Alexa Jablonski '22

Smolkin Discusses Her New Book on the History of Soviet Atheism at Brother’s Accompanying Art Exhibit

Artist Vlad Smolkin; gallery curator Linda Pinn; Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin; book talk organizer Ellen Nodelman, and congregation member George Amarant gather at the Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn., where siblings Vlad and Victoria shared their recent work. (Photo by Deborah Rutty)

On Nov. 11, Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history and Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies, joined forces with her brother, artist Vlad Smolkin, to share their work with the public at a new and revamped Main Street Gallery Art Opening/Books & Bagels Talk at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn.

Smolkin is the author of a new book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, published by Princeton University Press in 2018. A scholar of Communism, the Cold War, and atheism and religion in Russia and the former Soviet Union, Smolkin’s expertise also covers religious politics and secularism and the Soviet space program.

In A Sacred Space Is Never Empty, Smolkin explores the meaning of atheism for religious life, for Communist ideology, and for Soviet politics. When the Bolsheviks set out to build a new world in the wake of the Russian Revolution, they expected religion to die off. Soviet power used a variety of tools—from education to propaganda to terror—to turn its vision of a Communist world without religion into reality. Yet even with its monopoly on ideology and power, the Soviet Communist Party never succeeded in creating an atheist society.

The book presents the first history of Soviet atheism from the 1917 revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews with those who were on the front lines of Communist ideological campaigns, Smolkin argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. Smolkin shows how atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology with its own set of positive beliefs, practices, and spiritual commitments. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev—in a stunning and unexpected reversal—abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

Victoria Smolkin discusses her new book at the art exhibition.

Victoria Smolkin discusses her new book at the art exhibition.

During the event, Victoria discussed her new book while Vlad debuted his art exhibition, Light Beams. The Smolkins were born in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States and at a young age; through their experiences, each sibling found a distinct way to explore, highlight, and celebrate their heritage.

Like Victoria’s book, Vlad’s art also showcases the themes of religion and outer space. His exhibition envisions how Judaism might exist on other planets. In his work, he looks at how the Western Wall might be transferred to Mars, and how the cultivation of flowers on Mars might be the last vestige of Jewish humanity.

Light Beams by Vlad Smolkin can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday during December and the first three weeks of January 2019.

Vlad Smolkin, titled "Transfer of the Western Wall," 2018

“Transfer of the Western Wall” (2018) by Vlad Smolkin.

 

Shapiro Featured in Poetry Magazine Better Than Starbucks!

Norman Shapiro, professor of french.

Norman Shapiro

Four poems, translated by Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation and Poet in Residence Norman Shapiro, appear in the November 2018 Vol. III edition of the international esoteric journal, Better Than Starbucks!. This poetry magazine is edited by American poet and translator Michael Burch.

The poem below, titled “You …” is translated from the French of Cécile Périn and appeared in The Gentle Genius of Cécile Périn. (Copyright © 2016 by Norman Shapiro and Black Widow Press.)

You …

When you were but the merest tot,
Babbling in cowering awkwardness,
When you were only fresh-begot,
Flesh of my flesh, I loved you less …
What are you now? I scarce know what.

You are Yourself, not part of me:
So little mine, the soul within,
I cannot pierce your mystery!
Be beautiful, be good! Yes, be
Everything I could not have been.

I placed my desperate hopes upon
Your childhood … Light of heart, as then,
Joys will be born anew, anon,
As when you gave them birth. Though gone
Life holds them fast, to come again …

You are this, you are that … Ah yes …
You are our fruit of twofold race,
Who, with each step, bear off, caress
Against your breast, a bit of space.
You are this, you are that … Ah yes …

―Yet you are You, no more, no less.

View all of Shapiro’s poems published in Better than Starbucks here.

Shapiro also is a member of the Academy of American Poets, and Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la République Française.

