Can Europe Make It?

Open Letter: the threat of academic authoritarianism – international solidarity with antiracist academics in France

A critical response to the Manifesto signed by over 100 French academics and published in the newspaper Le Monde on 2 November 2020, after the assassination of the school teacher, Samuel Paty.

Alana Lentin and co-signatories
5 November 2020, 10.08am
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a homage in front of Samuel Paty's coffin, inside Sorbonne University's courtyard, Paris, October 21, 2020.
Pool/PA. All rights reserved.

At a time of mounting racism, white supremacism, antisemitism and violent far-right extremism, academic freedom has come under attack. The freedom to teach and research the roots and trajectories of race and racism are being perversely blamed for the very phenomena they seek to better understand. Such is the contention of a manifesto signed by over 100 French academics and published in the newspaper Le Monde on 2 November 2020. Its signatories state their agreement with French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, that ‘indigenist, racialist, and “decolonial” ideologies,’ imported from North America, were responsible for ‘conditioning’ the violent extremist who assassinated school teacher, Samuel Paty, on 16 October 2020.

This claim is deeply disingenuous, and in a context where academics associated with critical race and decolonial research have recently received death threats, it is also profoundly dangerous. The scholars involved in this manifesto have readily sacrificed their credibility in order to further a manifestly false conflation between the study of racism in France and a politics of ‘Islamism’ and ‘anti-white hate’. They have launched it in a context where academic freedom in France is subject to open political interference, following a Senate amendment that redefines and limits it to being ‘exercised with respect for the values of the Republic’.

The manifesto proposes nothing short of a McCarthyist process to be led by the French Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation to weed out ‘Islamist currents’ within universities, to take a clear position on the ‘ideologies that underpin them', and to ‘engage universities in a struggle for secularism and the Republic’ by establishing a body responsible for dealing with cases that oppose ‘Republican principles and academic freedom’. The ‘Islamogauchiste’ tag (which conflates the words ‘Islam’ and ‘leftists’) is now widely used by members of the government, large sections of the media and hostile academics. It is reminiscent of the antisemitic ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ accusation in the 1930s which blamed the spread of communism on Jews. The ‘Islamogauchiste’ notion is particularly pernicious as it voluntarily confuses Islam (and Muslims) with Jihadist Islamists. In other words, academics who point out racism against the Muslim minority in France are branded allies of Islamist terrorists and enemies of the nation.

This is not the only contradiction that shapes this manifesto. Its signatories appear oblivious to how its feverish tone is redolent of the antisemitic witch-hunts against so-called ‘Cultural Marxists’ that portrayed Jewish intellectuals as enemies of the state. Today’s enemies are Muslims, political antiracists, and decolonial thinkers, as well as anyone who stands with them against rampant state racism and Islamophobia.

Further, when seen in a global context, the question of who is in fact ‘importing’ ideas from North America is worth considering. The manifesto comes on the back of the Trump administration’s executive order ‘on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping’ which effectively bans federal government contractors or subcontractors from engaging what are characterised as ideologies that portray the United States as ‘fundamentally racist or sexist’. Quick on Trump’s heels, the British Conservative Party moved to malign Critical Race Theory as a separatist ideology that, if taught in schools, would be ‘breaking the law’.

We are concerned about the clear double standards regarding academic freedom in the attack on critical race and decolonial scholarship mounted by the manifesto. In opposition to the actual tenets of academic freedom, the demands it makes portray any teaching and research into the history or sociology of French colonialism and institutionalised racism as an attack on academic freedom. In contrast, falsely and dangerously linking these scholarly endeavours to Islamic extremism and holding scholars responsible for brutal acts of murder, as do the signatories of the Manifesto, is presented as consistent with academic freedom.

This is part of a global trend in which racism is protected as freedom of speech, while to express antiracist views is regarded as a violation of it. For the signatories of the manifesto – as for Donald Trump – only sanitised accounts of national histories that omit the truth about colonialism, slavery, and genocide can be antiracist. In this perverse and ahistorical vision, to engage in critical research and teaching in the interests of learning from past injustices is to engage in ‘anti-white racism’, a view that reduces racism to the thoughts of individuals, disconnecting it from the actions, laws and policies of states and institutions in societies in which racial socioeconomic inequality remains rife.

