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Syracuse Professor Eyes New Books, International Humanities Appointment

‘Keeping busy is key to happiness,’ Gregg Lambert says

Mar 22, 2016 | Article by: Rob Enslin


Photo of Gregg Lambert

Gregg Lambert

When Gregg Lambert stepped down as founding director of the Syracuse University Humanities Center in 2014, he did what any self-respecting professor would do. He hit the books.

Nearly two years later, Lambert is still at the top of his game; it’s just that the stakes are different.

“Some say that keeping busy is the key to happiness,” says the Dean's Professor of the Humanities, who has served as director and principal investigator of The Central New York Humanities Corridor since 2008. “A little bit of stress is okay. It’s important, however, to overcome distractions and maintain focus.”

Granted, the Humanities Corridor—a large-scale interdisciplinary project involving nine institutions, supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—takes up most of Lambert’s time, but it’s not the only thing on his bucket list. A highly sought after teacher-scholar, he frequently travels the globe, researching and lecturing on critical theory and film, 20th-century French philosophy, or the dynamics of the contemporary university.

Such persistence seems to be paying off for the former English professor in Arts and Sciences, as evidenced by a spate of recent accomplishments. In February, Lambert was appointed an International Scholar in the Global Collaborative Summer Program at Kyung Hee University (KHU) in South Korea. Co-founded by KHU and the University of Pennsylvania, in tandem with the Ministry of Education and various international organizations, including the United Nations, the program offers summer courses in humanity, civilization, and global governance.

As such, Lambert will spend July at KHU’s Seoul campus teaching a course on “How We Become Posthuman: Hollywood and the Question Concerning Posthumanism.” The job also comes with a professorship in KHU’s College of the Humanities, where Lambert is expected to publish two academic papers in peer-reviewed journals, conduct special lectures, lead seminars, and provide guidance to students.

“Popular culture is fascinated with intelligent machines, cyborgs, and nature-culture,” he says, alluding to such sci-fi fare as the Terminator and Matrix franchises, Blade Runner, Ex Machina, The Fly, and Minority Report. “Yet, how we portray our ‘otherness’ in film and on TV says a lot about the human condition. I’ll use a genealogical method to consider how humans are depicted in advanced capitalist and technological societies.”

News of the appointment came on the heels of Lambert’s keynote address at the “Humanities Now” Graduate Conference, which took place in February at the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center at the University of Cincinnati. The lecture, whose title comes from Lambert’s forthcoming book (Philo)sophy After Friendship (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), was inspired by a brief correspondence between Gilles Deleuze and Dionys Mascolo, in which the former famously asserted that the democratic ideal of friendship had become corrupted throughout history.  

“I reconstructed a brief genealogy of the different concrete situations to which Deleuze’s statement might refer, arriving at a moment of recollection where perhaps the essential meaning of philosophy might be interrogated anew,” says Lambert, who also is lecturing this spring at Stockholm University and the National Taichung University of Education in Taiwan. “I sought to look at Deleuze’s assertion in a new light.”


"Return Statements" Dust-Jacket

Some of these ideas are echoed in Lambert’s other book, Return Statements: The Return of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), due out in May. Described as a critical investigation into the role of religion in modern culture, the book explores the relationship between the resurgence of overtly religious themes in contemporary philosophy and the global “post-secular turn" that has been taking place since 9/11.

“I’ve tried to explain why these ‘returns to religion’ are taking place simultaneously, all over the world,” says Lambert, the author of a dozen other books and some 50 scholarly articles. “In the process, I’ve discovered a unique—if not, foreboding—sense of religion that seems to be permeating modern society.”

Return Statements draws on the writings of Jacques Derrida, Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, and John Caputo, the last whom is the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities in A&S.

Already, the book is creating quite a buzz. Michael Naas, professor and chair of philosophy at DePaul University, calls it a “fascinating series of responses” to this new era of post-secularism. “[They are] philosophically astute, politically and historically well-informed, and often sharply satirically,” he writes, regarding Lambert’s take on questions of religion, faith, community, love, and life.

Claire Colebrook, Penn State’s Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, praises the critical range of the book. “Neither dismissively condescending or unthinkingly reverent, [Return Statements] is a stunning exploration of the return of religion in theory, philosophy, and contemporary culture,” she writes. “From Derrida to [Slavoj] Zizek, Lambert provides a stylish and intelligent exploration of the various deployments of spirit for our ‘post-secular’ present.”  

A past member of the International Advisory Board of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, Lambert served as founding director of the Syracuse University Humanities Center in A&S from 2008 to 2014. Lambert also has held visiting and distinguished faculty appointments throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, the most recent of which took place in 2014 at the University of California, Irvine, where, a decade earlier, he earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature and philosophy.

At Syracuse, Lambert also is working with The Mellon Foundation to establish a permanent endowment that will support The CNY Humanities Corridor in perpetuity.

“Gregg Lambert is an ardent champion of the humanities,” says Karin Ruhlandt, dean of A&S and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. “As a scholar, teacher, and administrator, he brings tremendous vitality to the Humanities Corridor, while infusing liberal arts learning into various curricula across campus. He brings distinction to not only the University, but also our region’s academic landscape.”

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Contact Information

Rob Enslin
rmenslin@syr.edu
315-443-3403