Second annual Space and Place panel analyzes identity through an international lens

By Kelsey Siegler

Contributing Writer

Sewanee hosted its second annual interdisciplinary conference, “A Sense of Space and Place: Global and Local Perspectives,” from April 6 to 8, gathering international lecturers, Sewanee professors, and Sewanee students to discuss space, identity, perception, and how these topics are understood in various cultures.

Dr. Jack Weatherford opened the conference with the keynote lecture. His well-traveled, liberal arts-educated perspective resonated with Sewanee students and faculty members as he brought his energy and humor to the serious topic of religious freedom. Through comparing Genghis Khan, Thomas Jefferson, and God, he demonstrated the various religious paths individuals take and how personal experience shapes this journey.

Jefferson followed Khan’s idea that people should have freedom of religion. Jefferson attempted to realize these ideals in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a revolutionary work authored by Jefferson. Although Khan and Jefferson were opposites as leaders, Weatherford unified the contrasting figures through their positions on religious freedom.

On April 7, the Postcolonial Space and Place panel occurred. Topics included the impacts of colonialism and decolonization in Bengal and India, Egyptian mourning behaviors and funerary processes, and living and memorializing racism in South Africa, amongst others. Sewanee students Kate Perry (C’17) and Anna Noonan (C’17) participated as two of the five speakers.

During this panel, Professor Shana Minkin of the International and Global Studies department explained how funerals are performative moments that create temporary communities of communal mourning. Funerary practices cross national and religious boundaries through this sense of community and form local identities.

Another thought-provoking topic was Professor Levine’s idea of “living racism.”  Living racism contextualizes identities through a historical lens, turning to the past to explain how identities are formed today.  He focused on popular culture in South Africa and how specific places and relations create racial identities. All of the speakers explained identity in respect to their individual fields.

Although the panels only lasted three days, the theme of international identity continued throughout April. On April 20, the Ukraine documentary The Babushkas of Chernobyl screened in Gailor Auditorium.  Fire at Sea, a documentary on Syrian refugees, was also screened. The conference will hopefully continue as a Sewanee tradition for years to come.