In such an atmosphere, intellectual debate is made impossible, as any critical questioning of the role played by France in colonialism or in the current geopolitics of the Middle East or Africa, not to mention domestic state racism, is dismissed as a legitimation of Islamist violence and ‘separatism’. Under these terms, the role of political and economic elites in perpetuating racism both locally and on a global scale remains unquestioned, while those who suffer are teachers and activists attempting to improve conditions for ordinary people on the ground.

In the interests of a real freedom, of speech and of conscience, we stand with French educators under threat from this ideologically-driven attack by politicians, commentators and select academics. It is grounded in the whitewashing of the history of race and colonialism and an Islamophobic worldview that conflates all Muslims with violence and all their defenders with so-called ‘leftist Islamism’. True academic freedom must include the right to critique the national past in the interests of securing a common future. At a time of deep polarization, spurred by elites in thrall to white supremacism, defending this freedom is more vital than ever.


Associate Professor Alana Lentin, Western Sydney University

Associate Professor Gavan Titley, Maynooth University

Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University

Professor Michael Rothberg, 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies, UCLA

Professor David Scott, Ruth and William Lubic Professor, Chair, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University

Professor Gurminder Bhambra, University of Sussex

Professor Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Columbia University

Professor Laleh Khalili, Queen Mary University of London

Professor David Theo Goldberg, Director, University of California Humanities Research

Professor Emeritus Talal Asad, CUNY Graduate Center

Professor Anne Phoenix, University College London

Professor David Roediger, University of Kansas

Professor Lewis R. Gordon, University of Connecticut

Dilip M Menon, Mellon Chair in Indian Studies, Director Centre for Indian Studies in Africa

University of Witwatersrand

Professor Lisa Duggan, New York University

Professor Johnny E. Williams, Trinity College, Connecticut

Professor Ramón Grosfoguel, University of California Berkeley

Distinguished Emerita Professor, Genevieve Rail, Concordia University

Professor Claudia Breger, Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

Professor Karim Murji, University of West London

Professor Joan Scott, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University

Professor Gil Anidjar, Columbia University

Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Brown University

Professor David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Stanford University

Professor Ghassan Hage, University of Melbourne

Professor Jean Beaman, University of California, Santa Barbara

Professor Philippe Marlière, University College London

Professor Michael Cronin, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Andrew Ross, New York University

Professor Ann Whitney, Chair, Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Barnard College

Professor Priyamvada Gopal, University of Cambridge

Dr Adrián Groglopo, University of Gothenburg

Professor Ann L. Stoler, The New School for Social Research

Professor Umut Erel, The Open University

Dr Yiva Habel, Södertörn University

Associate Professor Ravinder Kaur, University of Copenhagen

Dr Zahra Bayati, University of Gothenburg

Dr Scott Burnett, University of Gothenburg

Associate Professor Aylwyn Walsh, University of Leeds

Professor Mahmood Mamdani, Columbia University

Distinguished Professor Sarah Schulman, City University of New York College of Staten Island

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff, New York University

Professor James Schamus, Columbia University

Professor Michael Harris, Columbia University

Professor Diana Mulinari, University of Lund

Professor Anders Neergaard, Director of REMESO, Linköping University

Dr Nicholas Smith, Södertörn University

Professor Sindre Bangstad, KIFO (Institute For Church, Religion And Worldview Research) Norway

Professor Stephen Sheehi, Sultan Qaboos Professor of Middle East Studies, William and Mary

Dr Jason Toynbee, Open University

Dr Max Ajl, Wageningen University

Dr Hamza Hamouchene, Transnational Institute

Associate Professor Hanna Wikström, University of Gothenburg

Dr Getahun Yacob Abraham, Karlstad University

Professor Emeritus John Holmwood, University of Nottingham

Professor Miriam Ticktin, The New School for Social Research

Professor Karen Seeley, Barnard College

Professor Brinkley Messick, Columbia University

Professor Richard Peña, Columbia University

Associate Professor, Barzoo Eliassi, Linnaeus University

Ben Ratskoff, UCLA

Associate Professor (retired) Ronit Lentin, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Aurelien Mondon, University of Bath

Dr Nicholas Guyatt, Reader in History, University of Cambridge

Dr Simon Dawes, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

Professor Emeritus, Jordi Marsal, University of Barcelona

Professor Francisco Marquès, Polytechnic University of Barcelona

Associate Professor Pamila Gupta, University of Witwatersrand

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Dr Jamila Mascat, Utrecht University

