Thomas Cushman

Deffenbaugh de Hoyos Carlson Professor in the Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology

Areas of teaching and research: theories of modernity; the sociology of knowledge, intellectuals, and ideology; individualism and individuality; dissent and freedom of expression; emotions and society; most recently, non-Western nondualist philosophies and their relation to Western social theory.

Thomas Cushman received his graduate training at The University of Virginia, where he received a PhD in Sociology (1987) with a concentration in sociological theory, political sociology, and Soviet and East European studies. He received a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the US Department of Education for intensive Russian language training and was awarded a certificate in Soviet and East European Studies from the University of Virginia Center for Soviet and East European Studies. In 1987, he began teaching at The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Sociology, where he assisted in the formation of the university’s Center for Soviet and East European Studies before joining the Wellesley College Department of Sociology in 1989.

His publications include Notes from Underground: Rock Music Counterculture in Russia (State University of New York Press, “Series in the Sociology of Culture”, 1995), based on intensive urban ethnographic fieldwork in St. Petersburg. The book was named as one of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Books in 1995; Critical Theory and the War in Bosnia and Croatia (University of Washington, Henry Jackson School of International Affairs, 1997); George Orwell: Into the 21st Century, with John Rodden (Paradigm, 2005); A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq, editor (University of California Press, 2005); Terror, Iraq and the Left: Christopher Hitchens and His Critics, edited with Simon Cottee (New York University Press, 2008); and The Religious in Responses to Mass Atrocity, edited with Thomas Brudholm (Cambridge University Press, 2009). He is the editor of The Routledge Handbook of Human Rights (2011), a standard reference work in the field, which presents 60 original essays from leading scholars across the world and across the disciplines on all areas of human rights. He was book series editor for “Post-Communist Cultural Studies” and “Essays on Human Rights”, both with Pennsylvania State University Press. In 2000, he founded The Journal of Human Rights, served as its first Editor-in-Chief until 2005 and continues as Editor-at-Large.

He received grants from The National Science Foundation to train in the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian language and to lead an extensive interview project on interethnic trust and mistrust in post-war Sarajevo. He published findings in Bosnian language journals and advised Bosnian leaders on projects to rebuild post-war society in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He published and spoke extensively in policy forums on the war and genocide against Bosnian Muslims and the indifference of Western liberal democracies and international organizations during the conflict. He organized internships for Wellesley students at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where they attended and studied war crimes trials of those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, including the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

He has been a Fellow of the Harvard Russian Research Center; an Associate of the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights; Visiting Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University; Visiting Professor of Law, School of the Humanities, at Birkbeck College, University of London; Honorary Professor in the Social Sciences at The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa; and a Senior Research Fellow at The Eudaimonia Institute at Wake Forest University. He is a Faculty Fellow at The Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University.

Throughout his career, he has been actively involved in bringing social science perspectives to the understanding of international and national public policy issues. He has given talks in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, worked with and advised UK political leaders on human rights issues during the Iraq war, and offered testimony to the U.S. Congress Committee on Foreign Relations on human rights issues.

Since coming to Wellesley in 1989, he has taken an active role in the effort to enhance the public sphere at Wellesley by bringing over 100 speakers across a wide range of topics to the College: national and international academics across the disciplines, leading political and public policy figures, human rights scholars, jurists and activists, writers, and journalists. In 2012, he founded The Freedom Project at Wellesley College, a program devoted to fostering pluralism, debate, and freedom of thought and expression at the College and organizing student internships with international organizations based in Oslo and London, dedicated to resistance against authoritarian regimes around the world. Under his direction, he initiated Wellesley College’s partnership with Scholars-at-Risk, an organization dedicated to protecting international scholars and the freedom to think, question, and share ideas. He served as the first director of The Freedom Project until 2018.

He is a Founding Member of The Academic Freedom Alliance, a non-partisan association of American scholars that supports academic freedom and freedom of expression in American higher education.

On July 24, 2019, The United States Commission on Civil Rights appointed Professor Cushman to a four-year term as a member of its Massachusetts Advisory Committee, producing reports on a variety of civil rights issues in the Commonwealth.

A full research and professional profile and courses taught at Wellesley at the links in the Wellesley College Sociology Department Website.

Courses offered in 2023-2024

SOC104: The Individual and Society (Spring, 2023; Fall 2023)

SOC 252: Emotions and Society (Fall, 2023)

SOC 260: Dissent and Freedom of Expression in the Modern World (Spring, 2024)

SOC 304: Modernity and Social Change (Spring, 2023; Spring, 2024)


  • B.A., Saint Michael's College
  • M.A., University of Virginia
  • Ph.D., University of Virginia

Current and upcoming courses

  • This course offers an examination of the relationship between the individual and society from a sociological and interdisciplinary perspective. The course begins with an exploration of different conceptions of the individual in Western and non-Western social thought and then explores sociological theories of the self and society to explore a central question: to what extent are we determined by external social forces and to what extent can we find individual autonomy, personhood, and dignity in relation to these forces? A central focus of sociology is the study of social inequality, and the course offers detailed sociological case studies on the stigmatization and marginalization of physically disabled and mentally ill individuals. Special attention is paid to how sociological understandings of exclusion of physically and mentally disabled individuals have led to social movements to protect their human rights and personhood.