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University of Southern California

USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study

A way of thinking, which clearly increases the efficiency with which you go about problem solving. ”—Sidney Harman

Spring 2013 / The Polymathic Panel Series
The Shoah—Can It Be Studied? And If So, How?


Thursday, April 4 2013
Reception 4:30; Discussion 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm


Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, DML 241


Open to all


Is the Shoah a black hole at the center of the human universe, so evil that it cannot be understood?  Or if it is necessary to confront this evil, how can we interpret that which defies comprehension? With Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media, and Society Marty Kaplan acting as moderator, a panel of Holocaust scholars – Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation; Wolf Gruner, Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies; and Varun Soni, dean of Religious Life at USC – explore the role of Holocaust studies in the modern university.

Martin  Kaplan

Martin Kaplan

Martin Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at USC Annenberg.  His uncommonly broad and polymathic career has also spanned government and politics, the entertainment industry and journalism.  Dr. Kaplan was associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for 10 years and is the founding director of the School’s Norman Lear Center, whose mission is to study and shape the impact of media and entertainment on society.  His Lear Center research includes the political coverage on U.S. local TV news broadcasts; the effects on audiences of public health messages in entertainment storylines; the impact of new technology and intellectual property law on the creative industries; best practices in and barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration; and the depiction of law and justice in popular culture.

Stephen D. Smith

Stephen D. Smith

Dr. Stephen D. Smith is Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. Dr. Smith founded the UK Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, England and cofounded the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. Dr. Smith is a theologian by training with a particular interest in the impact of the Holocaust on religious and philosophical thought and practice. He wrote his dissertation on the “Trajectory of Memory,” examining how Holocaust survivor narrative — and in particular, visual history — has developed over time and shapes the way in which the implications of the Holocaust are understood. Dr. Smith is committed to making the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust and of other crimes against humanity a compelling voice for education and action. His leadership at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute is focused on finding strategies to optimize the effectiveness of the testimonies for education, research, and advocacy purposes.

Wolf Gruner

Wolf Gruner

Wolf Gruner holds the Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and is professor of history at USC.  Professor Gruner is also the inaugural Senior Fellow at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.  Before coming to USC, Professor Gruner served as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Centre for European Studies. He was also the Pearl Resnik Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Centre for Advanced Holocaust Studies.  Professor Gruner’s current research focuses on the history of the holocaust, comparative history of mass violence and genocides, and racial and state discrimination against indigenous populations, especially in Latin America.

Varun Soni

Varun Soni

Varun Soni, dean of Religious Life, has truly led a polymathic life, earning degrees from Harvard Divinity School, a J.D. from UCLA School of Law, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Cape Town. His research has taken him throughout South Asia where he even spent time living in a Buddhist monastery. Dean Soni is currently a University Fellow at USC Annenberg's Center on Public Diplomacy and is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. He is a member of the State Bar of California, the American Academy of Religion, and the Association for College and University Religious Affairs. Displaying a truly polymathic interest in music, he also produced and hosted his own radio show on Pacifica / KPFK, showcasing music from South Asia and its Diaspora. Born in India and raised in Southern California, he has family on five continents and they collectively represent every major religious tradition in the world.

Fall 2014 Series

Quadrant Series with Edwin McCann

The Academy for Polymathic Study guides its enquiries through four flexible pathways or Quadrants:  (1) critical and integrative thinking; (2) study of the polymaths; (3) the tapestry of knowledge; and (4) communication.

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Undergraduate Series:

Polymathic Pizza, Part I: On Being Human

What does being “human” really mean and can we ever plumb the depths of the complexity of our humanity? Is being “human” a social, spiritual, or biological reality –or perhaps some combination of all three? Throughout Fall 2014, we will consider what it means to be human, beginning with the personal and expanding outwards to the global implications of our “humanness.”

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Polymathic Workshops, Panels, and Special Events

In Fall 2014, the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study is partnering with leading global and academic institutions and scholars, holding workshops and symposia to explore topics and issues from a polymathic perspctive.   

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Graduate Series:

Objects of Knowledge IV

Conversations regarding objects of knowledge, visual and material worlds from a polymathic perspective.

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