Columbia launched a research initiative this month that will take advantage of its global centers to study issues that affect women across the globe.
Women Creating Change, led by professors Marianne Hirsch and Jean Howard, will support research on women and gender by faculty members, graduate students, and international scholars, and will attempt to integrate these themes into Columbia classrooms.
The program will mobilize feminist scholars from Columbia and elsewhere to address “the pressing problems affecting women globally and to explore the creative roles women are playing in addressing those problems,” said social science professor Lila Abu-Lughod, the director of the Center for the Study of Social Difference, which is overseeing the initiative.
It will be divided into four projects, each with different topics of study—the relationship between gender, religion, and law in Muslim societies; gender and poverty; gender’s role in the arts; and feminism and social activism. The project on activism will be led by Judith Butler, a noted feminist scholar and a visiting professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia.
“What’s interesting about this model is that these programs don’t just involve one person’s research, they’re all collaborative,” Howard said. “They’re cross-disciplinary and involve teams of researchers working together across national and disciplinary boundaries.”
“It can lead to all kinds of things—co-authored books, collections of essays, online journals, major conferences, blogs, and even new curricular initiatives,” she added.
The initiative has already been integrated into some undergraduate courses. Hirsch’s fall 2013 course, The Voice of Witness, will draw themes from the project on gender’s role in the arts, while Abu-Lughod is incorporating the research of women in Muslim societies project into a class that she currently teaches on the same topic.
Women Creating Change will also organize international conferences, including one scheduled for September 2013 in Istanbul. Butler and Zeynep Gambetti, a professor at Istanbul’s Bogaziçi University, will host the conference, which will focus on women’s vulnerability in social change.
Collaborations with the global centers will allow for “international collaborations and exchange of insights and research,” Abu-Lughod said. The global center in Chile has already begun to work closely with the group focused on art and gender.
“Global centers offer a chance to get together with colleagues from several different universities, but also with practitioners, artists, directors, and playwrights,” Howard said.
The goal of the initiative is to use these international resources to develop a deeper understanding of the issues that women face internationally, a process Hirsch and Howard call “slow-thought.”
“It’s where you contemplate the complexities of the problem that you’re addressing rather than rush immediately to make policy solutions,” Howard said.
“It takes time to translate feminist thought across cultural thought,” Hirsch said.
An earlier version of this story identified Hirsch's fall 2013 course as "The Vice of Witness." The name of the course is actually "The Voice of Witness." Spectator regrets the error.