Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme

The Selfish Gene

By Marianna Iliadou

‘Have you heard of Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene?’ ‘Do you want to know more about replicators, vehicles, memes and the so-called ‘genes-eye view’ of evolution?’ Since its advertising, this event looked very promising. But we were even more amazed by the presentation and explanation given by Dr Duncan Stibbard Hawkes!

We invited Dr Stibbard Hawkes, from the Anthropology Department of Durham University, to talk about Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene written in 1976. Dr Stibbard Hawkes started with Darwin’s theory of evolution, natural selection and its three rules: replication/reproduction, differential reproduction and mutation. To do this, our speaker used an amusing representation of how organisms replicate themselves; choosing M&Ms to illustrate this was indeed amusing and got the participants’ attention and a few giggles.

However, much of this has been said before Dawkins. So, what was his contribution to the field? Dawkins used the gene as the smallest unit as opposed to organisms and this is why he called his approach a ‘gene’s-eye view of evolution’. But why ‘selfish’? Dawkins’ later regretted using this term, as most people associate it with the human behaviour of being selfish. However, what Dawkins meant was that genes endeavour to replicate themselves and hence, figuratively, are selfish. Genes are immortal, while organisms can ‘die’. This is also related to the survival of the fittest, meaning, in simple terms, those that are better in copying themselves. In fact, according to Dawkins, genes are often rather more cooperative than they are selfish as, using Dawkins’ ‘rowing’ analogy, they cooperate like rowers in a boat. Actually, it is when genes don’t work together that anomalies, such as cancer, take place. Also, his book The Selfish Gene is very popular, because for the first time someone used common language to describe evolution, addressed to a non-specialist audience.

Continuing with the theory of evolution, Dr Stibbard Hawkes explained that with replicators in asexual reproduction the whole genome recombines, and the disadvantage is that if a mistake or a ‘mutation’ occurs all the future generations are stuck with the same mistake. This could be very serious, as the genome, a result of asexual reproduction, can accumulate deleterious genes in an irreversible manner (‘Muller’s ratchet’). On the other hand, in sexual reproduction the gene becomes separable from the genome and the advantage is half of the future generations can escape from deleterious genes. Human beings are diploid organisms (they have two sets of homogenous chromosomes) and have haploid sex cells that are recombined to create a new one.

Finally, our speaker talked about the concept of the meme (yes, a meme as we all know it and use it in social media). It was Dawkins that first used the term ‘meme’ in The Selfish Gene. There are some replications that cannot be explained, and Dawkins uses the term ‘meme’, using the metaphor of a virus, as anything that has the ability to convey from one person to another with an attempt of copying itself accurately. Memes, as opposed to what we saw before, spread through the behaviour they generate.

After the presentation, some of the questions posed were related to demographic transition, mutation and whether it can be seen as a good thing, Neanderthals, and gene editing techniques. Most importantly, there was a clarification that we shouldn’t refer to genes as superior or inferior, but rather as better or worse at copying themselves in particular environments.

Special thanks to Dr Duncan Stibbard Hawkes for his kind presentation and to everyone who attended the seminar.

Women Priests in the Church of England

By Marianna Iliadou

Is it possible for women to become priests? The answer is yes when it comes to the Church of England.

On Friday 9th March 2018, Café Politique hosted an event on women priests in the Church of England. The idea behind the event was to explore women’s empowerment and involvement in areas traditionally dominated by men. Additionally, the seminar offered a great opportunity for students with different backgrounds to get to know more about the Church of England and the British culture.

The event kicked off with Mr Alex Fry, PhD Student in the Department of Theology & Religion and Pastoral Tutor of St John’s College. Mr Fry discussed the particular circumstances that ‘allowed’ for this development in the Church of England: Henry VIII of England and the series of events in the 16th Century that led to the English Reformation (separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church); the rise in the number of English protestants; the mix of Evangelicals and Catholics, as well as other important cultural and key social changes. It is true that after the two world wars, women in the absence of men started doing jobs traditionally held by men. This way, women’s autonomy outside the household was increased.   

