Refuge at Risk: Concepts, Infrastructures, Futures

Feb 16–Feb 17, 2023
University of California Humanities Research Institute, UC Irvine

Refuge at Risk: Concepts, Infrastructures, Futures
In 1943, Hannah Arendt, who had arrived in New York two years earlier, published “We Refugees” in a small Jewish journal called Menorah. Merging satire, memoir, and manifesto, Arendt’s essay both railed against the term “refugee” and reclaimed it for a renewed politics led by the vanguard of the displaced. Her own emigration was partly enabled by scholar rescue efforts that continue today through the work of organizations such as the Scholars at Risk Network, the Institute for International Education Scholar Rescue Fund, and the New University in Exile Consortium. Eighty years after the publication of “We Refugees,” this UCHRI conference considers the ongoing relevance of Arendt to the heightened stakes of refuge today, gathers together endangered scholars and their hosts and allies from UC campuses to discuss first principles, and takes stock of humanistic approaches to refuge across the University of California.

February 16-17, 2023
University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI)
University of California, Irvine 

Humanities Instructional Building 135

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Julia Lupton (UCHRI), Interim Director
Jane O. Newman (UC Irvine), Chair, UC Committee for Scholars at Risk
Ignacio López-Calvo (UC Merced), Director, Center for the Humanities

Thursday, February 16 | Infrastructures of Refuge: An Institutional Accounting

1:00-2:30 pm: Closed sessions for Scholars at Risk liaisons, hosted scholars, and UC graduate students and post-docs

  1. Campus liaisons and allies of Scholars at Risk, moderated by Jane O. Newman (UC Irvine) and Arien Mack (New University in Exile Consortium), HG 4000
  2. Hosted scholars, moderated by Christina Lux (UC Merced), HG 4200
  3. Graduate students and post-docs working on Jewish studies, refugee studies, and related topics, moderated by Carrie Perkins, ACLS Emerging Voices Postdoctoral Fellow, HG 4301

3:00-4:00 pm: Refuge at Risk: Keynote Conversation with Anne McCall 
Humanities Instructional Building 135

Julia Lupton (UCHRI), welcome; Jane O. Newman (UC Irvine), moderator
Anne McCall is Chair of the United States section of the Scholars at Risk Network and Provost of Xavier University of Louisiana. In dialogue with Jane O. Newman, Anne McCall will share the history and aims of the network, the principles that underly the work that SAR aims to accomplish, the place of HBCUs and tribal colleges in this work, and the special role of the humanities in furthering these arrangements.

4:00-4:15 pm: Coffee break

4:15-6:00 pm: Initiatives for Refuge across the UC
Humanities Instructional Building 135

Many UC campuses have taken up the challenge of hosting endangered scholars. What principles of engagement emerge from the difficult work of brokering these fragile arrangements out of limited resources? How do hosted scholars enrich the institutions and communities where they sojourn, and what are some strategies for welcoming scholars into the lives of the campuses? What are the needs, perspectives, and contributions of displaced students in the University of California? How can we create meaningful opportunities for networking and research exchange among hosted scholars, students, hosts, allies, and the larger academic community around the UC system?

Kum-Kum Bhavnani, Assoc. Vice Chancellor for Global Engagement, UC Santa Barbara, moderator

Cameroon | UC Santa Barbara: Elisabeth Ayuk-Etang, SAR scholar from Cameroon, with Claudio Fogu

Afghanistan | UC Irvine:  Hashmat Nadirpor, SAR scholar, and David Kaye, co-directors, Afghanistan Human Rights Project 

Afghanistan | UC Merced: Shiraz Noorani, SAR scholar, with Ignacio López-Calvo and Christina Lux

Russia | UC Berkeley: Ilya Budraitskis and Ilya Matveev, hosted scholars, with C. D. Blanton

Article 26 Backpack Project | UC Davis: Keith Watenpaugh and undergraduate students

6:15-8:00 pm: Reception and music, “Refugee Songs,” featuring Bahman Sarram, Reverend Stickman, and TJ Moss; introduced by Anita Casavantes Bradford (UC Irvine)

