freedom project

About the Freedom Project

The Freedom Project was founded in 2012 by Thomas Cushman, Deffenbaugh de Hoyos Carlson Professor in the Wellesley College Sociology Department. The Project is dedicated to the exploration of the idea of freedom in all of its manifestations. Its goal is to provide focused attention to the topic of freedom similar to the attention already received at the college by other important elements of society - like the history and practice of democracy, inequality, and social justice. The Project addresses the importance of freedom as a concept through discussions, debates, and scholarship.

The Freedom Project offers a unique intellectual space for promoting tolerance, pluralism, intellectual diversity, and freedom of expression within the larger Wellesley community and beyond. These values require an appreciation of the spirit of individualism and the struggle against arbitrary power, both in the form of political domination and the stultifying influence of ideological dogmas – cultural, political or religious – and uncritical social conformity.

The idea of freedom lies at the heart of the human condition. Freedom is a complex concept that defies precise, categorical definition. Yet across time the promise of freedom has offered people in vastly different circumstances, the hope and possibility of self-realization, self-expression, and human flourishing. Soviet citizens trapped behind the iron curtain of communism, indigenous peoples under the yoke of colonialism, dissidents facing repression in authoritarian societies across the world, members of the civil rights movement demanding America live up to its ideals, and LGBTQA individuals across the globe seeking only to be themselves have all held up freedom as an ideal worth pursuing.

In this respect, the study of freedom is expansive and includes understanding this important idea in a variety of cultural contexts. What does it mean to be free? How do we define and achieve freedom? Are there any universal standards of freedom? Do we achieve freedom through culture or in opposition to it? How is freedom won and lost? Which political, economic, and social practices and policies foster or undermine freedom? These are the central questions that have defined the struggle for freedom throughout the ages.

The answers to these questions are not uniform and, in fact, are themselves often the source of vigorous debate and disagreement. The Freedom Project is grounded in the foundational idea of the liberal arts: that vigorous debate, disagreement, and conflict are the source of intellectual growth and development and are to be embraced rather than avoided.

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