But when did the ordination of women in the Church of England commence? It was in 1994 that the first ordination of women took place in Bristol. Before that, it was possible for women to be deacons or carry different duties, without being paid. Feelings were varied regarding the first ordination of women. There were also fears regarding the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. It is remarkable that only 30 years after the first ordination did it become possible for women to acquire higher positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 2015, Libby Lane became the first woman bishop, holding the third most senior position within the Church of England.

After presenting these historical facts, Mr Fry then continued with his own research, namely why some male clergy reject the validity of women’s ordination in the Church of England. After explaining his research method, he shared with us some of the comments made by male clergy. Most of the comments were around the differences between men and women and that there is a God-given order that men do some things better than women and vice versa.

Then the baton was handed over to Revd Lindsey Goodhew, Associate Minister and Student Worker in St Nicholas Church, Durham. Revd Goodhew was trained at Cranmer Hall at St John’s College, served as deacon in 1993 and was ordained priest in July 1994. She was present at the event to share with us her first-hand experience as a female ordained priest.

When Revd Goodhew began her training, women were not allowed to be priests, so she started without knowing if she would end up as a deacon or priest. However, after being ordained, she started her work in Bristol, then Cambridge and York and the last 9 years in St Nicholas Church, Durham, mentoring students. During these years of practice, she has not faced some of the challenges and prejudice some other female priests have faced and her experience has been overall very positive. The different treatment she faced at the beginning of her vocation to the priesthood had to do more with her age than her gender, as she was very young when ordained and had to deal with some paternalistic behaviour from a number of men.

Nonetheless, what was more challenging for Revd Goodhew is the fact that both she and her husband are priests. The difficulty consists in the fact that priests need to be free whenever possible, as there is still a (very) male model of ministry that is based on a male priest having someone back home doing everything so that they are free to fulfil their call 24/7.

The event ended after the floor was opened for the Q&A session. Through a lively interaction between the two speakers and the audience, some of the main issues discussed were the role of the figure of Mary in the Anglo-Catholic culture and whether this shows a general attitude towards women, the possibility of inter-faith discussion about women in leading roles within religion, the text of the Bible and whether it serves as a basis for the distinct role of women and men, etc.

Special thanks to Mr Alex Fry and Revd Lindsey Goodhew for their kind participation and to everyone who attended the seminar.

The International Tea Time – 3rd February, 2018

By Ayako Terui

The idea of a tea event was born when I heard from some friends that they like matcha (green tea) flavoured snacks, and introduced them to the Japanese tea ceremony. However, I was also interested in the British afternoon tea, and the diversity of tea cultures which are seen in the world. Therefore, I decided to organize an international tea time event in which people could share selections of tea and snacks from their cultures with Ustinov’s multinational community and learn about each other.

At first, the community room was a bit quiet as many of the participants did not know each other. Yet once the brief presentation of tea and snacks was finished, the conversation never stopped, even after the end of the event. What I was interested in was a Taiwanese tea called ‘Oriental Beauty’, which both girls and boys are obsessed with, and an Indonesian-Dutch snack called ‘Kaasstengels’, a sort of cheese cookie. Also, in addition to matcha-flavoured snacks, one of my friends showed us how to make Japanese green tea in a traditional way using a ‘Chasan’ (茶筌), a bamboo brush, to stir the green tea powder. Some participants tried to make it by themselves and when they tasted it, they realized that genuine matcha is really bitter. Matcha is getting popular because of its health benefits, yet I would say that the matcha latte that you enjoy at a café includes a huge amount of sugar!

This was the second GCP event I have organized.  I was particularly pleased to be able to create a communication space with the participants. I have experienced managing projects and events before, but they tended to be individual preparatory tasks. I have now gained new insights into building up communities, which is the key to enable us to support each other, get out from our comfort zones and engage with other people. The event came together thanks to all the support from my friends who kindly prepared tea and snacks, and the participants – (we are all friends now!).

