April 2021

This month, CSSH is delighted to celebrate the achievements of our editors, Geneviève Zubrzycki and Paul Christopher Johnson!

Zubrzycki (“Nationalism, “Philosemitism,” and Symbolic Boundary-Making in Contemporary Poland” (CSSH 58-1, 2016)) has recently been awarded a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship for her important work on nationalism and the Jewish revival in Poland. Congratulations, Geneviève! The Guggenheim Memorial Foundation writes,

Geneviève Zubrzycki is Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, where she is also affiliated with the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. A comparative-historical and cultural sociologist, her research focuses on nationalism and religion, collective memory and national mythology, and the contested place of religious symbols in the public sphere. Zubrzycki is the author of the award-winning books The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland (Chicago 2006) and Beheading the Saint: Nationalism, Religion and Secularism in Quebec (Chicago 2016), and the editor of National Matters: Materiality, Culture, and Nationalism (Stanford 2017). She will devote her fellowship year to completing a new book on the on-going revival of Jewish communities in Poland and non-Jewish Poles’ interest in all things Jewish, tentatively entitled Nationalism, Philosemitism and Poland’s Jewish Revival. 

We also congratulate Johnson (“An Atlantic Genealogy of “Spirit Possession” (CSSH 53-2, 2011)) on the publication of his Latin American Studies Association “Best Book in the Humanities” award-winning new manuscript, Automatic Religion: Near Human Agents of Brazil and France (Chicago University Press, 2021). The publisher had the following to say about this exciting work:

What distinguishes humans from nonhumans? Two common answers—free will and religion—are in some ways fundamentally opposed. Whereas free will enjoys a central place in our ideas of spontaneity, authorship, and deliberation, religious practices seem to involve a suspension of or relief from the exercise of our will. What, then, is agency, and why has it occupied such a central place in theories of the human?

Automatic Religion explores an unlikely series of episodes from the end of the nineteenth century, when crucial ideas related to automatism and, in a different realm, the study of religion were both being born. Paul Christopher Johnson draws on years of archival and ethnographic research in Brazil and France to explore the crucial boundaries being drawn at the time between humans, “nearhumans,” and automata. As agency came to take on a more central place in the philosophical, moral, and legal traditions of the West, certain classes of people were excluded as less-than-human. Tracking the circulation of ideas across the Atlantic, Johnson tests those boundaries, revealing how they were constructed on largely gendered and racial foundations. In the process, he reanimates one of the most mysterious and yet foundational questions in trans-Atlantic thought: what is agency?