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, September 25, 2023
Dinner Program
Jamel Velji

Can coffee be religious? Many of us who drink coffee might describe it in terms that are sacred—awakening, invigorating, even eye-opening. The earliest people to popularize the beverage in the 15th century also described it in terms that are strikingly similar to those that we use today. This talk shows how early proponents of the bean argued that it should be part of the sacred landscapes of Islam. I then show how coffee drinking impacted changes in Middle Eastern architecture and ritual. I then consider how knowledge about coffee changed as the beverage took hold in Europe.

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Jamel Velji is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College. His work lies at the intersection between Islamic Studies and Religious Studies and is particularly concerned with the ways in which narratives, rituals, and symbols can effect social transformations. He has written extensively on various aspects of apocalypticism, and his book An Apocalyptic History of the Early Fatimid Empire was the inaugural volume of Edinburgh University Press’s series on Islamic Eschatology and Apocalypticism. His current research examines the Islamic history of coffee, and how that history becomes retold in various European and American contexts.

Velji holds A Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an M.A. in Islamic Studies from McGill University, and a B.A. in Religion from Haverford College. His work has been funded by numerous fellowships, including a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, two fellowships from the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada, a Josephine de Kármán Fellowship, and a fellowship from the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

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This event is no longer open for registrations.

Tue, September 26, 2023
Dinner Program
Caribbean Fragoza

Writing across genres of prose, specifically fiction and nonfiction, and languages can amplify and enrich our experience the world. As a bilingual writer, raised in an immigrant family, Carribean Fragoza draws from the stories, imagery, and vernacular of the quotidian and popular culture to find new ways of being and writing.This talk will address how she utilizes elements of fantasy, magical realism, and horror to reckon with history and confront ongoing colonization. Her writing is often centered on the body as well as the natural and built environment.

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Carribean Fragoza is a fiction and nonfiction writer from South El Monte, CA. Her collection of stories Eat the Mouth That Feeds You was published in 2021 by City Lights and was a finalist for a 2022 PEN Award. Her co-edited compilation of essays, East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte was published by Rutgers University Press and her collection of essays Writing Home: New Terrains of California is forthcoming with Angel City Press. She has published in Harper's Bazaar, The New York Times, Zyzzyva, Alta, BOMB, Huizache, KCET, the Los Angeles Review of Books, ArtNews, and Aperture Magazine. She is the Prose Editor at Huizache Magazine and Creative Nonfiction and Poetry Editor at Boom California, a journal of UC Press. Fragoza is the founder and co-director of South El Monte Arts Posse, an interdisciplinary arts collective. She is a 2023 Whiting Literary Award recipient.

Ms. Fragoza's visit to the Athenaeum is co-sponsored by the Center for Writing and Public Discourse at CMC.

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Wed, September 27, 2023
Dinner Program
Susan Schneider

In this talk, Susan Schneider will discuss the implications of the continuing trend toward increasing machine intelligence. Focusing on the future versions of the now-familiar case of chatbots like GPT, she will consider surprising scenarios that illustrate the possibility that humans may not be the most intelligent entities on the planet for that much longer. She will also delve into related philosophical issues having a bearing on society and national security.

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Dr. Susan Schneider is the William F. Dietrich Professor of Philosophy at Florida Atlantic University. She writes about the nature of the self and mind, especially from the vantage point of philosophy, AI, cognitive science, and astrobiology.  Within philosophy, she has explored the computational nature of the brain in her academic book, The Language of Thought: A New Direction.  More recently, she defened an anti-materialist position about the fundamental nature of mind.  In her new book, Artificial You: AI and the Future of the Mind, she brings these topics together in an accessible way, discussing the philosophical implications of AI and, in particular, the enterprise of "mind design."

Dr. Schneider has met with members of Congress to give presentations of AI and on topics such as data privacy, algorithmic bias, technological unemployment, autonomous weapons, and more. She recently completed a three year project with NASA on the future of intelligence. She appears frequently on television shows on PBS and The History Channel and has written for The New York Times, Scientific American, and the Financial Times, among other venues. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers University.

Dr. Schneider's Athenaeum presentation is co-sponsored by the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies at CMC.

