The Greek initials ɸBK – Phi Beta Kappa – express the motto, "Love of learning is the guide of life." Esteemed scholar, social theorist, and 2014-15 Phi Beta Kappa Society Visiting Scholar Jeffrey Alexander recently spent two days (Dec. 1 -2) at Clark University engaged in and helping to guide a host of lively intellectual activities, focusing mostly on the field of cultural trauma and collective identity.
Alexander is founder and co-director of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University. As a Phi Beta Kappa Society Visiting Scholar, he has been participating at a number of colleges and universities, spending two days at each and taking part in the academic life of the institutions.
At Clark, Alexander delivered a public lecture on Dec. 1 titled, “Cultural Trauma, Social Solidarity, and Moral Responsibility: Reactions to the Holocaust and Other Modern Mass Murders.” His other activities included a breakfast with President David Angel and guests; a campus tour; luncheon and discussion hosted by the Department of Sociology; a visiting lecture to Political Science associate professor Robert Boatright’s class (U.S. Campaigns and Elections); a Holocaust and Genocide Studies reception coordinated by Professor of Sociology Shelly Tenenbaum; and a Student Researchers Workshop, hosted by members of the Psi Chi chapter at Clark.
“This kind of elbow-learning is central to Clark’s identity and mission as a research-based liberal arts institution that emphasizes early student research training,” said assistant professor of English Esther Jones, a key organizer of the visit.
Jones is the E. Franklin Frazier Chair of African American Literature, Theory and Culture at Clark, as well as president of Phi Beta Kappa Society, Lambda of Massachusetts. Professor Alexander was selected to visit Clark because of the strong synergies between his foundational work on cultural trauma and collective identity and Clark University’s own strengths in the areas of psychology, sociology, and Holocaust and genocide studies, Jones noted. “His work spans disciplines that align with the current trans-disciplinary nature of much scholarly research and teaching at Clark.”
Alexander taught at UCLA for 25 years and held visiting appointments at the University of Cambridge, the University of London, and the Library of Congress. His areas of interest include theory, culture, and politics. His recent books include “Obama Power,” (2014), “The Dark Side of Modernity” (2013), and “Trauma: A Social Theory” (2012).
“I found Clark students to be sharp, independent, and creative, and was deeply impressed with the collegiality of the departments and centers,” Alexander said.
Alexander’s visit was sponsored by the Clark University Lambda chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Co-hosts included the Offices of the President and Dean of the College, departments of psychology, sociology, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Psi Chi chapter at Clark.
Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic honor society, with chapters at 283 institutions and more than half a million members throughout the country. Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression.
The Lambda of Massachusetts Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established at Clark University in 1953. Every year, a select group of seniors who exemplify excellence in the Arts and Sciences, great character, and high potential are invited to join the chapter. Selection is made on the basis of outstanding academic achievement, demonstrated breadth and depth of studies in the liberal arts, intellectual curiosity and integrity, and tolerance for diverse views.