Utopia for Whom?: A plenary panel discussion with Neal Shusterman and Nnedi Okorafor

Conference on Religion, Ethics, and Science 2022

Utopia for Whom?

A plenary panel discussion with Neal Shusterman and Nnedi Okorafor

As the 90th anniversary of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World approaches, we reflect on how so many utopian endeavors—fictional and otherwise—can so easily be viewed as dystopian based on the lens of observation. In the novel, the purportedly civilized World State has technologically advanced beyond the need for natural reproduction, living in a haze of overmedication, indoctrination, and social engineering. The protagonist of the novel, John “The Savage,” is raised in exile from that “utopia,” and upon his reintroduction, it forces the reader to confront the question at the heart of this panel: Utopia for Whom? This panel explores how—or even if—a utopia can be envisioned that does not flatten the human experience. In a culturally pluralistic society, is it possible to envision a utopia? What does that look like? And who needs to be included to ensure inclusive and representative utopian ideals that do not exclude the marginalized?


Panelist Bios:

Nnedi Okorafor

Her works include WHO FEARS DEATH (in development at HBO into a TV series), the BINTI novella trilogy (optioned and in development with Media Res), THE BOOK OF PHOENIX, the AKATA books and LAGOON. She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and Lodestar Awards and her debut novel ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. Her next novel, NOOR, will be in stores November 2021.

Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including BLACK PANTHER: LONG LIVE THE KING and WAKANDA FOREVER (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the SHURI series, an Africanfuturist comic series LAGUARDIA (winner of the Hugo and Eisner Award) and her short memoir BROKEN PLACES AND OUTER SPACES. Nnedi is also cowriting the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s WILD SEED with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Phoenix, Arizona. 


Neal Schusterman

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens, and adults. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep-and his novel, Scythe, was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book-and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. His novel, Unwind, has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country-and has won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, Dry, with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, Dry is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. His upcoming novel, Game Changer, is in development with Netflix as a TV series, and he is co-writing the pilot episode.



Lois Brown

Lois Brown, PhD is an ASU Foundation Professor of English and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University. She is a public historian and a scholar of African American literature and culture whose groundbreaking research reshapes our understanding of race, class, gender, faith, and place in America.

As director of the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Brown oversees the only entity at ASU and in the state of Arizona that positions race and democracy in direct relation with each other. The Center, which is based in the Office of the University Provost, advances and creates initiatives that intensify the intellectual, pedagogical and programmatic efforts of the Center. Brown is committed to programming, partnerships and outreach that enable the center to focus on race and democracy in the context of education, social justice, public history, poverty and economic opportunity, the arts, law, government, the sciences and the environment. Brown's public speaking and presentations on equity, leadership, justice and inclusion complement the Center's efforts to support and achieve positive systemic change and justice.

Tara Nkrumah

Tara Nkrumah, Ph.D. is an Assistant Research Professor in the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology at Arizona State University, Tempe. Her research agenda centers on equitable teaching practices for anti-oppressive discourse in education and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She uses theatre of the oppressed to explore culturally relevant/responsive leadership and pedagogy in science education and explores how socio-political discourse flows through popular culture (i.e., entertainment media) to frame the public perception about science education for underrepresented groups in general, Black girls and women in particular, and their access to STEM careers. Her work is published in the International Review of Qualitative Research, Cultural Studies in Science Education, The Science Teacher, Journal of Language and Literacy, Pedagogy of the Oppressed Journal, and Teachers College Record.

 Erica O’Neil

Erica O’Neil is Research and Project Manager in the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, where she explores humane technology and the cultivation of ethical research cultures. She holds a PhD in Biology with an emphasis in history and philosophy of science, and previously examined how emerging disease states become objects of political and legislative focus. For a decade prior to that, she worked as an anthropologist and lab manager for a cultural resource management firm in the Southwest.

Mako Ward

Mako Fitts Ward is an educator, writer, facilitator and social justice advocate with over 15 years of experience teaching core principles of justice and social change to college students and advocating for racial and gender equity in communities around the country. She is a clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Her teaching and research focus on intersectional, feminist analyses of popular culture, specifically urban youth cultures and their impact on contemporary social movements.

Ward is the co-founder of Women Who Rock, a digital archive project at the University of Washington and collective of musicians, media-makers, performers, artists, scholars and activists committed to documenting the role of women in popular music and the formation of cultural scenes and social justice movements.

She has published in Huffington Post, The Conversation and Ms. and has published popular and scholarly essays on body ethics and aesthetics among women of color, media and gender images in popular culture, gentrification and cultural displacement and women’s political organizing. She teaches courses on intersectionality, gender and hip-hop, ethnic studies, the African diaspora, justice and women’s social movements.

ASU COVID-19 guidelines:

COVID Protocols: Consistent with ASU’s current guidelines, including current guidelines regarding face coverings. Consistent with these guidelines, masks will be required at all conference events. We will have masks available on entry for those who may have forgotten them, and all session chairs will read a reminder to the audience that they should be masked throughout the session. In addition, masking requirements and guidelines will be communicated on all event related communications and registration materials. We will also include “community of care” language that reminds people that they have the option of live streaming the event if they are experiencing symptoms or have other concerns, as well as information about the university’s COVID testing services. Our event team is constantly monitoring the university’s guidelines, and will revise these protocols as necessary.

 More about the conference

Conference on Religion, Ethics and Science (CORES) 2022  February 10-11, 2022

Brave New World? Revisiting Utopia

In 1932, Aldous Huxley published his ground-breaking dystopian tale of a futuristic Brave New World. Published at a time when societies around the world were broken along lines of class, caste, color, and creed, the novel depicted a World State scientifically and technologically engineered to advance a vision of a perfect environment. Ninety years later in February 2022, ASU’s Conversations on Religion, Ethics, and Science (CORES) project will host a series of provocative and timely conversations entitled “Utopia Revisited: Brave New World?” to examine the ever-present push towards utopian visions. The conversations among engaging scholars will explore utopianism through a series of questions: How is utopia imagined? How inclusive can utopia be? What promise and perils may emerge from new technologies aimed at bringing about utopian improvements of humans and the human condition? What spiritual ideas inform our utopian visions (particularly in our digital age)? What role is there for ethical, political, and religious guidance in realizing utopian visions?

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict
Ashley Wilkins
Feb 10 2022 - 12:00am
Student Pavilion
Tempe campus