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The Truth Project

The Status of “Truth” in Public Discourse and Human Interaction

The question of what counts as “true” or “knowledge” in humanistic disciplines has always been a vexed one. Answers to questions about the human condition inevitably involve interpretation, fractured evidence, contested testimony, and the poetics of expression. At the same time, the realities of social life, the dynamics of political struggle, and the need to face up to our history, demand an acceptance of truth and facts in some form. How to embrace truth while taking seriously the multiple ways that social understanding is complex and evasive, is the central question that motivates this initiative.

What counts as “testimony” and “evidence” when large portions of the population are systematically silenced or downgraded in their status as truth-tellers? How do we understand the past in order to face it? What levels of “ignorance” are we willing to tolerate about violence, deprivation, and the state of the planet? Can we face the challenges of understanding our social world?

In 2017-2018 we wrestled with themes of witnessing and reporting, with the history and insidiousness of “fake news” within media, and with nuanced realities around sustainability practices. In 2018-2019 we will continue this series of events to question and discuss what counts as “true” in a social landscape that is marked by deep difference and chasms of misunderstanding.


2018-2019 Events in The Truth Project

The Truth About Castes

Professor Divya Dwivedi of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, asks if casteism is racism. She will challenge attempts by governments and academics to separate caste as it is still practiced today in South Asia from the broader contest of what elsewhere tends to be described in terms of race, ethnicity, and Volk.

Join us on September 11th, at 4:00 p.m. in the Foster Auditorium (in Paterno Library)


2017-2018 Events in The Truth Project

The Witness: A film by James Solomon

***Shortlisted for the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature***

The name Kitty Genovese became synonymous with bystander apathy after The New York Times reported that 38 witnesses watched her being murdered – and did nothing to help. THE WITNESS, which premiered to critical-acclaim at the 2015 New York Film Festival, follows her brother Bill’s search for the truth. In the process, he unravels a myth that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era. THE WITNESS debunks one of America’s most chilling crime stories as a brother reclaims his sister’s forgotten life from her infamous death.

Join us for the Film Screening on October 19 at 7:00p.m. in 113 Carnegie.

Join us for a discussion following the film, with faculty members Pearl Gluck (Assistant Professor of Film/Video) and Sarah Clark Miller (Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies), moderated by HI Director, John Christman.

True Talk: Fake News

True Talk, Fake News: The Search for Truth in Public Discourse. This panel discussion brings together faculty members Rosa A. Eberly (Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences & Department of English), Patrick Plaisance (Don W. Davis Professor of Ethics, Department of Journalism) Russell Frank (Associate Professor, Department of Journalism), and Matt Jordan (Associate Professor, Department of Film/Video and Media Studies).

Join us for the Panel Discussion on November 9th at 4:30 p.m. in the Foster Auditorium (102 Paterno Library).

Sustain What? Wrestling with the “Truths” of Sustainability and Climate Science

When the term “sustainability” refers to so many complex aspects of our social and environmental life--including sustaining ecosystems, land and water formations, human communities, and ways of life--what do we really mean when we say, “sustainability”?

Join us for a multi-faceted panel discussion, as we consider the important questions surrounding the challenges of high levels of climate change.

Panelists include Bryan McDonald (Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and Associate Professor of History), Erica Smithwick (Associate Professor of Geography and Director, Ecology Institute) , and Courtney Morris (Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies). The Panel will be moderated by Peter Buckland, Penn State Sustainability Institute.

Join us for the Panel Discussion on April 4th at 4:00 p.m. in 101 Chambers Building