Cafe series kicks off its spring season

The free, public Lightbulb and Science Cafes for spring 2019 will feature professors talking about everything from the Middle East peace process to translating ‘The Odyssey.’

This semester, the Penn Lightbulb Cafe and Penn Science Cafe series features fresh ideas about hunger and the brain, the evolution of cooperation, how we see light, and more. These free public hour-long events bring Penn professors out of the classroom and into Center City at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre and the Wilma Theater.

January’s edition features Ian S. Lustick, a professor of political science and the Bess W. Heyman Chair in the School of Arts and Sciences. The world-renowned expert on Middle Eastern politics will talk about an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that has gotten off track—and why the U.S. president is largely irrelevant.  

Map of Israel

Lustick, who is at work on a book about the demise of the “two-state solution” and the breakdown of the peace effort since the collapse of the Oslo negotiations 19 years ago, says it’s misleading to even call what’s happening a “process.” 

“In a real process there is movement, but there is also direction, movement toward a destination. A merry-go-round or carousel features lots of movement but no destination,” Lustick says. “That’s what the speculation about talks, talks about talks, talks about conditions under which talks can occur, etc., etc., that we have referred to as the ‘Middle East peace process’ has really been—a carousel, lots of movement but going nowhere.  

“That is still the case, though lately there has been less movement but still lots of talk.”

What would be a sign of some progress? When leaders shift from talking about where and how negotiations will happen to how to ensure civil and political rights for everyone living in Israel, Lustick says. 

“That now includes all Jews and all Arabs living between what Israelis refer to as the land between ‘the sea and the Jordan river,’” he says.

But Lustick thinks it’s unlikely we’ll see that in 2019. Amid a planned April Israeli election, succession squabbles among the Palestinians, and deepening skepticism on both sides, “there will be plenty of occasions for talking about the need for peace, and just as many excuses for not talking or for just continuing to ride the merry-go-round to nowhere,” he says. 

Want to learn more? Join Lustick Jan. 22 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. The event, from 6 to 7 p.m., is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, so please register in advance.  

The series is presented by Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences in partnership with the Office of University Communications. The format for each event includes a 30-to-45-minute lecture followed by Q&A with the audience. Both venues offer wine, beer, other beverages, and light snacks for sale before and during the talk.

Among the other lectures scheduled for this spring: biology professor Nicholas Betley on how hunger and eating change brain activity on Feb. 5; cinema and media studies lecturer Meta Mazaj on the Academy Awards on Feb. 19; and classical studies professor Emily Wilson on her new translation of “The Odyssey” on March 19. For more information, email Julian Shendelman