A new year-long series will examine contemporary South Asian political issues by hosting seminars in Providence and the Boston area.
Co-sponsored by Brown, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the series will provide a forum in which faculty and students can engage with academics and public figures in discussions about issues affecting the region.
The first seminar, held Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Watson Institute for International Studies, featured a lecture by leading Indian political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
The series developed out of discussions among Brown's Watson Institute for International Studies, Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the MIT Center for International Studies. Each had recognized a need to expand discussion of South Asia, said Ashutosh Varshney, professor of political science and chair of the series' organizing committee.
"There were several seminars in this area on culture and history," Varshney said. "But many people in these institutions were interested in a serious discussion on politics, especially contemporary politics."
Within the realm of politics, the series will focus on security and conflict, democracy and political economy. Of the five events that have been announced for the semester, the first three examine Indian politics. The focus on India ties the series to Brown's "Year of India" initiative, which begins today with a film showing. The larger program will bring an assortment of figures from politics, business, civil society and the film industry to campus.
The fourth and fifth seminars will look at the rebuilding of Afghanistan, while a sixth topic remains to be announced. The events will rotate among the campuses of the participating universities to promote exchange among area academics, Varshney said.
"It contributes to a broadening of the intellectual conversation and therefore to the quality of the overall output," he said.
For speakers, the seminars will offer a testing ground for ideas intended for eventual publication.
"Feedback leads to a finessing of argument, an introduction of greater sophistication, an introduction of greater balance or sometimes changing an argument itself," Varshney said.
Additionally, Varshney said he expects the forums to allow undergraduate and graduate students access to faculty members from the partner universities. While some of the series' speakers may be academics, the organizing committee has envisioned its events as accessible to anyone, he said.
"Our desire is not to exclude anyone," Varshney said. He estimated that about 40 people attended the first event, and emphasized the presence of undergraduates, graduates and even the chief of police of nearby Lincoln.
Riyad Seervai '13 said he found the first seminar by Mehta both interesting and relevant.
"I thought that even though much of it would probably go over my head, I should come and experience the talk of a man whose articles my parents devour," Seervai said.
He added that he enjoyed the format of the seminar, saying that the presence of other professors increased the quality of the conversation.
"When you have people that are on the same intellectual level as you or on a higher intellectual level than you are, it keeps you more on your toes, and you have to be more vigilant," he said.
Minh Ly GS also cited the seminar's format as a main strength.
"You have people who are really well-read and thoughtful about the subject talking about it with one another," he said. "Having that very high-level discussion can oftentimes be very beneficial, including for the students."