Friday, March 1, 2:00 – 6:30pm
Benson Earth Sciences 380

Over the centuries, the notion of Western Civilization (or its equivalents) has been used, both within and outside of what is commonly considered the West, as a powerful signifier. This signifier has served vastly different purposes by different agents. It has served to legitimate the state repression that was carried out in Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s in the name of saving Western Christian Civilization from “godless communism”. But it has also served to justify the creation of stable and prosperous democracies in Asia and elsewhere. It has provided a legitimating narrative for colonial enterprises and/or exploitative economic arrangements throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia. However, the same notion(s) of Western Civilization has also served as a powerful narrative to oppose said colonial arrangements, to oppose religious fundamentalism in the Middle East or even to give credence to the fight for women’s rights (witnessed by the contemporary appropriation of the #metoo movement in the global arena, or how the idea of “not being left behind” vis-à-vis the West has recently shaped the debate on the legalization of abortion in Argentina and elsewhere).

Western Civilization is also a lived experience upon which identities are constructed: it is an object of desire (or rejection) and it is a source of pleasure or anxiety. The doubt about who “really” belongs to the west (and, conversely, how to “perform the West” by those who want to belong to the West) are drivers of behaviors trivial and momentous, from dietary options to voting patterns.  

Of course, the desires and anxieties surrounding Western Civilization aren’t exclusive to the so called periphery.  We can see that in the United States as well. The right (and the far right in particular) considers the Western project under assault due to recent demographic and immigration patterns, cultural trends, and government policies. Interestingly enough, the left also feels that it is under assault, but by different forces: the emergence of authoritarian leaders throughout the world and the increasing success of ethnonationalist parties in the West’s core. These are clearly vastly different explanations of the root causes on the perceived crisis of Western Civilization.  Yet they underscore the degree to which both groups’ conception of the West diverge in important ways. 

It is precisely this diversity of conceptions and experiences that we would like to discuss in the colloquium that we are organizing. We envision a colloquium that would bring together scholars from CU who work on geocultural areas outside the “core” of the West  (such as Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Eastern Asia and Africa) in order to share with their colleagues and the public at large their perspectives on how the notion of the West (and its synonyms and modifiers) is currently or has been used and “lived” in said geocultural areas. 

This will be a hybrid event, organized around conversation panels: there will be brief participant presentations (5 minutes) followed by discussion between the participants themselves and the public. The participants’ contribution does not have to be directly related to his or her current research, since we conceive of this colloquium as a scholarly-informed, yet informal event. Each participant can present on a specific case, or comment on the general topic, as it applies to his or her area of expertise. 



Panel I: 2pm to 3:20pm

• Andrés Prieto (Spanish and Portuguese), Imperial Spain and the Birth of the Idea of the West

• Timothy Weston (History), 20th Century China and the West as Signifier

• Peter Elmore (Spanish and Portuguese), The Idea of Latin America 1860s-1970s

• Brian Quinn, (French and Italian), France, Francophone Africa and the “Civilizing Mission”

Break: 3:20pm to 3:30pm

Panel 2: 3:30pm to 4:50pm

• Adela Pineda (Boston University), Emiliano Zapata and the Republican Ideal

• Marcia Yonemoto (History), Japan, late 19th-early 20th century: the West and the Birth of the Imperial Project

• Robert Buffington (Women and Gender Studies), Proletarians and High Culture in Turn of the Century Mexico

• David Shneer (Religious Studies/Jewish Studies/History), Soviet and post-Soviet Jews and the yearning for “the West”

Break: 4:50pm to 5pm

Panel 3: 5pm to 6:20pm

• Micheline Ishay (Josef Korbel School of International Studies, DU), Arab Uprisings, Human Rights and the Future of the Middle East

• Juan Pablo Dabove (Spanish and Portuguese), US Identity Politics and/in Latin America

• Ajume Wingo (Philosophy), Cameroonian Identity and Philosophy in the Western Academy

• Patricia Limerick (History, CAW), Dilemmas of Conventional Thinking about Western Civilization


Robert Buffington
Juan Pablo Dabove
Peter Elmore
Patricia Limerick
Andrés Prieto
David Shneer
Brian Valente-Quinn
Timothy Weston
Ajume Wingo
Marcia Yonemoto

With special guests:

Micheline Ishay (University of Denver)
Adela Pineda (Boston University)

For more information, email the organizers:

Juan Pablo Dabove 
Robert Pasnau 


The Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy funds research and educational initiatives that contribute to critical reflection on the development of Western civilization. All CU Boulder faculty and students are eligible to apply. If you are interested in applying for a CWCTP faculty grant, deadlines are rolling throughout the year.