The Stars of Durham -16th December 2017

By Giorgio Manzoni

It was a freezing night in December but the cold was not enough to stop the intrepid members of the Café Scientifique team and over 30 followers who decided to go and admire the amazing shiny “Stars of Durham”. The cloudy and rainy weather of the held off, leaving clear and dark skies as the adventurous students walked towards the nearby old observatory to unveil the secrets of the universe. Captained by our expert physicists and astronomers, Ross Knapman, David Tune and Giorgio Manzoni, and aided by their professional 8 x 40 inch Newtonian telescope, we observed four astronomical objects that can be observed only during the winter sky.

First, the Pleiades (M45), an open cluster of stars 443 light years far from us. Without a telescope it appears like a smooth cloud made of stars in the Taurus constellation but with a telescope we were able to distinguish the gas from which new extremely bright stars are currently forming. Then the Orion nebula arose from the horizon, making it possible for us to observe another bunch of very young stars enlightening the hydrogen gas surrounding them like a mother embracing her baby. The third object was really peculiar as it is produced by the end of life of a not that massive red giant star. It is a planetary nebula (nothing to do with planets…), the so-called Ring Nebula (M57), a ring of gas expanding from the remnant of the star that lay in the centre as a white dwarf, an object that does not collapse into a black hole just because of quantum effects (i.e. electron degeneracy pressure). Although this object is quite far from us (2,223 light years) it still belongs to our Galaxy. However, for the last one we decided to exit our Milky Way and observe an object that orbits around the Galaxy at a distance of 22,180 light years: M13. This is a globular cluster in Hercules’ constellation made of very old stars.

Finally succumbing to the chill of the winter, we headed back to the Sheraton Park Community Room for hot chocolate and cake, as we relaxed and warmed our toes. We look forward to seeing you all again soon!

Catalysing school partnerships – first meeting at Belmont Community School

By Pen-Yuan Hsing and Emine Gurbuz

According to Stuart Corbridge, the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, he has “been constantly impressed by the outstanding quality of research produced at the University”. However, this research is often locked up in an “ivory tower” and isolated from the local community. Over the past few years, PhD student and Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme (GCP) scholar Pen-Yuan Hsing has tried to bridge this gap through a citizen science project (MammalWeb) involving local residents throughout North East England. With a grant from the British Ecological Society, Pen collaborated with Belmont Community School in Durham to get students involved. This planted the seed for further partnerships connecting research in different disciplines at Durham University with the local community and schools.

The first result was from early this year, when Mrs Julie Ryder and Mr Valentine Maduko invited Pen and other GCP scholars to bring science experiments to their science open day. This worked out really well and Julie asked if there’s a way to bring the cutting-edge research at the University into schools where teachers have been teaching the same things for years.

So on 5 December 2017, Café Scientifique of the GCP enlisted research students from across the University to meet with local teachers at Belmont School. During this meeting, we discussed how we can bring the University into the classroom. Many fields were represented.

For example, Emine Gurbuz will talk about how the brain works through several activities at Belmont School in January 2018. These activities include hands-on experiments with Year 9 students where they will be guided to ask their own research questions about brains.

Some other activities come from Naz – a psychology PhD student who can “read minds” by looking at people’s expressions and Giorgio who is an astronomer with lots of outreach experience.

Arts, humanities and social sciences are also well-represented. Martina is doing a PhD in English and will lead a series of creative writing poetry activities. Ben will run exercises on entrepreneurship and business. Vicki will reflect with students on the use and implications of social media.

On top of all of this, we also wanted to take full advantage of the diversity at Ustinov College. The College is not only the largest postgraduate community in the UK, it is also the most international, with more than 100 nationalities represented. Ayako of the GCP Ustinov Intercultural Forum showed the attending teachers the full range of cultural events they can organise, from calligraphy to language cafés.

This event wasn’t attended by just teachers from Belmont School. The aim is for any local school to get involved, and we were excited that they also came that evening. For example, the head teacher from Pittington Primary School was present and established a connection with the GCP.

These teachers are now in touch with us and are planning activities throughout 2018. We are excited to see how the first sessions – such as those with Emine – will go. So please watch this space for updates!

