Annual Arts and Humanities Prokhorov Lectures

Potsdamer PlatzOur Prokhorov Centre hosts two lectures by world-leading academics and public intellectuals each year.

Founded in 2014, the Prokhorov Centre promotes interdisciplinary study of central and eastern European intellectual and cultural history. It is based in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Sheffield.

Past speakers have included Terry Eagleton (Oxford), Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford), Martin Jay (Berkeley), Marjorie Levinson (Michigan) and TJ Reed (Oxford).

The public lectures are open to academics, students and the general public and are supplemented by lectures by Sheffield staff as well as a range of student-centred activities – such as exhibitions, workshops and panel debates – facilitated by the Students' Union and the student societies in our arts and humanities departments.

Lectures on the Prokhorov Centre website

Prokhorov Lecture themes 2016-2019

Capitalist markets and their ethics

Globe and economyCapitalist markets have emerged as the key mechanism to allocate resources in modern societies. Yet, as critical observers have argued for a long time, the unfettered functioning of markets has disruptive and potentially corrosive effects on various dimensions of culture, society and community.

In the increasingly challenging context of contemporary global capitalism, these side-effects have triggered intensive political and philosophical debates.

Is it possible to steer or restrain behaviour on markets through ethical guidelines? What criteria and narratives are embedded in cultures past and present that delineate amoral or deviant market-behaviour? Do non-capitalist economies offer more ethically responsible ways of allocating resources, and what would be the opportunities and dangers of going down such an alternative path? Can the fictional worlds of literature and the arts help us develop new economic visions?

We will be inviting key international figures from the arts and humanities to examine, with our audience, the ethical ramifications of the global market economy, with a view to addressing the major challenges it poses and exploring possible transformations of and alternatives to our current economic order.

Thinking about the future

Futuristic city at sunsetOur sense of ourselves as ‘modern’ is central to how we view the world and our place in it, setting our lives apart from what has gone before, and giving us a distinct place in human history. This idea of modernity assumes that humans are autonomous – that we can shape ourselves and our destinies – and that society too can be consciously shaped.

As a result, modelling and predicting the future has become central to any attempt to shape our lives politically, economically, socially and ecologically.

But what are the ramifications of this way of thinking? How does our orientation towards the future work back on the way we perceive the present? How are our visions of the future connected with our view of history as – for instance – a process leading to defined end, or cyclical, or open-ended process? What role do the utopian and dystopian views of literature and the arts play in a society’s 'production' of its future? What can philosophy tell us about the conceptual issues that are at stake?

We will be approaching leading intellectuals to reflect on these questions in the light of a present in which the world faces both serious political and social upheavals and major environmental challenges.

The politics of faith in a multicultural context

Sketch pad, handsContemporary societies in all parts of the world are increasingly multi-confessional, and religious groups everywhere also engage with secular groups in debates over faith, ethics and the public display of religious belief. These debates engender both apologetic, defensive behaviour and antagonistic, aggressive actions – actions which create deep fault-lines in national and international communities and pose a challenge to values such as free speech and the existence of secular spaces.

Scholars from religious studies, philosophy, languages and history will analyse the historical contours and current dynamics of these clashes and explore the complex ways in which the politics of faith finds expression, and is reflected on, in literature, art and intellectual thought. In doing so, they aim to render visible the various ideological bases for conflict and barriers to peaceful cooperation, but also to identify the bridges that have been built, and could be built, towards greater mutual understanding and respect.