Bandung Humanisms is a collaboration between the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia and the Seminar in Global Critical Humanities at UCLA. The inaugural workshop took place in 2014, launching a longterm collective project, whose events —public conferences, workshops, joint publications, pedagogical innovations — will take place not just at our institutions but in various sites outside the Euro-American sphere.
The first goal of this project is to revisit the lost legacy of Bandung: the vast global landscape of political, social and cultural thinking and creative elaboration that insisted on the possibility of a human becoming in the disaggregated struggles against imperialism and racism across the world, from Hanoi to Oakland. The point is not only to recover some of the constellations—journals, organizations, exhibitions, writers’ congresses, film festivals, inter-national collaborations—that characterized the institutional landscape of Bandung cultural politics, but to show how more recent and proximate constellations of thought are in fact unthinkable without it.
Bandung cultural politics enacted a humanism that was radical and guiltless over its call to combat the dehumanization of societies, since Bandung thinkers and activists felt no need to cultivate the “anti-humanist” tendencies of the contemporary European intelligentsia, which still holds radical thinking in a deadlock. This distinction marks our second impetus: to explore in what ways humanist thinking, unencumbered by ‘Western’ commands, can serve as a new cauldron of radical configurations of thought and action against the rampant dehumanization of societies by the economic and political forces of capitalism in its “globalization” phase.
The Legacy of Bandung Humanisms, convening in September 2015 and sponsored by Center for the Study of Social Difference and the Institute for Religion Culture and Public Life at Columbia University, is an interdisciplinary research project examining the workings of Bandung Humanisms, the progressive political, social, and cultural movement among nations of the Global South that refused to ally with either major power bloc during the Cold War. The working group, a collaboration between scholars at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles uncovers the post-colonial developing world’s espousal of a radical brand of humanism and self-determination that gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement of non-aggressor states. The working group traces the institutions, associations, writings, and artworks identified with the Bandung Humanisms movement, connecting them to current global struggles for social justice always from the perspective intersection between aesthetics, poetics, and politics. The second major event in this project took place at our partner institution, with extensive ICLS participation, and involved a major art exhibit at UCLA’s Fowler Museum.
The diverse group of scholars includes Lydia Liu, Director, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society and Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities, Department of East Asian Languages, Columbia University, Stathis Gourgouris, Institute of Comparative Literature & Society and Professor, Classics, Columbia University; and Aamir Mufti, Professor, Comparative Literature, UCLA.
Continuing from the Bandung Humanisms series in academic year 2023, Neni Panourgiá and Stathis Gourgouris received a grant from the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University to organize and curate the Leros Humanism Seminars project. The Leros Humanism Seminars project involves an annual series of seminars and workshops that take place on the Greek island of Leros, which is the site of a unique century-long history of institutions of confinement (military, psychiatric, political exile and imprisonment, refugee camps) at the crossroads of empires in the Eastern Mediterranean. You can read the 2023 Leros Humanism Seminar report here.