We are grateful to Jess Watters of Ustinov Café Scientifique for her help in making this happen. We are also thankful to Julie for her brilliant idea and hosting us, and all the teachers at Belmont School.

Don’t forget to look at this Flickr album of photos from the day and share them!

Launching the Matariki Global Citizenship Exchange

By Nicholas Mattock, University of Western Australia

Global citizenship can be a difficult concept to grasp, not least because there is no set definition among those practicing global citizenship. I like to think of ‘global citizenship’ as an understanding and willingness to engage with problems that we face as a global community, as a means of facilitating change. This involves not just volunteering and community activism, but also discussing and exploring issues at an academic level amongst peers. The Global Citizenship Exchange is a new initiative by the Matariki Network – a group of 7 universities committed to promoting and developing the concept of global citizenship – that will provide students with broader exposure to both problems facing communities throughout the world, but also the ways in which we differ with regard to the practice of global citizenship.

As the first student to participate in the Global Citizenship Exchange program – travelling from the McCusker Centre at the University of Western Australia to slightly-less-sunny (but still very beautiful!) Ustinov College at Durham University, in the United Kingdom – I am excited to be among a new community, with new problems and new solutions. As a medical student at the University of Western Australia, my passion is measuring the social impact of global citizenship, both for the community and the individual. To this end, whilst at Durham, I will be running a short project to assess the relationship between self-perceptions of health and engagement with activities of global citizenship. Look for the cold-looking Australian, and I’ll happily give you a survey to fill out!

I am also passionate about the systems we put in place to facilitate activities of global citizenship among students, and developing a model for global citizenship that can be delivered beyond the Matariki Network. Despite being in Durham for less than a week, I have met individuals from every corner of the globe, and every field of study; such individuals are united not by their shared academic interests, but instead by a desire to foster change in communities at home and abroad. Opportunities such as the Global Citizenship Exchange not only build capacity in the individual participating, but also in the community they enter. I would like to think that this is as much a learning opportunity for Ustinov College and Durham University, as it is for myself and the McCusker Centre at the University of Western Australia. Building global relationships, such as those facilitated by the Global Citizenship Exchange, is fundamental to addressing the issues that we face as a global community.

‘Global citizenship’ as a concept is still in its infancy, and the Matariki Network has made it a priority to foster this initiative, both as a powerful tool for social change, and as a way of developing capacity within students and their communities. I appreciate the confidence that the McCusker Centre for Citizenship at the University of Western Australia has in my capacity to act as an ambassador for the Centre and for UWA, and the hospitality provided by Ustinov College at Durham University. In a global economic and social environment that is increasingly stifling of social change, I believe in programs such as the Global Citizenship Exchange as a way of building awareness and capacity in our future advocates and enablers.

The Best Way to Create Christmas is…. With Glitter!!!!!!

On Friday 1st of December (the start of the real Christmas countdown) local school children and their parents were invited to join the GCP to create Christmas crafts with LOTS of glitter. They came along to make Christmas cards and decorations provided with a bit of inspiration from festive tunes and pinterest crafts.

The event was really well attended despite the snow and very chilly weather; probably the sweets and biscuits on offer helped people to brave the artic conditions? For many of the local residents it was their first time in the community room and meeting the GCP team, an experience that was 100% positive for all involved and one that we hope has helped form relationships with the community forever.

Special thanks to the volunteers from the teams who turned up on the day, especially the ones who helped to clear up the epic amount of glitter that covered everything (we are very sorry, but not really who doesn’t love glitter?) and the Café des Arts team who helped to promote the event – you did a really good job! We hope this event will happen again, maybe for Easter as it was very popular with those who came along. Looking back it would be hard to tell who was having more fun with the Christmas crafts the children or the GCP scholars! All in all everyone had a really good time and got into the Christmas spirit. Success!

Jess and Vicki

(Café Sci and Café des Arts)

A visit to the Oriental Museum

By Ho Kunyang

‘I am from China; I am Chinese.’

I have been repeating this phrase since the first day I arrived in Durham. I enjoy this foreignness, this sense of exoticism, the feeling that I can start afresh because I have been reduced to a single identity, my nationality.

