Acclaimed scholars to examine validity of American exceptionalism

AE21: American Exceptionalism in the 21st Century conference at UMSL

A conference at the University of Missouri–St. Louis will examine the contemporary relevance and validity of the American exceptionalism thesis.

AE21: American Exceptionalism in the 21st Century will run April 25-26 in the university’s J.C. Penney Building/Conference Center. The conference is hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences and Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and organized by UMSL criminologists Richard Rosenfeld and Robert Bursik.

“One of the deeply imbedded tenets of the American heritage is that the U.S. has played a special role in world history, not only in the distinctive dynamics that led to its establishment as a uniquely egalitarian and democratic society, but also in its perceived mission to serve as a guiding example for the rest of the world,” said Bursik, Curators’ Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “Recently, however, the existence of such an ‘American exceptionalism’ has been questioned, as well as its presumed uniformly positive effects on the quality of American life compared to that found in other nations.”

The hallmark of the conference is a series of presentations and discussions that focus on the contemporary relevance and validity of the exceptionalism thesis as applied to a variety of institutions in the U.S. and other developed nations.

Key themes include:

  • whether the U.S. can be considered to be an exceptional society
  • whether the nature of this exceptionalism has changed over time
  • implications for the future role of the U.S. in a global system

The conference will present keynote speaker Godfrey Hodgson, historian and acclaimed print and broadcast journalist. Hodgson is a Fellow at Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford in England; a former director of Reuters’ Foundation Programme at Oxford; a U.S. correspondent for The Observer and The Sunday Times; a foreign editor of The Independent; a documentary filmmaker; and author of “The Myth of American Exceptionalism” (Yale Press, 2009).

Additional speakers will include:

  • David W. Garland, School of Law, New York University
  • Jerome B. Karabel, Department of Sociology, University of California–Berkeley
  • Michael Kazin, Department of History, Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • Donald E. Pease, Department of English, Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
  • Rogers M. Smith, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia
  • John C. Torpey, Department of Sociology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Richard Rosenfeld, Curators’ Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UMSL, notes that the conference is a fitting part of the university’s Jubilee celebration.

“This conference includes world-renowned scholars on the American experience in global context,” Rosenfeld said. “It represents the university’s commitment to intellectual engagement and should be of interest to scholars, students, and the public across the St. Louis region and elsewhere.”

To attend the conference, the registration fee is $100 through April 17 and $125 after. UMSL faculty, students and staff qualify for a reduced rate of $75. Student scholarships are available; to apply, email Bob Bursik at For more information, including the full conference schedule and speakers’ biographies, visit or call 314-516-5655.

About the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UMSL: The department conducts and disseminates the findings of basic and applied research on crime and justice, offers excellent teaching at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree levels and serves the campus, profession and community. This mission is realized via the research, teaching and service of the department’s faculty, staff and students.


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