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Mon, October 2, 2023
Dinner Program
Shelby Van Pelt '02

A lonely older woman, an unmoored young man...and a snarky Giant Pacific Octopus. In Shelby Van Pelt's novel, REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES (2022, HarperCollins), these characters come together to discover the power of finding friendship in unexpected places. An instant New York Times bestseller, Van Pelt's debut novel, called “memorable and tender” by the Washington Post, was a Today Show “Read With Jenna” book club pick and has sold over a million copies.

In her talk, Van Pelt will discuss the inspiration behind REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES and its unconventional octopus narrator, her writing process, and the exhilaration of becoming a best-selling author overnight. She will also explore the value of keeping contact with one’s artistic side, even when life might demand otherwise, and reflect on how her CMC education helped her through a hairpin career turn from finance to the arts.

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As a PPE major (CMC '02), Van Pelt loved writing, but never imagined she would write fiction. After graduation, she went into consulting, a career in which she flourished for nearly a decade. When a cross-country move brought an opportunity to press pause on that career, she realized she missed writing and decided to try fiction.

Born and raised in Tacoma, WA, Van Pelt graduated cum laude from Claremont McKenna College, where she studied Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES is her first novel. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, Drew Van Pelt (CMC '02), and their two children.

Van Pelt is a member of the Board of Advisors of CMC's Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, which co-sponsors her visit to the Athenaeum. Van Pelt is also the first speaker in 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.


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Tue, October 3, 2023
Dinner Program
Linda M. Perkins, Carmen Rios, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Diana Selig

Celebrate the extraordinary new anthology 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine the Ignited a Revolution (2023) and engage in critical conversation with members of Ms.’s executive and advisory board team, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Carmen Rios, and Linda Perkins. Moderated by CMC History Professor Diana Selig, the panel will explore what the future of feminism and movement journalism demands and the use of storytelling to promote advocacy and activism.

50 Years of Ms. is a remarkable collection featuring five decades of the magazine’s most startling, audacious, and norm-breaking pieces. Filled with iconic covers, photos, and letters to Ms., it features a foreword from Gloria Steinem and contributions by bell hooks, Alice Walker, Pauli Murray, Eleanor Smeal, Billie Jean King, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Allison Bechdel, Brittney Cooper, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Rita Dove and many more. Ms. remains a trusted feminist source for news, analysis and commentary, and is more critical than ever as the fights for women’s rights and for democracy face new challenges. The anniversary book is as much a reflection of the past 50 years as it is a roadmap for the path forward.

Registrants will receive a free copy of 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine the Ignited a Revolution.

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Linda M. Perkins is University Professor and Director of Applied Gender Studies at the Claremont Graduate University.  Her area of research is on the History of Black Women's Higher Education.  She has a forthcoming book in the Spring - For the Good of the Race: Black Women: The History of Black Women's Higher Education from the Antebellum Era to the 1960s (forthcoming, University of Illinois Press).  Perkins is President-Elect of the History of Education Society and serves on the Board of the International Center for Research on Women, where she also serves as Chair of the Board of their Africa Center and a member of the Board of their Asia Center.  Perkins is also a member of Ms. Magazine's Scholars' Board.

Carmen Rios is the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and former Managing Digital Editor for the magazine. She is a feminist writer, broadcaster and community-builder whose pieces on queerness, gender, race and class have been published by BuzzFeed, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Everyday Feminism, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she produced and hosted the popular feminist podcasts POPAGANDA, with Bitch Media, and THE BOSSY SHOW.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is the Executive Director of Strategy and Partnerships at Ms. and a regular contributor whose work appears in the 50 Years of Ms. collection. She is also a lawyer, advocate and frequent writer on issues of gender, feminism and politics. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, TIME, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Teen Vogue, NPR, PBS, and NowThis, among others. Jen is the author of the book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity and is executive director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center at NYU Law.

Diana Selig is a scholar of twentieth-century U.S. history and is currently the faculty advisor for Gender and Sexuality Studies at Claremont McKenna College. She teaches courses on race and inequality, gender, American schools, women’s political history, and LGBTQ history.  She received the Claremont Colleges diversity and inclusion award in teaching and twice received the Queer Resource Center faculty award for her support of LGBTQ students.  Professor Selig is author of the book Americans All: The Cultural Gifts Movement (Harvard University Press), which tells the story of early efforts at multicultural education in the United States.