There are so many things to see and learn in England: I had never heard of Tesco before; 10 pence coins are bigger than 20 pence coins; the traffic is not in absolute chaos when cars drive on the left-hand side; the first floor is actually the second floor; and nobody says you are welcome; and Cheers means thank you or goodbye.

I have always been a ‘disruptive’ student. Taking in this much amount of foreign culture makes me want to talk back. So, when the Global Citizenship Program held an event called “South Asia and South East Asia Workshop” at the Oriental Museum, I couldn’t help but sign up. I assumed that because I am from China, I knew something about Asia, didn’t I?

It was one of those rainy days in Durham. Our expectations of a large turnout were diminished. However, at 2:30 pm, a small crowd of dedicated museum visitors gathered at the lobby. It is a compact museum. When we were led into the corridors, we even had to jostle for position in front of the exhibits. The first series of exhibits was from Tibet. Though I thought I could play Mr. Know-all, the illusion was immediately crushed. I soon found that I didn’t know the first thing about the province that borders on my hometown. For example, I didn’t know that Tibetans use human skulls as food and water containers, and they leave the dead outside decomposing naturally, and let wild animals feed on it.

However, as the curator explained, this is not because they are uncivilized barbarians, which was my first impression. Tibet is such a rocky, mountainous territory that there are practically no trees available to burn the deceased. And Buddhists believe that when a person dies, his spirit goes out of his body, so the body becomes an empty shell. The skull container and the sky burial custom were the products of these geographic and cultural conditions.

I felt so ashamed that I knew so little about the Tibetan while we are practically living in the same country. It was an eye-opening experience; I started to think that I’d better never assume that I know enough about a people, and always keep an open mind and have the willingness to communicate and learn from others, not least the people about whom I assume I have perfect knowledge.

Lost in Translation

By Iqbal Ahmed

The Ustinov Intercultural Forum (UIF) at Durham University hosted ‘Lost in Translation: A Café Culture’, an intercultural event, on 15 November 2017 to discuss similarities and differences between Japanese and English culture. Ayako Terui, a marketing postgraduate student from Japan, and a member of the UIF team, hosted the event.

“‘Lost in Translation’ was designed to discuss social and cultural issues and pop cultures that are dominant among the younger generation today”, says Ayako. Her interest in coordinating intercultural events began when she was an undergraduate student at Waseda University in Japan where she organised events to help Japanese students connect to the world. The event last week in Durham provided Ayako with the opportunity to re-learn her own Japanese roots through discussions and engagements with students from other countries and her understanding of the difference and similarity of Japanese culture with that of others. “Japan’s culture is very strict – it is very traditional and there are fewer opportunities for women”, says Ayako. “After spending time in Sweden and now in the UK, I have learned to appreciate my freedom but at the same time I have I have learnt to appreciate more of my own culture.”

Learning and discovering were central to ‘Lost in Translation’. Ali Darius Khan, a Physics postgraduate student from Pakistan came to the event because Japan feels like ‘a home’ to him. He lived in Japan and for him this event was an opportunity “to reminisce and to try and understand how people perceive Japan from the outside”. For Darius, this event presented many details about Japanese culture that made him understand it even better. “Ayako dug beneath the surface and the points she made were very authentic in the sense that she talked about the Japanese culture that Japanese people experience in day-to-day life. It really reminded me of my friends in Japan and of life in Tokyo”, he explains. “From the perspective of a Pakistani, the importance of respect, manners and politeness in Japanese culture is not unlike that of Pakistan”.

One of the main reasons that drew Ayako to organise this event was her interest in the Western culture. “I wanted to learn and speak English better”, she says, “But I also wanted to go into the world by myself to overcome the difficulties”.

‘Lost in Translation’ proved to be more than just getting lost in a foreign culture. It provided opportunities for students to discover and learn about themselves by comparing their own cultures to that of the others.

