Rice U. launches Center for African and African American Studies

Rice University has announced the creation of a robust new center in response to increasing interest and expertise in African and African American Studies on campus.


The Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) will be introduced Oct. 16 with a reception in the Humanities courtyard from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
The Center for African and American Studies (CAAAS) was launched this week, jointly housed within the Schools of Humanities and Social Sciences. The center is designed to provide a unique hub for conversations on such important topics as critical approaches to race and racism, the nature of diasporic histories and identities, and the complexity of Africa’s past, present and future.

Anthony Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religion, will serve as its founding director.

CAAAS will draw on the work of a dozen current faculty, with plans to hire more in the coming years, making it an “important intellectual home for some of Rice’s most outstanding researchers, a number of its most committed university citizens and a range of dedicated teachers,” said Kathleen Canning, dean of Humanities.

Creating such a hub is crucial to such a multifaceted discipline as African and African American Studies, said Susan McIntosh, interim dean of Social Sciences.

“Our understandings about the complexity and richness of African and African American experiences draw not only on history, religion, literature and the arts but also on the social institutions, politics and culturally mediated perceptions that shape peoples’ lived experiences,” she said.


Anthony Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religion, will serve as the founding director of CAAAS. (Photo by Tommy LaVergne)

Anthony Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religion, will serve as the founding director of CAAAS. (Photo by Tommy LaVergne)

In its first year, CAAAS will focus on expanding the current African Studies minor into a minor in African and African American Studies with two possible tracks and courses across the departments of Anthropology, English, History, Religion, Sociology and Political Science. Pinn and his team are also developing an introductory course that will anchor the new minor.

“Within this one course, students will get a sense of how these two longstanding intellectual enterprises developed, the kinds of questions they ask, the kinds of methods they make use of and the kinds of theories that ground them,” Pinn said.

Pinn is enthusiastic about the unique opportunities afforded by Rice’s small size and Houston’s vast sprawl. The unconventional nature of Rice, he said, will allow CAAAS to tackle African and African American studies in its own interdisciplinary tradition.

“And if you take into consideration where we are, this city is cosmopolitan and diverse like no other,” he said. “There is a wealth of knowledge in Houston that ought to contribute to a Rice education. Houston has a lot to teach us and the center will be one of those ways in which we’ll open up the lines of communication.”

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