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Reading Simone Weil in East London – Dr Anna Rowlands

Anna Rowlands watch

This presentation draws on empirical research conducted with Jesuit Refugee Service in London. It is grounded in the experience of refugees living in destitution in the UK asylum process into dialogue with the work of Simone Weil. These experiences are connected to work which began in dialogue with St Augustine and Hannah Arendt on time and temporality in the context of refugee experiences.

Our seminar programme offers students, scholars, and interested visitors an opportunity to learn more about aspects of Christian history and contemporary Christianity. The seminars are held in conjunction with the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University.

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Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide Webinar – 9th December 2021

Of Colonialism and Corpses: Simone Weil on Force

Helen M. Kinsella read


“. . . . In the scholarship on Simone Weil, her emphasis on colonialism is still not yet fully integrated into analyses of the use of force nor, more generally, as another source of her reflections on the concepts which adumbrate her work.6 Processes that she identified as constitutive of colonialism’s brutality – uprooting, loss of the past, degradation of labor, and the pursuit of unlimited profit and power – inform her thought. As Dietz points out, the hallmarks of Weil’s concerns are “the meaning of individual freedom in the modern collectivity, the nature of community in the nation-state, and the political and social possibilities for an end to the affliction and oppression of the human condition,” each of which directly implicates colonialism and empire. In this chapter, I propose to explore the relationship of colonization to her concept of force and her exposition of rights – to draw out the ways in which her argument that force turns “man into a thing” is born out of her earlier analysis of how in colonial wars “we, first of all, reduce whole populations to slavery, and then we use them as cannon fodder.”

I argue that this accomplishes three things. First, Weil provides an analysis of modernity and the rise of totalitarianism that specifically centers colonialism as fundamental to each and, consequently, to any analysis of international politics. Second, she develops her theories through her own political engagement and activism in the context of her time, negotiating and unsettling the governing intellectual, social, and political expectations – as articulated through gender, certainly, but also no less so through the complex intersections of class and religion. Accordingly, her politics and her scholarship continue to challenge a disciplinary post-1945 positioning of colonialism as peripheral to the development of international thought, and further confirm the significance of “historical women” in the field. Third, Weil’s own reckoning with the tumultuous politics of her time can animate contemporary analyses of force as understood and enacted in complex and critical ways.”

** Essay in Patricia Owens & Katharina Rietzler, eds., Women’s International Thought: A New History, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (2021), pp. 72-92.

Helen M. Kinsella is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Simone Weil on Colonialism: An Ethic of the Other

J.P. Little, ed. & trans. read

In 1931, Simone Weil read an article by Louis Roubaud in the Petit Parisien that exposed the Yen Bay massacre in Indochina. That article opened Weil’s eyes, and from then until her death in exile in 1943, she cared most deeply about the French colonial situation. Weil refused to accept the contradiction between the image of France as a champion of the rights of man and the reality of France’s exploitation and oppression of the peoples in its territories.
Weil wrote thirteen articles or letters about the situation, writings originally published in French journals or in French collections of her work. J. P. Little’s fluid and clear translations finally introduce to English-speaking scholars and students this important element of Weil’s political consciousness.

J.P. Little, ed. & trans., New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003

J. P. Little, one of the world’s most respected scholars of Simone Weil, is the author of Simone Weil: Waiting on Truth and numerous articles and conference presentations on Weil’s life and work. She is lecturer in French (emerita) at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin.