Professor Isar

Global Communications & Cultural Understanding

Professor Isar retired from AUP in July 2018 and is now a Professor Emeritus. 
What initially inspired you to move to France? How did you get involved with AUP?

I’ve lived in Paris since 1968. I first came as a student from New Delhi, India on a French government scholarship and having learned French before my first year at the University of Dijon, I immediately felt at home here. I studied first Sociology and then Anthropology at the Sorbonne and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, I joined UNESCO in 1973, and took early retirement from the organization in 2002. Soon after that, at the Paris release of the French translation of Secrets of the Flesh by my friend, the author, Judith Thurman, I had the great fortune to meet Professor Waddick Doyle: it was love at first sight! And so, I began teaching at AUP in the Fall of 2002.


What first piqued your interest in globalization?

I became interested in globalization in the mid-1990s when I was the Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s World Commission on Culture and Development. At that time, it was apparent to me that the term itself was a new collective representation, a “symbolically energizing symbol”, as the sociologist Jeffrey Alexander has put it, as well as the locus of many illusions, aspirations and anxieties. It seemed clear that globalization was becoming a discourse that would serve as a leading term in the years to come, albeit often misunderstood and misused, which made it a challenging topic for research and reflection.


What pushed you to create the Cultures and Globalization Series?

I created the Series with the German sociologist Helmut K. Anheier, a specialist in third sector, civil society organizations, while I was at UCLA, where I’d been invited to give guest lectures. Its focus on globalization emerged as we realized that cultures all over the world are deeply affected by globalization in ways that are still inadequately documented and understood. The impacts of globalization are at once unifying and divisive, liberating and corrosive, homogenizing and diversifying. Simultaneously, the interplay between cultures and globalization has transformed patterns of sameness and difference across the world, modified the ways in which cultural expression is created, represented, recognized, preserved or renewed, and generated new discourses around the power of culture in a variety of domains. We saw that this interplay had become a discursive field that was all too often perceived (whether negatively or positively) in overly simplified terms, and so we designed the Series as a way to address these issues.


Does your teaching at AUP inform your external work, and vice versa?

Conversations and discussions with students in my Cultural Diversity & Globalization class are always an excellent sounding board for the sorts of issues I tackle in my writing, research, and public speaking.


Do you have similar goals/objectives in the fields within which you’re active? If so, what are they and why are they of such importance to you?

In all my fields of activity—teaching, research, consulting, public speaking—I attach great importance to clarity of thought and expression, particularly because words and concepts are nowadays sometimes used in very sloppy and over-extended ways. I also attach importance to a broad-mindedness of thought that takes into account the insights and teachings of numerous disciplines.  


What do you think sets AUP apart from the many other prestigious universities in which you’ve worked?

The truly, culturally diverse nature of its student body and faculty, as well as the collegiality that reigns in our small institution.