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Vedantam To Speak As Solanki Lecture Returns On April 24

Published: April 15, 2013

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The 11th Annual Uka and Nalini Solanki Foundation Lecture returns to The Pointe at CSULB on Wednesday, April 24, at 7 p.m. to hear guest speaker Shankar Vedantam, science correspondent for NPR, on how subconscious bias in the human mind can affect how we look at the world.

Series organizer Tim Keirn, a member of the History Department since 1991, applauded the selection of Vedantam as this year’s Solanki lecturer.

“The focus of his reporting is on human behavior and the social sciences and how research in those fields can get his listeners to think about the news in unusual and interesting ways,” he said. The reception will run from 6 to 7 p.m. featuring a full Indian dinner followed by the lecture from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and a book signing for Vedantam’s The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives.

Shankar Vedantam
Shankar Vedantam

Before joining NPR in 2011, Vedantam spent 10 years as a reporter at the Washington Post. From 2007-09, he was also a columnist and wrote the Department of Human Behavior column for the Post. Vedantam writes an occasional column for Slate called “Hidden Brain.” In 2009-10, he served as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and participated in the 2005 Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship on Science and Religion, the 2003-04 World Health Organization Journalism Fellowship and the 2002-03 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship.

The Solanki Foundation Lecture is an endowed lecture series established by Uka and Nalini Solanki with the express intention of inviting a distinguished individual to discuss South Asia-related topics. “The Solanki lectures have had quality speakers from day one,” said Keirn.

Previous speakers have included last year’s William Dalrymple on “The Return of a King: Shah Shuja, the Great Game and the First Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-1842”; Bhagwati Professor of Economics at Columbia Arvind Panagariya; Sam Pitroda, chair of India’s National Knowledge Commission; Ramachandra Guha, a historian and biographer; and writers Mira Kamdar, Pico Iyer and Suketu Mehta.

Vedantam will focus in particular on South Asia and how subconscious bias affects the understanding of such questions as caste, religion and race. “The issues will be addressed both from an Indian perspective and from an American one,” said Keirn. “Unlike previous Solanki lectures, this one will be interactive with audiences engaged in a number of mental exercises by a speaker always on the move. This will not be your standard lecture.”

The Solanki Foundation Lectures are all about getting the campus and community interested in South Asia, Keirn explained. “What is especially interesting about this Solanki Foundation Lecture is that it does not address Indian history in the way other recent lectures have,” he said. “This lecture will offer a slightly different angle of sociology and psychology. We’re opening our potential audience to more than those with a historical interest. We are looking for an audience with an interest in the social sciences and their application to India.”

The Yadunandan Center, which Keirn directs, has fielded a busy schedule of events this year in cooperation with the Solanki Foundation Lectures. “The center has a particular focus, given on the emphasis on teaching at Cal State Long Beach, on K-12 initiatives,” he explained.

Keirn pointed with pride to the Teach India Project that creates summer workshops here on campus for local school teachers in order to learn more about India. “One of the challenges teachers have today is that they do not have much training in Indian culture and history,” said Keirn. “India is not well represented in the state curriculum. Teachers are not confident in their ability to teach about it. The purpose of these workshops is to provide teachers the deeper content knowledge and good pedagogic models they need to know how to incorporate India into the curriculum. The curriculum they create goes up on a website where other teachers around the nation can use the materials.” Shankar will talk with teachers before the main address in the Solanki lecture.

One of the center’s biggest events this year was a visit by Ambassador N. Parthasarathi, consul general of India based in San Francisco, to address the campus on “India’s Growth Story: Problems and Prospects.” Parthasarathi joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1981 and has served as a diplomat to such nations as Pakistan, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

The center also sponsored addresses by author Phil Goldberg on his book American Veda and UCLA’s Niles Green on Sufism in South Asia. “Most of those addresses had standing room only and I expect the same for this one,” Keirn said. “The series has been successful in doing what it is meant to do, which is to bring together faculty, students and community members with local teachers. I expect the Solanki Lectures to be equally well attended.”

Keirn believes the mission of the Yadunandan Center is to raise promote knowledge and awareness of historical and contemporary India.

“The Solanki Lecture is a place to bring together the campus’ constituencies including the faculty members, local educators, CSULB students and community members,” he said.

His vision for the lectures is to keep expanding its horizons. “We have moved from discussing Indian history to Indian social psychology. Perhaps next year’s speaker could address the arts in India?” he asked. “Even though the Yadunandan Center is located in the College of Liberal Arts, I think it is still important for it to address concerns outside the college including the arts and business.”

Keirn encourages the campus and community to attend the 11th Solanki Foundation Lecture. “It is the chance for the campus and community to hear live someone they know from NPR,” he said. “Vedantam is as smart as he is engaging. I encourage everyone to attend because it is their chance to learn a lot about India. But they’ll also learn about how the human brain works. How does that inform, not just the way we think, but the way we make policy. This is a talk that will engage a large audience.”

–Richard Manly