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About Collaborative Research Clusters

The Northeastern Humanities Center’s Collaborative Research Clusters give faculty the opportunity for a range of interdisciplinary research collaborations with awards up to $2,000. These clusters bring together scholars and practitioners from different disciplines, both within and outside the university community, around a common issue of humanistic significance. The purpose is to facilitate productive discussions and collaborations among the participants, with a view toward the development of joint projects, conferences, publications, and grant applications.

The Humanities Center funds a wide range of themes and topics. Past groups have organized around such topics as critical social theory; sexual citizenship; urban environmental governance; food; and race and visual culture studies. The current active Collaborative Research Clusters are listed below:


 “‘Cultivating Humanity’ – Compassion and Migrant Crises, Then and Now”

Natalie Bormann
Teaching Professor of Political Science

The 2010s have no doubt been marked by worsening migrant crises worldwide, and the types of discourse we engage in surrounding the suffering of strangers is an integral part of how we collectively humanize or dehumanize such groups – with significant implications for concrete policies. The theoretical, abstract ways in which we talk about such matters shape the very lenses through which we engage with strangers, and whether or not to save them, and there is no better forum to begin to deconstruct these narratives than in the realm of education and pedagogy. If in a previous cluster we explored crisis and pedagogy (how to talk and teach about atrocities), for this cluster the current collaborative group wants to explore the role of compassion, humanity, and empathy in theoretical discourses across disciplines, as well as practical ways in which we can incorporate such concepts in our own various interdisciplinary research avenues.


“Responsible Development of Machine-Learning Algorithms”

Ronald Sandler
Chair and Professor of Philosophy and Religion; Director, Ethics Institute

Machine learning algorithms are increasingly being used to inform case decisions in social service, criminal justice, medical, and other contexts. For example, they are now used by the Allegheny County, PA Human Services Department to help screen calls to the child protection hotline regarding which are high risk cases and which are lower risk. Courts throughout the country use risk assessment scores generated by algorithms that are intended to predict the likelihood of recidivism in order to inform decisions about parole and sentencing. Machine learning algorithms are widely used to screen applicants for loans to predict risk of default and thereby set eligibility and interest rates. They are also being developed for making scarce resource allocation decisison – for example, regarding organ recipients. It is expected that there will be rapid proliferation of such algorithms through social, financial, medical, and governmental contexts. Machine learning algorithms are likely to soon be shaping, or even making, decisions about medical treatments, welfare benefits eligibility, immigration screening, financial planning, education admissions, and much more. The purpose of this collaborative research cluster is to bring together researchers at northeastern to develop an approach to responsible development and implementation of machine learning algorithms, particularly in social service, criminal justice, and other institutional contexts.


“Emergent Urban Transformations: Explorations of State, Society, and Politics in India”

Gavin Shatkin
Director of Asian Studies Program; Associate Professor of Public Policy & Architecture; Director of MS Urban and Regional Policy Program

Liza Weinstein
Associate Professor of Sociology

According to United Nations estimates, India’s urban population will increase by more than 340 million over the next thirty years, to exceed 830 million by 2048 (United Nations 2014). This will be by far the largest increase in urban population of any country in the world, 50 percent more than the increase in China. Yet this misleadingly simple statistic belies a complex and variegated reality. What is occurring in India, and indeed much of the rest of the world, is not a simple spread of existing city footprints farther into rural hinterlands, but rather a proliferation of new urban forms that are transforming relations between the urban and the non-urban. This project will bring together leading scholars at a workshop that seeks to develop new frameworks for interpreting changing dynamics of urbanization in India.

“Women and Resilience”

Suzanna Danuta Walters
Professor of Sociology; Professor and Director, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program

This cluster will focus on the phenomenon of networked social movements and community resilience, examining gender in resilience and how women (and in particular, women of color) are consistently leaders in these spaces. We will discuss how women frequently carry a disproportionate burden in moments of social crisis, looking at movements including Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, #MeToo, and #TimesUp to name just a few. Women strengthen community resilience in response to chronic stresses and slowly emerging disruptions including climate change, democratic instability, and crises of public health—yet women are rarely centered in resilience studies. Furthermore, the cluster will explore how social movements can build resilience for individuals, groups, and whole societies. We aim to reach across disciplines to broaden the scope and impact of resilience research by examining gender and resilience through intersecting lenses. By enhancing understanding of the role of women’s networks in resilience, a more nuanced gendered perspective in resilience research will be strengthened.

“Freedom of Religion v. National Identity: Democracy and Secularism on Trial”

William Miles
Professor of Political Science

Politicization and “securitization” of religion in the United States and abroad is challenging long­held norms and policies that had balanced, however precariously, religious freedom with secular and democratic values. Recent examples include the European Court of Justice’s upholding of employers’ rights to ban religious clothing at the workplace and the contested ban on entry to the U.S. from six majority Muslim nations. A reinvigorated Christian right is stripping women in several American states of an established constitutional right to abortion. Israel’s constitutionally vague self ­definition of being both “Jewish” and “democratic” is at long last subject to (contentious) moves towards legal precision. The role of sharia – imagined and real – in non ­Muslim majoritarian societies is coming under heightened, and often polemicized, scrutiny.

Law, politics, and religion lie at the intersection of this global phenomenon that pits religious freedom against national identity, secularization and state security. This research cluster will bring together Northeastern colleagues and graduate students from these three perspectives to engage in informed interdisciplinary dialogue and intellectual exchange. Invited scholars– beginning with Professor Shawkat Toorawa (Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, Yale University) – will stimulate discussion by providing engaged and autobiographical perspectives.