Kauanui Presents Paper at Decolonizing Anarchisms Conference

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, professor and chair of American studies, recently presented her research at a conference in Loughborough University on Decolonizing Anarchisms. The gathering was the fifth annual conference of the UK Anarchist Studies Network.

The purpose of the conference was “to stimulate discussion of colonialism and racism as forms of oppression that anarchists oppose, but which continue to be felt in anarchist organizing; and to welcome individuals, groups and communities who have not previously participated in ASN events. By recognizing the legacy of non-western and anti-colonial thought and action in the anarchist tradition, we want to strengthen the ties between contemporary anarchists and decolonial theory and practice in the struggle against oppression, and to use the recognition of racist and Eurocentric practices and mind-frames to open up the event to marginalized groups.”

Kauanui’s paper, “Anarchist and the Politics of Indigeneity and Sovereignty in Settler Colonial Context,” distinguished a diversity of anarchist practices to clarify common misunderstandings about indigenous nationalism often held by nonindigenous people in order to offer some initial thoughts on bringing together an indigenous sovereignty politic in relation to anarchist philosophy and activism.

Graduate Students, Faculty Attend Yeast Genetics Meeting

From the left is Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe, both graduate students in the Molecular biology and Biochemistry program.

Graduate students Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe presented their poster at the GSA meeting.

Two Wesleyan graduate students and two faculty members presented posters at the GSA Yeast Genetics and Molecular Biology Meeting held at Stanford University on Aug. 22–26. This meeting, which is held once every two years, is organized by the Genetics Society of America (GSA). The meeting brings together hundreds of scientists making groundbreaking discoveries in the field of genetics and gene regulation using the innovative power of yeast genetics.

Both students received a travel grant through Wesleyan’s Melnick Fund to support travel to the conference.

Lorencia Chigweshe presented a poster titled “Interactions between histone variant H2A.Z and linker histone H1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae meiosis,” while Anna Rogers presented “The histone variant H2A.Z promotes chromosome condensation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.” Both students are mentored by Scott Holmes, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, whose lab investigates how the processes of chromosome segregation and gene expression are regulated in eukaryotes.

“We had the opportunity to engage with experts in the field of yeast genetics and learn from them and get insight on our own work,” Chigweshe said. “The conference was a great opportunity to appreciate yeast as a powerful tool for understanding genetics in addition to its industrial application in beer and bread-making.”

Amy MacQueen, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, associate editor for Genetics, cochaired a workshop on scientific publishing and also presented a poster titled “Synapsis and recombination unite at the Zip1’s N-terminal tip” while Mike McAlear, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, presented “Adjacent gene co-regulation (AGC) as a strategy for transcriptional control and coupling.” McAlear is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and Holmes is also professor, integrative sciences.

O’Connell in The Conversation: What Scientists Have Found by Drilling into the Ocean Floor

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne O’Connell

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair. In a new article,Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, writes about the important findings that have resulted from 50 years of scientific drilling on the ocean floor—and how much is still unknown.

Scientists have been drilling into the ocean floor for 50 years – here’s what they’ve found so far

It’s stunning but true that we know more about the surface of the moon than about the Earth’s ocean floor. Much of what we do know has come from scientific ocean drilling – the systematic collection of core samples from the deep seabed. This revolutionary process began 50 years ago, when the drilling vessel Glomar Challenger sailed into the Gulf of Mexico on August 11, 1968 on the first expedition of the federally funded Deep Sea Drilling Project.

I went on my first scientific ocean drilling expedition in 1980, and since then have participated in six more expeditions to locations including the far North Atlantic and Antaractica’s Weddell Sea. In my lab, my students and I work with core samples from these expeditions. Each of these cores, which are cylinders 31 feet long and 3 inches wide, is like a book whose information is waiting to be translated into words. Holding a newly opened core, filled with rocks and sediment from the Earth’s ocean floor, is like opening a rare treasure chest that records the passage of time in Earth’s history.