French Center of Excellence

Director: Ourida Mostefai, Professor of Comparative Literature and French Studies

The Center of Excellence seeks to foster interdisciplinary research and collaboration with scholars who work across the university on topics related to France and the French-speaking world or involving cooperation with French educational institutions. It aims to engage students, scholars, and the general public through lectures, conferences, colloquia, and other events on campus. Established in 2016, the center is housed at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities and is supported by the French Embassy in Washington, DC and a generous gift from Pierre Sorel '92 and Mary Ann Sorel '92.

Governing Board

Board members represent a wide variety of schools and departments across the university, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, including the Watson Institute, the Brown Arts Initiative, and the John Carter Brown Library. The Governing Board of the Center of Excellence includes:

  • Amanda Anderson, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities and English and Director of the Cogut Institute for the Humanities
  • Mark M. Blyth, Eastman Professor of Political Economy, Professor of International and Public Affairs, and Professor of Political Science
  • Sheila Bonde, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Chair of History of Art and Architecture, and Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World
  • Ourida Mostefai, Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of French Studies
  • Marc Redfield, Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of English
  • Neil F. Safier, Beatrice and Julio Mario Santo Domingo Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library and Associate Professor of History
  • Cole Swensen, Professor of Literary Arts


The inaugural conference for the Center, “Islam and the French: Religion and Laïcité in the Public Sphere,” held in 2017, was devoted to the emergence of a new public visibility of Islam in the West and the anxieties this is generating. This one-day international conference offered analyses of the debates surrounding the place of Islam in the context of European integration, globalization, and migrations and commentary on the ways in which this focus on Islam is reshaping the intellectual and political place of religion and religiosity in public life in the West.

In 2018 the French Embassy awarded $12,600 to the Center of Excellence in support of “Paysagisme: Art and Ecological Responsibility,” a project under the direction of Cole Swensen, Professor of Literary Arts. The project explores the field of paysagisme and its specific integration of art and land use, landscape design, and urban planning, with a particular emphasis on its modes of ecological responsibility. It involves various departments at Brown University, including Literary Arts, Environmental Studies, French Studies, Visual arts, and the Brown Arts Initiative as well as the Potager du Roi at Versailles and the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

Each year the French Embassy invites applications for major research projects relating to France. The Embassy is especially interested in initiatives that promote connections with research teams and universities in France. If you are interested in submitting a proposal, please contact the Director of the Center or a member of the governing board.

Read more about upcoming and past events.