Professor Paola Bacchetta, University of California, Berkeley

Dr Stephen Ashe

Dr. Aileen Dillane, University of Limerick

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Dr Helen Young, Deakin University

Dr Bethan Harries, Newcastle University

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Dr Carolyn D'Cruz, Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University

Dr Naaz Rashid, University of Sussex

Martin Vander Elst, Laboratoire de l’Anthropologie Prospective (UCLOUVAIN)

Dr Ryan J. Al-Natour, Charles Sturt University

Daniel Frost, University of Reading and New Socialist

Professor David Jamar, University of Mons

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Dr Mark Bahnisch, Eidos Institute

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Dr Tom Cornford, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London

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Dr Adi Kuntsman, Reader in Digital Politics, Manchester Metropolitan University

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Dr James Trafford, University for the Creative Arts

David Jamar, professor, University of Mons

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Professor Sunny Singh, London Metropolitan University

Eric Boyd, Durham University

John Reynolds, Associate Professor, Maynooth University, Ireland

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Prof Colin Clark, University of the West of Scotland

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Julie Billaud, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute in Geneva

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Benjamin Bowsher, Newcastle University

Dr Katy Sian, University of York

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Dr Mustapha Sheikh, Associate Professor of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies, University of Leeds

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Dr Lucie Fremlova, Independent ethnicity, race, sexuality and gender researcher

Dr. Jennifer Fredette, Associate Professor, Ohio University

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PD Dr Arno Sonderegger, University of Vienna

Jasbinder S. Nijjar, Brunel University London

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Dr Maia Pal, Oxford Brookes University

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Dr Vanja Hamzić, Senior Lecturer in Legal History and Legal Anthropology, SOAS University of London

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Dr Syed Tahseen Raza, Assistant Professor, Deptt of Strategic and Security Studies, Faculty of International Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, India

Ethel Brooks, Chair, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Rutgers University

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David Kretz, Ph.D. student, University of Chicago

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Professor Magne Flemmen, University of Oslo

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Esra Akcan, Professor, Cornell University

Melissa Byrnes, Associate Professor of History, Southwestern University

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Dr Margreet van Es, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Utrecht University

Erik W Davis, Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Macalester College (USA)

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Manuela Latchoumaya, University of Manchester

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Professor Emeritus Robert Moore, University of Liverpool

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Dr Nil Mutluer, Humboldt University, Berlin

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Dr. Nikolay Karkov, Associate Professor, State University of New York at Cortland

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Emeritus Associate Professor Andrew Spiegel, University of Cape Town

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Professor, University of Pisa

Prof. Pietro Saitta, University of Messina, Italy

Dr. Ebru Özturk, Mid Sweden University

Dr Gertrude Eigelsreiter-Jashari, University Innsbruck

Francisco Silva Noelli, MsC, University of Lisbon

Dr. Judith Naeff, Leiden University

Dr Marina Calculli, Leiden University

Nadia Jones-Gailani, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies, CEU

Professor Berardino Palumbo, University of Messina (Italy)

Dr. Gerda Kuiper, University of Cologne

prof. dr. Leon Stefanija, University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Dpt. of Musicology

Dr Marlene Schafers, University of Cambridge

Assos. Prof Semra Somersan, Bilgi Univ. Retired

Dr Philipp Valentini, University of Fribourg

Dr Najate Zouggari, University of Lausanne

Dr. √áaƒüla Aykaé, University of Geneva

Clément Mouhot, Professor, University of Cambridge

Dr Francesco Saverio Leopardi, Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Koen Bogaert, Assistent Professor, Ghent University

Julien Talpin, CNRS

Dr Charlotte Morris, University of Portsmouth

Dr. Lambros Fatsis, University of Brighton

Dr Sahra Taylor, City, University of London

Nadeem Mahjoub, Arabic Teacher, the London School of Economics

Dr. Esra Mungan (Asst. Prof.), Bogazici University

Dr. Ceren Ozselcuk, Bogazici i University, Istanbul

Dr Hakan Altun, Goethe University

Oznur Sahin, Western Sydney University

Dr. Derya Keskin, Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity

Kathryn Medien, The Open University

Associate Professor Sener Akturk, Koc University, Istanbul

Nikolas Kosmatopoulos, Assistant Professor, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University

Professor Richard Hall, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Lee Towers, University of Brighton

Dr Pasi Ahonen, Essex Business School, University of Essex

Dr. Sarah Katz-Lavigne, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Antwerp

