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Scholarship and Freedom

Scholarship and Freedom

Geoffrey Galt Harpham

ISBN 9780674245013

Publication date: 09/08/2020

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A powerful and original argument that the practice of scholarship is grounded in the concept of radical freedom, beginning with the freedoms of inquiry, thought, and expression.

Why are scholars and scholarship invariably distrusted and attacked by authoritarian regimes? Geoffrey Galt Harpham argues that at its core, scholarship is informed by an emancipatory agenda based on a permanent openness to the new, an unlimited responsiveness to evidence, and a commitment to conversion. At the same time, however, scholarship involves its own forms of authority. As a worldly practice, it is a struggle for dominance without end as scholars try to disprove the claims of others, establish new versions of the truth, and seek disciples.

Scholarship and Freedom threads its general arguments through examinations of the careers of three scholars: W. E. B. Du Bois, who serves as an example of scholarly character formation; South African Bernard Lategan, whose New Testament studies became entangled on both sides of his country’s battles over apartheid; and Linda Nochlin, whose essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” virtually created the field of feminist art history.


  • Geoffrey Harpham outflanks those who believe that scholarship must resist political engagement and those who believe that politics cannot be avoided by scholars who live and work in the real world. Harpham argues persuasively that the scholar’s devotion to truth is itself a potent political act because it has the power to ‘clear the ground for a better set of arrangements based on truth.’ In short, the purer scholarship is, the more politically useful it will be. A bold and welcome thesis.

    —Stanley Fish, author of The First: How to Think about Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump


  • Geoffrey Galt Harpham is Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. He was President and Director of the National Humanities Center from 2003 to 2015 and is author of The Humanities and the Dream of America and What Do You Think, Mr. Ramirez? The American Revolution in Education.

Book Details

  • 208 pages
  • Harvard University Press