Marian Miner Cook

A distinctive
feature of social and
cultural life at CMC


Welcome to The Athenaeum

Unique in American higher education, the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum (the “Ath”) is a signature program of Claremont McKenna College. Four nights a week during the school year, the Ath brings scholars, public figures, thought leaders, artists, and innovators to engage with the CMC and Claremont College community. In addition, the Ath also hosts lunch speakers, roundtables, and smaller presentations in its two auxiliary dining rooms.

For decades, the Ath has hosted a spectrum of luminaries with expertise and insight on a wide range of topics, both historical and contemporary. In the Ath’s intimate yet stimulating setting, students, faculty, staff, and other community members gather to hear the speaker, pose questions, and to build community and exchange ideas over a shared meal.

At the core of the Ath is a longstanding commitment to student growth and learning. Central to the Ath are its student fellows, selected annually to host, introduce, and moderate discussion with the featured speaker. Priority is given to students in attendance during the question-and-answer session following every presentation. Moreover, speakers often take extra time to visit a class, meet with student interest groups, or give an interview to the student press and podcast team.

Mon, March 4, 2024
Lunch Program
Vinay Lal

Jawaharlal Nehru was India's first and, to this day, longest-serving prime minister (1947-64). He may justly be viewed as the principal architect of modern India: independence came in the midst of enormous bloodshed and he had to shepherd a country of over 300 million people, the vast majority of whom were poor, illiterate, and little-versed in the protocols of "democracy", into becoming the lords of their own destiny. Nehru would preside over India's entry into the modern nation-state system amidst challenges that can only be described as monumental. But Nehru was much more than a nation-builder, perhaps, as is increasingly being argued, a flawed one at that; he was a thinker, writer, and statesman of admirable ecumenical disposition. By the reckoning of some, he was a world-historical figure; however, in recent years, his legacy is being torn, often merely from spite, to shreds. In this talk, historian Vinay Lal will take a critical look at Nehru, suggesting the limitations of both the liberal and Hindu revisionist views.

Read more about the speaker

Vinay Lal is a cultural critic, writer, blogger, and Professor of History at UCLA. He earned his BA and MA from Johns Hopkins in literature, philosophy, and history in 1982, and a PhD with Distinction from the University of Chicago in 1992 in South Asian studies. He is the author or editor of 21 books including nine volumes from Oxford University Press. He blogs for ABP, India’s largest media network, and at, and has an academic YouTube channel: He is a Fellow for 2024 at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, South Africa.

Read less
Mon, March 4, 2024
Dinner Program
Shenila Khoja-Moolji

Over the course of the twentieth century, Shia Ismaili Muslim communities were repeatedly displaced. How, in the aftermath of these displacements, did they remake their communities? Professor Shenila Khoja-Moolji highlights women's critical role in this rebuilding process and breaks new ground by writing women into modern Ismaili history. Rebuilding Community tells the story of how Ismaili Muslim women who fled East Pakistan and East Africa in the 1970s recreated religious community (jamat) in North America. Drawing on oral histories, fieldwork, and memory texts, Khoja-Moolji illuminates the placemaking activities through which Ismaili women reproduce bonds of spiritual kinship: from cooking for congregants on feast days and looking after sick coreligionists to engaging in memory work through miracle stories and cookbooks. Khoja-Moolji situates these activities within the framework of ethical norms that more broadly define and sustain the Ismaili sociality. Jamat--and religious community more generally--is not a given, but an ethical relation that is maintained daily and intergenerationally through everyday acts of care. By emphasizing women's care work in producing relationality and repairing trauma, Khoja-Moolji disrupts the conventional articulation of displaced people as dependent subjects.

Read more about the speaker

Professor Shenila Khoja-Moolji is Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani Associate Professor of Muslim Societies at Georgetown University. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with research interests in the fields of Muslim studies, feminist theory, South Asia, and migration. Professor Khoja-Moolji is the author of award-winning books which include Forging the Ideal Educated Girl: The Production of Desirable Subjects in Muslim South Asia (2018) and Sovereign Attachments: Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan (2021). Her latest book, Rebuilding Community: Displaced Women and the Making of a Shia Ismaili Muslim Sociality, was published by Oxford University Press.

Professor Khoja-Moolji's Athenaeum lecture is sponsored by the Kutten Lectureship in Religious Studies at CMC.

Read less
Tue, March 5, 2024
Dinner Program
Simon A. Cole

Simon Cole, author of a book on the history of fingerprint identification, critic of claims about the "infallibility" of fingerprint evidence, and now a member of two bodies charged with writing standards for the fingerprint discipline, will talk about the scientific issues raised by forensic identification techniques, the progress that has been made in addressing those issues, current efforts to develop standards to regulate their use in the criminal legal system, and whether computers really will, or should, fix everything.

Read more about the speaker

Simon A. Cole is a Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. He specializes in the historical and sociological study of the interaction between science, technology, law, and criminal justice. He received his Ph.D. in Science & Technology Studies from Cornell University, and he is the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Harvard University Press, 2001). He is a Co-Investigator in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Excellence, the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE), and he is Director of the National Registry of Exonerations. He is Vice Chair of the Friction Ridge Consensus Body of the American Academy of Forensic Science Standards Board, and he is a member of the Friction Ridge Subcommittee of the NIST Forensics Organization of Science Area Committees (OSAC).

Read less
Wed, March 6, 2024
Dinner Program
Yi Shun Lai '96

The publishing industry says it wants more "diverse voices," attached to "diverse stories." But what does that mean? Can the diverse voices only write identity-based stories? Can non-white people write white characters? Is it more important to "stay in your lane" or to embrace different perspectives? Real-life literary scandals such as the controversy surrounding American Dirt, as well as recent books and films like The Other Black Girl and American Fiction have all tackled issues of voice, cultural appropriation and cancel culture in their own ways. In conjunction with the release of her most recent novel, A Suffragist's Guide to the Antarctic, CMC's Assistant Director of Fellowships Advising Yi Shun Lai '96 will discuss her own experience publishing both in her own voice and out of it--and give us an insider's look at the considerations and ramifications that come with each.

Read more about the speaker

Yi Shun Lai '96 is the author, most recently, of the young adult historical novel A Suffragist's Guide to the Antarctic (Simon & Schuster, 2024). Her memoir, Pin Ups, was published in 2020, and her debut novel, Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, was published in 2016. She has delivered inclusivity workshops to everyone from AAA video-game studios to international nonprofits, and also teaches in an MFA program for Creative Nonfiction. She graduated from Claremont McKenna College in 1996 and recently returned to campus as CMC's Assistant Director of Fellowships Advising. When she's not on campus or writing, she can be found teaching her intractable dog useless tricks.

Ms. Lai's talk is part of the Athenaeum's 40th Anniversary Series, which celebrates the achievements of CMC alumni from across the years and invites them to return home to Claremont.

Read less

Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

Claremont McKenna College
385 E. Eighth Street
Claremont, CA 91711


Phone: (909) 621-8244 
Fax: (909) 621-8579