Dr Elizaveta Fouksman, University of Oxford

Dr Andrew Saxe, University of Oxford

Andrea Weiss, Istanbul Policy Center

Secil Dagtas, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo/IEA Nantes

Prof. Dr. Nüket Esen, Bogazici university, Istanbul

Dr Altay A. Manco, Institut de Recherche, Formation et Action sur les Migrations

Moe Suzuki (PhD Candidate), University of East Anglia

Dr Samuel Solomon, University of Sussex

Sean Wallis, Branch president, University College London UCU; Principal Research Fellow, UCL

Dr Donal Hassett, Department of French, University College Cork

Professor Manuela Boatca, University of Freiburg, Germany

Dr Nat Raha, University of St Andrews

Alex Lee, University of Brighton

Dr. Britta Ohm, University of Bern, Switzerland

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Dr Tom Sykes, University of Portsmouth

Dr Rachid Id Yassine, Gaston Berger University

Dr. Ana Ivasiuc, Center for Conflict Studies, Philipps University Marburg

Dr Irene Peano, University of Lisbon

Dr Fauzia Ahmad, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Kivanc Inelmen, Bogazici University

Prof. Will Tuladhar-Douglas, Numata Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Hamburg

David Thomas, Birkbeck College, University of London

Christos Hadjioannou, Postdoctoral Researcher in Philosophy, University of Cyprus

Anat Matar, Tel Aviv University

Neepa Majumdar, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Prof Iain Chambers, University of Naples, Orientale

Dr Ladan Rahbari, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Professor Victoria Goddard, Goldsmiths University of London

Dr Kristina Kolbe, University of Amsterdam

Dr. Malika Hamidi, EHESS /LASPAD

Dr Conor Morris, Independent

Julie Orlemanski, Associate Professor, University of Chicago

Zohra Mezgueldi Professor, University of Casablanca Morocco

Dr Patrick Neveling, University of Bergen

Sarah Werner Boada, PhD candidate, Central European University

Dr. Karsten Schubert, Political Science Department, University of Freiburg

Nadia Guessous, Assistant Professor of Feminist and Gender Studies, Colorado College

Professor Semih Bilgen, Istanbul Okan University

Zakia Salime, Associate Professor Rutgers university

Professor Faye Ginsburg, New York University

Tom Ellis, University of Portsmouth

Professor James Hinton, University of Warwick

Professor R Hinther, Brandon University

Professor Ray Bush, University of Leeds

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Dr. Niall Bond, University Lyon 2

Muriam Haleh Davis, Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz

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Professor Funda Basaran, Visiting scholar - Paris Dauphine University

Pietra Cepero Rua Perez, PhD candidate, Department of Geography, Durham University

Zoe Lawlor, University of Limerick, Ireland

Professor Vida Samiian, Visiting Researcher, Linguistics, UCLA

Milena Doytcheva, Université de Lille

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Simten Cosar, Prof., (Visiting Researcher) University of Pittsburgh

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Professor Warren Montag, Occidental College

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Dr Ann Miller, University of Leicester

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Professor Paul Goodwin, TrAIN Research Centre, University of the Arts London

Dr Rogers Orock, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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Ioanna Manoussaki-Adamopoulou, PhD candidate, Anthropology

Dr Fidel Meraz, University of the West of England

Mrinalini Sinha, Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History, University of Michigan

Dr. Paul Mepschen, University College Utrecht

Francesca De Luca, ICS- Lisboa

Prof Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro

Associate Professor Kris Manjapra, Chair of the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora at Tufts University

Professor Neven Jovanović, University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Ayse Gozen, Prof. Dr., Ondokuz Mayıs University (retired)

Prof. James Dickins, University of Leeds

Dr Agnes Kory (PhD, Musicology), independent researcher

Professor Tony Chafer, University of Portsmouth (UK)

Dr. Wepfer, University of Exeter

Professor Peter Schottler, Freie Universitat Berlin

Ezgi Guner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Professor Jo√£o Camillo Penna, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

Dr Rita Laura Segato, Professora Emérita, Universidade de Brasilia

Dr Theresa O’Keefe, University College Cork

Mohamad Amer Meziane, Columbia University

Erika Gubrium, Professor, Oslo Metropolitan University

Professor Arturo Escobar, Chapel Hill University

Alexanrdra Androussou, Associate Professor, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

Dr Lotika Singha, University of Wolverhampton, UK

Liza Schuster, City, University of London

Professor Sean Chabot, Eastern Washington University

Leonel Plazas Mendieta, Filosofo y Escritor.