The October Revolution, Lenin and a new Dialectic

By Steven Male

On October 25th 1917 (November 7th), Lenin announced to the citizens of Russia “we have deposed the government of Kerensky”, and thus the world’s first self-proclaimed socialist government was established. This year, on the 100th anniversary of this momentous event Café Politique invited Professor Alastair Renfrew to Fisher House for a discussion.

But was the October Revolution all that momentous? Whilst Professor Renfrew did not deny the significance of the October Revolution, he did provide some important reflections on how the event has been mythologised, and on how western liberal historiography has treated Lenin.

For starters, the October Revolution was neither the beginning of a revolution nor the end. In fact, it is fair to say that a year of revolutions began with the February Revolution in 1917. In his talk, Renfrew explained how this led to the formation of a weak Provisional Government with a revolving door of ministers, which failed to alleviate famine, provide economic stability, and prevent continued military disaster. Both the July Days and the Kornilov Affair highlighted Russia’s ineffectual leadership and, according to Lenin, the inevitability of an armed uprising. Renfrew’s talk carried on to clarify the specificity of this historical time. Previously Lenin had theorized the importance of armed revolution because he believed the bourgeoisie would never willingly give up power, but by October 25th 1917 the Bolsheviks simply stated their willingness to govern by providing peace, work and bread. Kerensky’s Provisional Government offered no resistance. Opposition came from disparate parties in the ensuing civil war which ended in 1923. The next year, Lenin died, and Stalin emerged as his successor. Under Stalin, Lenin and the revolutions were mythologised. In 1928, Eisenstein’s famous film October presented the revolution as a violent struggle. Stalin, Renfrew noted, portrayed Lenin as a godlike figure in order to establish legitimacy.

Meanwhile, western liberal academics have equally mythologised Lenin in what has been a successful attempt to delegitimise his character and the revolution. For Professor Renfrew, Western historiography has presented Lenin as begetting Stalin since without Lenin there could be no Stalin, no terrors or five-year plans. Interestingly, Renfrew noticed, Lenin is considered both as an anarchist and a dictator, despite these being opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Professor Renfrew then discussed the subjective and ideologically motivated historiography of the West. However, Renfrew’s attempt to dissociate Lenin with the Cheka (Soviet Secret Police) and the Red Terror that occurred under Lenin’s watch –involving wide spread repression and violent atrocities – needs to be reappraised.

Professor Renfrew’s most convincing arguments were centred on Lenin’s ability to create practical doctrine that related to specific circumstances. In fact, Lenin succeeded in creating a tightly controlled, disciplined vanguard party that could educate and lead the proletariat. This might be authoritarian in nature but the authoritarian context of Tsarist Russia made it impossible to be a social democrat. The idea of the vanguard party derived from the necessity of the political environment and Lenin’s, great mistake, according to Renfrew, was not abolishing this vanguard party after the revolution. For Renfrew, Lenin’s ideology did not beget Stalin; Lenin’s last writings emphasised that Stalin could not be trusted to lead. Rather Lenin placed too much authority in too few people and, for this reason, Stalin was able to depose of his rivals.

The necessity to adapt to changing circumstances is the key lesson of Lenin’s career and the October Revolution. Lenin’s objective, according to Renfrew, was an open dialectic political system. That this never emerged after the revolution was a result of the continued power of a vanguard party.

Professor Renfrew concluded his talk with his reflections on the need for a modern dialectic. The October Revolution was driven by a combination of Marxist doctrine and political necessity. Modern political discourse lacks all doctrine in Professor Renfrew’s view, and this is difficult to disagree with. There is a consensus that class is no longer an issue in British politics, which in Renfrew’s opinion is an abnegation of responsibility. Housing is currently the most significant crisis after Brexit; yet there is no doctrine on how such issues might be resolved. Finally, Renfrew remarks, there is a crisis in statehood. Marxist theory emphasises that the state is necessarily oppressive; the state is the force with which elites contain the working class. For Marx, the state must be destroyed. It is ironic, then, that the greatest threat to the state has been the emergence of advanced financial capital and technology. The fundamental challenge for political theorists and policy makers is to establish new open dialectics that enable the state to re-establish its authority and mitigate the negative effects of capitalism.