The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) is pleased to announce that Alexander Riley, Professor of Sociology, Bucknell University, will deliver the 15th Annual David Aldrich Nelson Lecture in Constitutional Jurisprudence on Constitution Day, September 17. The lecture will be available on our website at 7:00 p.m. He will present “Sacredness and the Constitution: A Properly Conservative View of our Most Important National Document?”
Professor Riley, an AHI senior fellow, earned his Ph. D. from the University of California, San Diego, where he wrote a thesis that examined secularism and religion in the work and lives of the founders of French sociology. As a graduate student, he was the recipient of a Chateaubriand Research Fellowship in Social Sciences in 1996-97, awarded by the French Embassy to the United States, Mission Scientifique et Technologique. In 2013-14, he received a Fulbright Scholar Award from the Council for International Exchange of Scholars and the Franco-American Commission to do archival research in France related to the biographies and work of a group of 20th century French intellectuals including Michel Leiris and Roger Caillois.
At Bucknell, Professor Riley teaches a wide range of courses, including sociological theory; evolutionary theory in the social sciences; religion; the sociology of knowledge, science, and intellectuals; the mind and self in social and evolutionary context; the sociology of the arts and creativity; death in human culture and society; the 1960s; the history of conservative thought; and American society and culture. His books include Godless Intellectuals?: The Intellectual Pursuit of the Sacred Reinvented (Berghahn, 2010) and The Social Thought of Émile Durkheim (SAGE, 2014), both on the history and interpretation of French social thought; Impure Play: Sacredness, Transgression, and the Tragic in Popular Culture (Lexington, 2010), on transgression in American popular culture; Angel Patriots: The Crash of United Flight 93 and the Myth of America (New York University Press, 2015), on the collective memory of 9/11; and Toward a Biosocial Science: Evolutionary Theory, Human Nature, and Social Life (Routledge, 2021), on evolutionary theory in the social sciences.
As a graduate student, Riley co-edited with the late Philippe Besnard, Un ethnologue dans les tranchées: août 1914-avril 1915: lettres de Robert Hertz à sa femme Alice (Éditions CNRS, 2002), a selection of letters written from the front during WWI by the French philosopher/sociologist Robert Hertz, who was killed in action in April 1915. He has translated works in the French social sciences, Saints, Heroes, Myths, and Rites: Classical Durkheimian Studies of Religion and Society (Paradigm, 2009) and co-edited with W. Watts Miller and the late W.S.F. Pickering Durkheim, Durkheimians and Art (Berghahn, 2013), a collection of essays on art and French social science. Recently, he co-edited with Alf Siewers The Totalitarian Legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution (Lexington, 2019), a book based on a symposium on the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution, and edited Reflecting on the 1960s at 50: A Concise Account of How the 1960s Changed America, for Better and for Worse (Routledge, 2020), a book based on a series of public interviews he did with scholars on the consequences of the 1960s in America.
The annual lecture honors Judge David Aldrich Nelson (1932-2010), a charter member of AHI’s board of directors. Judge Nelson was graduated from Hamilton College, 1954, valedictorian of his class. He attended the Harvard Law School and read law as a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University, in England. President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1985. Judge Nelson took senior status in 1999 but continued to hear cases until he closed his chambers in 2006.
As the result of a gift from the family of Judge Nelson, AHI’s treasure room now houses some of his books and Hamilton College memorabilia.