race, and Rights at Rutgers University.  She holds a PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University and researches race and prison order, penal policy, and the intersections between institutions and monetary sanctions in the criminal justice system.  Her first book, Born in Blood: Death Work, White Power, and the Rise of the Black Guerilla Family (forthcoming, University of North Carolina Press), traces the institutionalization of control strategies designed to eradicate Black political protest and the resulting consequences for the prison social system.  She enjoys writing for academic and general audiences, with articles, chapters, essays, and interviews appearing in scholarly and public outlets.  

Dan Malinowski

Dan Malinowski is PhD candidate in English at Rutgers. His dissertation, “Free Float: Finance, Form, and Late 20th Century American Literature,” examines the conjunction of experimental American literature, changing media forms, and the financialization of the US economy at the end of the 20th century. In the long works of writers such as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Nathanial Mackey, and John Ashbery, this project examines how both the digitization of formerly analog media and the ever-increasing abstraction of the labor market become problems of form for avant-garde writers

Emmet von Stackelberg

Emmet von Stackelberg is a PhD candidate in history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, studying the technologies of visual culture in the United States. His dissertation is a history of celluloid, the photochemical substance necessary to the making and showing of motion pictures until the middle of the 20th century. This biography of a substance braids together histories of experiment, extraction, capitalism, industry, and leisure. Reconstructing the physical, intellectual, and political work needed to make cinema possible, the project probes at the material interdependence of entertainment and industrial capitalism.

Che Gossett

Che Gossett is a Women's and Gender Studies PhD candidate at Rutgers University whose work is at the nexus of critical black studies, queer theory and trans studies. They are currently a 2019-2020 Helena Rubinstein Fellow in Critical Studies in the Whitney Independent Study Program.  Their writing has been published in Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (MIT Press 2018) Death and Other Penalties: Continental Philosophers on Prisons and Capital Punishment (Fordham UP 2015), Transgender Studies Reader (Routledge Press 2014) as well as online publications such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Frieze.  

William Green

William Green is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at Rutgers University. He studies histories of photography with an emphasis on post-WWII American photography, photobooks, and the materiality of photographs. Prior to Rutgers, he was the curatorial assistant in the Department of Photography at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. He has curated numerous exhibitions for the Eastman Museum, including Nandita Raman: Cinema Play House (2017) and the upcoming Carl Chiarenza: Journey into the Unknown (2021). He has also contributed to publications including The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Photography (2013) and the exhibition catalog A Matter of Memory: Photography as Object in the Digital Age (2016).

Miranda Lichtenstein

Miranda Lichtenstein is an artist who works in photography and video.  Her work has been widely exhibited at institutions including, the Guggenheim Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; the Renaissance Society, Chicago, Stadhaus Ulm, Germany and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at venues such as the UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, NY and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson, AZ. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art & Design at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. She lives in Brooklyn. 

Meredith Bak

Meredith Bak (PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara) is an Assistant Professor of Childhood Studies at Rutgers University-Camden. Her research and teaching interests focus on children’s film, media, visual, and material cultures from the nineteenth century to the present. She is the author of Playful Visions: Optical Toys and the Emergence of Children’s Media Culture (MIT Press, 2020), which explores the role of pre-cinematic visual media from optical toys to early pop-up books in shaping children as media spectators. Recent articles and book chapters have considered the connections between children’s media and visual/material cultures applied to case studies such as talking dolls, the DC Super Hero Girls toy line, and the Give-a-Show Projector. A second large-scale project in development considers the history and theory of animate toys from talking dolls to augmented reality apps. Since joining the faculty at Rutgers-Camden, Dr. Bak’s research has been supported by the Penn Humanities Forum, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rutgers-Camden Digital Studies Center. 

Zeynep Gursel

Zeynep Devrim Gürsel is a media anthropologist and Associate Professor in the department of Anthropology at Rutgers University.  Her scholarship involves both the analysis and production of documentary images.  She is the author of Image Brokers: Visualizing World News in the Age of Digital Circulation (University of California Press, 2016), an ethnography of the international photojournalism industry.  She has published on images of the War on Terror, medical portraits, Xrays and crowdshots. For more than a decade she has been researching photography as a tool of governmentality in the late Ottoman period.  Specifically she is investigating photography during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid (1876-1909) to understand  emerging forms of the state and the changing contours of Ottoman subjecthood.  

