Free to Think features conversation with interesting, thoughtful, and inspiring individuals whose research, teaching, or expression falls at the always sensitive intersection of power and ideas. We'll be speaking with those who have the courage to seek truth and speak truth, often at great risk, as well as with those who support them and share their stories.
Free to Think is a podcast presented by Scholars at Risk, where we celebrate people with the courage to think, question, and share ideas. For information on membership, activities, or donating to Scholars at Risk, visit www.scholarsatrisk.org.
I Was a Hostage in Iran
Free to Think talks with Xiyue Wang, a PhD candidate in history at Princeton focused on Imperial Russia, the USSR, China and the late Ottoman Empire. In May 2016, Wang visited Iran to do archival research with approval of Iranian authorities. He was later detained, charged with espionage, convicted and sentenced to 10 years. He was eventually released in a prisoner swap. Wang talks with Free to Think about the dynamics of state hostage-taking and international campaigns for prisoners’ release.
"At Risk" or in Reserve? Double Precarity of Exiled Scholars
Free to Think talks with Asli Vatansever, author of “At the Margins of Academia: Exile, Precariousness, and Subjectivity,” which examines structural inequities in academic labor markets.
Vatansever was among the many scholars who signed a January 2019 “Peace Petition” and was dismissed from her post. Her book situates academic exile within the dynamics of contemporary labor markets and asks whether displaced academics are “at risk” or “in reserve,” and whether these are two sides of th
Peter Biar Ajak: Peace, Democracy & 'Generational Exit' in South Sudan
Free to Think talks with Peter Biar Ajak, scholar, civil society leader, and democracy advocate from South Sudan.
As a child, Peter was one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, who were displaced by the civil war and endured treacherous journeys to refugee camps. Ultimately, Peter was resettled in the United States, earning degrees in international development and international studies from Harvard and Trinity College, Cambridge.
Forgoing career opportunities in North America and Europe, he returned to South Sudan—the youngest sovereign state in the world where roughly half the population of 12 million is under the age of 18—to assist in peacebuilding. His calls for “generational exit”—transitioning political power through free elections--quickly attracted a following among young people, and threats from senior officials. He was arrested, and jailed for 18 months in the notorious Blue House prison. After international campaigns on his behalf, he was released in January 2020.
NASRIN: Women's Rights, Whatever the Cost
Free to Think talks with Marcia Ross and Jeff Kaufman, the team behind NASRIN, a beautiful and inspiring new film about Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iranian human rights attorney.
The film shows Sotoudeh's courage and compassion, as she represents those who have been forsaken by a brutal regime: political prisoners, religious minorities, women, and children. Arrested in 2018, while the film was being made, she was sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes for the “crime” of defending women protesting the mandatory headscarf.
Sotoudeh has been called "Iran's Nelson Mandela." The filmmakers show her as she is: a lawyer, activist, feminist, wife, mother, friend, and a central figure in an extraordinary generation of Iranian women who simply refuse to accept anything less than full and equal rights.