This event is co-sponsored by the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights and the Women and Leadership Alliance at Claremont McKenna College.

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Wed, October 4, 2023
Dinner Program
Joel Motley, Producer

Join the Athenaeum for the inaugural event of the new series, "AthDocs," featuring thought-provoking and incisive documentaries and conversations with filmmakers. Joel Motley, son of civil rights activist Constance Baker Motley and producer of the award-winning short documentary The Trials of Constance Baker Motley (2015), joins CMC for a screening and discussion (watch the trailer here).

At the height of the civil rights movement, Constance Baker Motley joined the NAACP’s legal team. The only woman in the group, she left her husband and infant son in New York for weeks at a time to represent the NAACP in Southern courts. The first female Black lawyer Southern judges and juries had seen, she stunned them by winning case after case—gaining the right for Black students to enter Ole Miss, the University of Georgia, and Clemson College.

After the assassination of one of her closest friends, Motley returned to New York—and went on to become the first Black woman NY State Senator, the first Black Woman Manhattan Borough President, and, with the backing of Lyndon Johnson, the first Black woman named to a federal judgeship.

With archival footage and narration in Motley’s own voice, The Trials of Constance Baker Motley tells the story of a civil rights leader who met prejudice and danger with elegance and humor. 

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Constance Baker Motley (1921 - 2005) was a pioneering civil rights activist, and the first Black woman to argue before the US Supreme Court, winning nine of the ten landmark civil rights cases she argued. As a key member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), she wrote the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education. She is also the subject of the highly praised new biography, Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality (2022), by Harvard law professor and Dean of the Radcliffe Institute Tomiko Brown-Nagin.

Joel Motley, producer of this film, began his career in investment banking at Lazard Freres & Co. in 1985, and he was a founder of Carmona Motley Inc. in 1992. Prior to investment banking, he served as an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, serving as chief of the Senator’s staff in New York City and surrounding counties. Motley joined the Senate staff after five years of corporate law practice which he began at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett upon graduation from Harvard Law School in 1978. He graduated from Harvard College (magna cum laude) in 1974.

He is an independent director of Invesco Mutual Funds and an independent director of the Office of Finance of the Federal Home Loan Bank System, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Chairman Emeritus of the board of Human Rights Watch. He also serves on the boards of the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, Historic Hudson Valley and the Greenwall Foundation.

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Thu, October 5, 2023
Dinner Program
Josiah Ober
Democracy means having no boss other than ourselves. Democratic citizens rule themselves, directly or through their chosen representatives; they reject the rule of any individual, junta, or tyrannical majority. Democracy arises when, building on a prior history of political bargains, citizens compromise on a civic bargain: an always imperfect agreement for how they will govern themselves, and what that means for who gives and who gets what. Citizens enjoy freedom, equality, and dignity when they commit to undertaking the duties of citizenship – doing the political work that might otherwise be done by a boss. So how can modern democracies survive and thrive? Citizens must agree that security and welfare are common interests; they must set the bounds of citizenship and agree on institutions for making policy. They must be willing to compromise and must treat one another as civic friends, not political enemies. They must invest in education that teaches civic skills to future citizens and explains to them the value of self-government. Democracy survives when the civic bargain remains effective and when it evolves adaptively in the face of new challenges.
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Josiah Ober is Constantine Mitsotakis Professor in the School of Humanities and Science, Professor of Political Science and Classics, and Professor of Philosophy (by courtesy). He is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and director of the Stanford Civics Initiative. He joined the Stanford faculty in 2006, having previously taught at Princeton and Montana State Universities. Ober’s scholarship focuses on historical institutionalism and political theory, especially democratic theory and the contemporary relevance of the political thought and practice of the ancient Greek world. He is the author of The Civic Bargain; How Democracy Survives (with Brook Manville, 2023), The Greeks and the Rational: The Discovery of Practical Reason (2022), Demopolis: Democracy before Liberalism (2017), The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (2015) and other books and articles.

Dr. Ober's visit to the Athenaeum is co-sponsored by the Salvatori Center at CMC.

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Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

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

Phone: (909) 607-8244


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