The Global Soul

Imagining the Cosmopolitan

March 27-28, 2017
Presented in collaboration with the Bath Spa Centre for Transnational Creativity and Education

“The assumption that people will live their lives in one place, according to one set of national and cultural norms, in countries with impermeable national borders, no longer holds. Rather, in the 21st century, more and more people will belong to two or more societies at the same time….Transnational migrants work, pray, and express their political interests in several contexts rather than in a single nation-state. Some will put down roots in a host country, maintain strong homeland ties, and belong to religious and political movements that span the globe. These allegiances are not antithetical to one another.” —Migration Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.

Today it seems as if the world is in the midst of multiple national identity crises—countries are in retreat from the global, withdrawing behind closing borders. In times of heightened political tension, identity as nationhood becomes an either/or question. What are you? Are you with us or against us?

So where does that leave the transnational, the person with more than one home? And where does it leave broader notions of cosmopolitanism, the idea that we can all, wherever we are born and under whatever conditions, choose to be “citizens of the world,” to develop and maintain ethical, cultural and political relations across national borders? Today cosmopolitans and transnationals find themselves at the center of a political debate of growing urgency.

Just as with greatness the modern transnational may be born transnational or achieve transnationalism or have transnationalism thrust upon them. He or she may be an immigrant or have immigrant parents or maybe a refugee or someone with parents from two nations, but crucially chooses to retain links with both countries, often moving between the two, actively claiming more than one culture, locality and home. Asked: “Who are you?” The transnational produces a multiplicity of answers relating to nationality and ethnicity and sees no contradiction.

From this nexus comes a new set of voices in literature, music and theatre. Says the writer Kapka Kassabova (Bulgaria/New Zealand/Scotland): “These writers’ worlds are cosmopolitan, yet pungently rooted in specific reality, with all the quirks of place and personality. Cosmopolitanism mustn’t be confused with Coca-Cola. It doesn’t have to breed cultural homogeneity. It is the freedom to come and go, or indeed stay, without the urge to wave a flag.”

Transnationalism is not new, but the conditions of transnationalism are changed due to the greater ease of the flow of capital, including human capital, transport and communication links. And the rise in the numbers of transnationals in the last century poses a challenge to political leaders currently pursuing increasingly nationalist policies. In all but a very few countries the collision of racial, political, geographic, and cultural identities of national cultures is no longer realistic.

The themes across the symposium will explore cosmopolitanism and the transnational identity and will question the future of the single, national identity in an irrevocably changed world.

Aminatta Forna, Symposium Director


John Freeman
Xiaolu Guo
Aleksandar Hemon
Kapka Kassabova
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Taiye Selasi
Kamila Shamsie


Monday, march 27

Keynote Speech by Aleksandar Hemon
7:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge
Moderated by Andria Wisler, Executive Director, Center for Social Justice
Book Signing & Reception to follow

Tuesday, march 28

Coffee & Breakfast
9:00 AM | Copley Formal Lounge

Writing in Englishes
9:30 AM | Copley Formal Lounge

 The Canon: Do Countries Need a National Literature?
11:00 AM | Copley Formal Lounge

 The Sporting Spirit: Does Sport Unite or Divide?
2:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge
Moderated by Dave Zirin, Sports Editor for The Nation  

Going Global, Staying Local: How to Be Cosmopolitan
3:30 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

Authors’ Reading
with Taiye Selasi, Kamila Shamsie, Kapka Kassabova, Xiaolu Guo, John Freeman

5:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge
Book Signing to follow

An Evening with Viet Thanh Nguyen, Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
7:30 PM | Gaston Hall
Hosted by Lannan Chair of Poetics Aminatta Forna
Book Signing & Reception to follow on Healy's second floor corridor.

All events will take place on Georgetown University's campus. They are free and open to the public.