Second Interseminars Project and Faculty Conveners Announced

New Interseminars Project Invites Scholars to “Improvise and Intervene”

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - October 19, 2022

The Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is pleased to launch the second Interseminars Initiative project, which will be led by three faculty conveners: Maryam Kashani (Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies), Junaid Rana (Asian American Studies), and R. Elizabeth Velásquez Estrada (Latina/Latino Studies).

Funded by a $2,000,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, the Interseminars Initiative funds three such projects over three successive years, each selected through a competitive application process. The first cohort—“Imagining Otherwise: Speculation in the Americas”—is currently in progress and will present a culminating event in fall 2023.

The newly selected project, titled “Improvise and Intervene, challenges scholars to reimagine how scholarly theory and methods are taught and practiced, expanding the possibilities for innovation in interdisciplinary, collaborative research design. The faculty conveners write, "From anti-colonial intellectuals Aime and Suzanne Cesaire’s surrealist games to Ruthie Gilmore’s reminder that 'abolition is life in rehearsal… not a repetition of rules,' we learn that play and experiment are specific strategies towards imagining and practicing liberation."

In this project, faculty and students will explore texts and creative works that grapple with pressing social issues and the multiple methods used in conducting and presenting research. They will also will study different genealogies of improvisation and intervention through reading, listening, and watching, while engaging in weekly improvisatory exercises and responses drawn from surrealism, documentary and neorealism, speculative fiction, theater, music, and other sources.

Traditionally, scholars working in the same area or theme may enter into debates and arguments with one another with little or no experience of working together. Taking inspiration from text-based scholarship and artistic examples of collectivity and collaboration in critical ethnic studies, indigenous critique, the Black radical tradition, liberation theology, Third World feminism, and queer of color critique, “Improvise and Intervene” explores improvisation as theory and method towards developing innovative approaches to interdisciplinary and collaborative research design. This Interseminars project invites students to consider: What changes in theory and method if scholars are tasked with examining a single problem together? Imagine a historian, a dancer, an ethnographer, a computer scientist, and architect working together on an issue. What would their expertise and training bring to the experience of collaboration?


Interseminars represents the latest thinking on how best to practice a genuinely collaborative and equitable commitment to graduate training in the public research university of the 21st century. Through the initiative, faculty and graduate students collaborate in the design of cross-departmental and cross-college courses, with funding for key aspects of that work: co-curricular programming, shared research experiences and fellowship support for students, particularly those historically underrepresented in higher education.

Up to eight graduate students will be selected to participate in the second cohort’s two summer intensives, interdisciplinary methods seminar and themed seminar course, and to engage in collaborative research with the faculty co-leaders. Each project spans an 18-month period, culminating in a community event.

The graduate fellowship call for applications is posted. Submissions are due by November 18, 2022.

For More Information

Interseminars Initiative web page

Contact: Erin Ciciora, Senior Communications Manager

Maryam Kashani

About the Faculty

Maryam Kashani is a filmmaker and assistant professor in Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is an affiliate with Anthropology, Media and Cinema Studies, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory. Her forthcoming book Medina by the Bay: the Ethics of Knowledge and Survival (Duke University Press, 2023) is based on ethnographic research and filmmaking conducted with Muslim communities in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Her films and video installations have been shown at film festivals, universities, and museums internationally and include things lovely and dangerous still (2003), Best in the West (2006), las callecitas y la cañada (2009), and Signs of Remarkable History (2016); she is currently working on two film duets with composer/musician Wadada Leo Smith that examine the ongoing relationships between the struggles for Black freedom, creative music, and spirituality. Kashani is also in the leadership collective of Believers Bail Out, a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial and immigration incarceration towards abolition.

Junaid Rana

Junaid Rana is associate professor and head of the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He has appointments in the Department of Anthropology, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory. He is the author of the book Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora (Duke, 2011), winner of the 2013 Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in the Social Sciences. From 2011–2014, he was a working group member of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, and served as a co-coordinator for 3 of those years. Currently, he is associate editor of the journal Transforming Anthropology. With Aisha Beliso De Jesus and Jemima Pierre, he is completing two projects: an edited volume titled the Anthropology of White Supremacy, and a collaboratively written book-length monograph.

Eli Velasquez Estrada

R. Elizabeth Velásquez Estrada is an assistant professor of Latina/Latino Studies with appointments in Anthropology, Women & Gender in Global Perspective and Center for Latin America & Caribbean Studies. Her research and teaching interests include violence and grassroots peacemaking, intersectional justice and inequalities, transnational feminism and activist research, racialization and gender relations in Central America. Her book in progress, tentatively titled, Intersectional Justice Denied: Masculinity, Negative Peace, and Persisting Violence in Post-Peace Accords El Salvador, is an ethnography on the central paradox of Salvadoran male gang members who represent themselves simultaneously as purveyors of violence and peacemakers. As a member of an activist feminist scholars collective, Velásquez Estrada is co-editing a volume on Fugitive Anthropology, which centers embodiment as an analytic for the experiences of racialized women, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming anti-colonial researchers in the field. She is also a practitioner of Playback Theater with the Pasajeros (Passengers) troupe.