Friday, February 17th | “We Humanists”: Histories, Concepts, and Collaboration in Refugee Scholarship
Humanities Instructional Building 135

9:30-10:00 am | Light breakfast

10:00-11:30 am | “We Refugees:” Hannah Arendt 80 Years Later

Hannah Arendt opens her 1943 essay “We Refugees” by refusing the very term: “In the first place, we don’t like to be called ‘refugees.’ We ourselves call each other ‘newcomers’ or ‘immigrants.’” Rejecting rescue narratives and the demand to assimilate, Arendt concludes by reclaiming the word “refugee” within an emboldened politics of truth-telling. What role has Arendt’s essay played in framing refugee studies, and what are the affordances and limitations of her perspective in evolving discourses and new actualities?

Arien Mack (New University in Exile Consortium), moderator
Jane O. Newman (UC Irvine), Rescue Scholarship: A Very Brief History
Debarati Sanyal (UC Berkeley), Arendt Today: A View from Europe
Keith Watenpaugh (UC Davis), From “Among the Ruins” to “We Refugees:” Yesayan, Arendt, Exile and the Framing of Refugee Diaspora

11:30 am-1:00 pm | Lunch break

1:00-2:30 pm | Collaborative Research in Critical Refugee Studies

Critical Refugee Studies mounts a humanistic approach to forced migration by centering refugee stories and experiences, rejecting narratives that disavow the role of host countries in the causes of dispossession and displacement, and documenting the world-repairing role of culture, memory, and imagination in the difficult work of resettlement. This panel features two projects that demonstrate the power of working across campuses to support research on refuge.

Anita Casavantes Bradford (UC Irvine), moderator
The Critical Refugee Studies Collective: Yến Lê Espiritu (UC San Diego), Ma Vang (UC Merced), and Victor Bascara (UC Los Angeles)
Queer and Trans Transnational Refugee Storytelling: Debanuj DasGupta (UC Santa Barbara) and Jeanne Scheper (UC Irvine)

2:30-3:00 pm | Coffee break

3:00-4:30 pm | Refuge, in Words: Comparing Religious Legacies

Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists take refuge in dharma (righteousness, moral duty), committing themselves to a path of wisdom and compassion. The Bible frequently evokes God as a refuge who protects those who are embattled, exiled, or oppressed. In Islamic texts, hijrah (seeking refuge) was first applied to Muhammad when he was forced to flee to Medina. The word refugee first entered the English language from French, to describe the Huguenots leaving France in response to religious persecution. Religious ideas around refuge have been deployed to stigmatize enemies and justify violence as well as to further social justice, welcome strangers, and strengthen displaced communities. How might concepts with long histories and multiple genealogies provide ideational infrastructure for contemporary scholarship, art, and thought around refuge today?

Elizabeth Allen (UC Irvine), moderator
Archana Venkatesan (UC Davis), Refuge in Hinduism
Camilo Gómez-Rivas (UC Santa Cruz), Refugees and sanctuary in the pre-modern Islamic West
Diego Pirillo (UC Berkeley), Religious refugees and the birth of diplomacy in early modern Europe

Refuge Salon
Explore UC projects around refuge featured in our slide deck, on view during lunch and coffee breaks. We will also post the research profiles of SAR scholars currently appointed at UC campuses. 

Conference Goals

  • Explore the legacy of Hannah Arendt and the German-Jewish refugee experience in refugee scholarship
  • Map the concept of refuge in global religious traditions
  • Articulate first principles for hosting endangered scholars and conducting humanistic scholarship and collaborative research on forced migration
  • Connect people across the UC system interested in hosting refugee scholars or conducting engaged scholarship with and for displaced people(s)
  • Create networking and research exchange opportunities for hosted scholars across the UC
  • Determine next steps for systemwide collaborations

This event is made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (“Infrastructure of Inquiry: Horizons of the Humanities”) and a generous gift from the Koret Foundation.