Bruna Alvarez, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

Prof. Dr. Robin Celikates, Freie Universitat Berlin


Eileen Jahn, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS)

Dr Musab Youni, Queen Mary University of London

Mark LeVine, Prof. of History, UC Irvine

Professor Marc Maesschalck, University of Louvain (center for philosophy of law)

Professor Athena Athanasiou, Panteion University, Greece

Semih Beycimen, Cranfield University

Nurcin Ileri, PHD, Humboldt University, Re:work Center

Profesor Sergio Galiana, Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento / Universidad de Buenos Aires / Universidad Nacional de Quilmes. Argentina

Nancy Gallagher, Professor Emerita, University of California, Santa Barbara

Professor Fatima El-Tayeb, University of California, San Diego

Professor (Emerita) Lyn Thomas, Sussex University

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein, Professor of Education and Urban Studies; Host on KPFA RM Radio

Dr Jill Reese, University College London

Zeynep Korkman Assistant professor, UCLA

Professor Sarah Maza, Northwestern University

Mr Daniel McKinnon, University of Queensland

Professor Alistair Welchman, University of Texas at San Antonio

Kumru Toktamis, Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Dr Maria Giannacopoulos, Flinders University

Dian Ekowati, University of Brighton

Hagen Steinhauer, Bremen University

Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, UCLA School of Law

Dr. Margareta von Oswald, Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Paris

Dr Annika Lindberg, University of Copenhagen

Dr Jonas Tinius, Anthropologist, Saarland University/Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Professor Nicki Hitchcott, University of St Andrews

Dr Jo Wilding, University of Brighton

Dr. Catherine Windey, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Antwerp

Dr Carl Bonner-Thompson, University of Brighton

Howard Rechavia-Taylor, PhD Candidate, Columbia University

Benjamin Thomas, PhD Candidate, The University of Southampton, UK

Jéromie Voirol, Graduate Institute Geneva/University of Manchester

Dr Ruth Bush, University of Bristol

Francesca Kilpatrick, Doctoral Candidate, University of Brighton

Sebastian Eduardo, M.A., Leuphana Universitat, Luneburg

Dr Akanksha Mehta, Goldsmiths, University of London

Mx Zhenia Vasiliev, Goldsmiths, University of London

Don Kalb, University of Bergen

Professor Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr Gholam Khiabany, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Joanna Zylinska, Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr Marta Araujo, Centre for Social Studies - Univ. Coimbra

Daniela Jorge Ayoub, PhD candidate, University of Coimbra

Caleb Day, PhD researcher, Durham University

Professor Angela Phillips, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Megan Povey, University of Leeds


Catherine Polishchuk, MA, University of Vienna

Eftihia Voutira, Professor, Department of Balkan Slavic and Oriental Studies

Dr. Çiçek Ilengiz, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

Professor Gary Hall, Coventry University

Marie Tuley, University of Sussex

Dr. Emily Selove, Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter

Amber Murrey, University of Oxford & Mansfield College

Dr Clemence Scalbert Yucel, University of Exeter

Professor William Gallois, University of Exeter

Dr James Burton, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Dorothee Kimmich, Universitaet Tuebingen

Professor Russell West-Pavlov, University of Tuebingen

Senior Lecturer in Film and Cultural studies, IADT Dun Laoghaire Dublin

Professor Elaine Hadley, University of Chicago

Roberto Mozzachiodi, Associate Lecturer, Goldsmiths College

Mona El-Sherif, William and Mary

Professor John Chalcraft, LSE

Aalt Smienk, Teacher Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Amit Prakash - Visiting Assistant Professor of Global Studies, Middlebury College

Prof. James Dickins, University of Leeds

Anaïs Brémond

Abe Hayeem, RIBA, Chair, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine

Professor Emerita Efi Avdela, University of Crete

Dr Andy Stafford, University of Leeds

Professor Charles Forsdick, University of Liverpool

Professor Lisa Rofel, University of California, Santa Cruz

Dr Joseph Ford, Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London

Marek Szilvasi, PhD., independent scholar

Christopher Bertram, Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), University of Bristol

Dr Srilata Sircar, King's College London

Stephen, Associate Professor of History, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)

Professor S. Sayyid, University of Leeds

Professor Anandi Ramamurthy, Sheffield Hallam University

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