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"The Humanities in Ferment": Reflections on the Global Humanities Conference at Delhi University

by Michael Levenson

Conference on the Global Humanities at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, organized by Delhi University

In Delhi for our second conference of the Global Humanities Initiative (GHI), and in high spirits at all that happened during the three-day event. The global collaboration has begun to show what can be built when you grow from the ground up and the world round. Our first meeting was in Charlottesville in April. Now just a few months later, we’re finding a rhythm, a glint, a thread, a sense of humor, a deepening conviction.

Prasanta Chakravarty and Brinda Bose give their opening remarks.

The hosts were our partners from Delhi University, Brinda Bose and Prasanta Chakravarty, founding members of Marg Humanities (the Humanities Road). Local Delhi thinkers were joined by those coming from distant places in India, from Europe, and from North America. Brinda and Prasanta had been with us in Charlottesville in the spring; so had Helen Small from Oxford. Rita Felski, Krishan Kumar and I travelled from UVa to keep our side of the conversation moving.

From left to right: Helen Small, Prasanta Chakravarty, Michael Levenson, Krishan Kumar, Rimli Bhattacharya.

The title of this gathering was “The Humanities in Ferment,” a phrase well chosen by our Delhi partners, because fermentation is exactly what our mix has begun to stir. If we can get the metaphor right, as one of our last speakers heroically tried, we’re taking advantage of an anaerobic environment, using yeast to turn carbohydrates into alcohol or acid.

Whatever the metaphor, we’re keeping our commitment to ongoing conversation, sustained over regular meetings in points across the globe. And we’re equally committed to a double perspective in what we offer to one another when we meet. On one side we exchange reflections on the conditions and prospects of the humanities. On the other side stand focused presentations on film, politics and philosophy, Gandhi and Joyce, multilingualism and video games, interpretation and civilization.

Three days of talks and walks and firm resolves to continue what we’ve started this year. The mood was thick and rich, and speaking now just for myself, I look forward to a return to Charlottesville, fizzy and juiced, avid and engaged, ripe and ready for more.

Michael Levenson