Colin Williamson

Colin Williamson (PhD, University of Chicago) is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Cinema Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He also serves on the Executive Committee of Domitor, the International Society for the Study of Early Cinema, and as a Reviews Editor for animation: an interdisciplinary journal (ANM). His research focuses on early film history, media archaeology, animation, and science and the cinema. Colin is the author of Hidden in Plain Sight: An Archaeology of Magic and the Cinema (Rutgers University Press, 2015), and has published articles and essays in such edited collections and journals as Thinking in the Dark: Cinema, Theory, Practice (Rutgers University Press, 2015), Film History, ANM, Leonardo, The Moving Image, and Imaginations: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies. His current book project explores how a series of questions about the changing natures of still and moving images were negotiated at intersections between natural history and American animated films throughout the 20th century. Colin’s research has been supported by fellowships and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Michelle Smiley

Michelle Smiley is a scholar of 19th-century photography and visual culture whose research investigates the intersection of aesthetics and scientific practice in the antebellum United States. Her current book project, Daguerreian Democracy: Art, Science, and Politics in Antebellum American Photography, examines how the daguerreotype became an object of technological, scientific, and commercial innovation for antebellum scientists, artisans, and political thinkers. By chronicling the contributions of these often-overlooked actors, she explores how the daguerreotype was an object of transatlantic scientific experimentation, a key component of government projects of nation-building, as well as an object of fascination for theorists of democracy. Before coming to Rutgers, Michelle held the Wyeth Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington, D.C. She holds an A. B., M.A. and Ph.D. in History of Art from Bryn Mawr College. 

Alexander Bigman

Alexander Bigman is a historian of modern and contemporary art. His research focuses in particular upon the emergence, circa 1980, of postmodernism as an internationally circulating set of intertwined discourses, creative practices, and political positions. He is currently at work on a book project derived from his dissertation, “Picturing Fascism in Post-Conceptual Art, 1974 - 1984,” which examines how the history and aesthetics of interwar European fascism became newly salient objects of inquiry and representation for artists associated with the so-called “Pictures Generation,” a group defined by its use of imagery drawn from popular culture and its critical engagement with the dynamics of mass media. For artists who were born after World War II and established their careers at a moment marked by rightward political shift, such taboo imagery became a provocative, if often problematic, means of addressing such matters as the representability of history, the nature of cultural memory and its role in group identity formation, and the political ramifications of embracing figuration, photomechanical or otherwise, following the predominantly abstract paradigms of postwar modernism. Alex is also a practicing critic. He received his PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and his BA from the University of California at Berkeley.

Luce Foundation

Luce Foundation Funds Collaboration to Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic  June 12, 2020 A group of researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) has won a $150,000 Emergency Grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Made through Luce’s Theology Program, the grant addresses the problem of housing insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.   Titled SHELTER, the project is a unique partnership between Rutgers, the Seminary, and two local non-profits.  75% of grant funds will go directly to families and individuals whose housing and other basic needs have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals and families are variously experiencing challenges related to undocumented or immigration status, recent release from parole or incarceration, HIV and other medical needs, and other social services needs that make them especially vulnerable during the COVID crisis.  The community partner for SHELTER is the Reformed Church of Highland Park Affordable Housing Corporation (RCHP-AHC), a non-profit that provides affordable housing, supportive services, and connection to meaningful community for low-income individuals and families in central New Jersey.  RCHP-AHC estimates that the grant money will help them to house 15 families or 60 individuals. The remaining twenty-five percent of the grant funds will be directed to public humanities and public arts projects.  Led by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, Coordinator & Instructor of Public Historyat Rutgers, Nathan Jérémie-Brink, Feakes Assistant Professor of the History of Global Christianity at NBTS; Colin Jager, Director of the Center for Cultural Analysisand Professor of English at Rutgers, and Producing Director Dan Swern of coLAB Arts in New Brunswick, this portion of the project will involve masters-level students at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, undergraduates at Rutgers University, and local artists. The goal is to provide an “archive” of this pandemic moment and to foster creative expression in response to it.  Outcomes will include oral histories, web-based projects, and public art, with the goal of fostering new ways to reimagine community engagement that enfolds artists, social advocates, and clients.    In sum, the SHELTER project aims to analyze and respond to the social, economic, and political conditions that leave people without housing, deny opportunities after incarceration, detain those seeking refuge and safety, and provide inadequate services for those who are ill.  Itoffers a rapid response to a pressing question for some of the most vulnerable people in the wider community: In an age of pandemic, what does it mean to shelter in place when you have no shelter? 

Black Lives Matter

June 10, 2020 The Executive Committee, Staff, and Director of the CCA stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and others who are currently protesting ongoing and historical violence against African Americans and other people of color.  We condemn the murder of George Floyd, the militarization of the police force, racist police practices, and all expressions of white supremacy.  And we decry the disproportionate effect of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on communities of color, which is part of that same story.  Like many institutions in this country, the CCA has benefitted from inequitable histories tied to racism, which we are mindful of as perhaps never before.  We are also inspired, however, by the passion for justice animating the protests; we join with protesters and other people of goodwill in working for a better world.  As a Center dedicated to the idea of humanistic scholarship, the CCA commits to helping build a more just and equitable University, both through our individual actions and by means of programming, scholarship, and resource allocation. In addition to programming, the CCA commits to diversifying its Executive Committee.  We also commit to using our discretionary spending to deliberately seek out and support Black-owned businesses.
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