Symposium: Thinking through American Polarization

November 18, 2022 @ 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Hybrid: Merten Hall 1201 or Zoom
Center for Humanities Research

America’s deep political and cultural polarization is widely acknowledged, and most frequently explored through its symptoms, how it manifests itself, rather than through its causes. In this state of deep polarization, the tendency is to vilify rather than to intellectually engage with the “other side.” This symposium seeks to delve into the histories, root causes, and mechanisms of polarization—diagnosing the problems that have led to such deeply entrenched positions. Why now? What distinguishes current polarization from previous divisions in American life and why/how has it become unusually pervasive and bitter? What has happened to previously unifying values (a belief in the nation, a commitment to the common good)? To what extent does political and media polarization cause further division? To what extent is polarization a response to more basic social and economic changes in American life? To what extent is it connected to longstanding inequalities in American life? American polarization is of course not unique in the contemporary world, but it does seem unusually charged, and some comparative analysis with other national contexts may be an appropriate part of the overall evaluation.


The symposium will combine a panel of external presentations (each planned for 15-20 minutes) and conversation with a second panel led by Mason faculty, with ample opportunity for group discussion.

Speakers from Panel One will appear virtually to a virtual and in person audience; Panel Two will appear in person to a virtual and in person audience.

This symposium will be hybrid. The in person portion will take place in Merten 1201 and you may also join virtually, on Zoom. Registration is required for both.


Panel One: 1-3 pm ET (Merten 1201 and Zoom)

Coffee Break: 3-3:30 pm ET (in person only, Merten 1204)

Panel Two: 3:30-5 pm ET (Merten 1201 and Zoom)

Sponsored by the Provost’s Office and the George Mason University Center for Humanities Research