Ajay Singh Chaudhary taught the first course of what would become the country-wide nonprofit interdisciplinary teaching and research institute, the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, in New York City in 2012. This single course about Plato and Aristotle, initiated by a recent Columbia University Comparative Literature PhD, has grown into a national organization with active groups in Philadelphia and New Jersey and seeding schools across the midwestern United States. BISR offers rigorous, sliding-scale, four-week-long continuing education courses on a variety of topics to members of the communities where satellites of the Institute are located. Classes are taught by a combination of faculty members; some, like Chaudhary, have devoted their academic careers to the project, whereas others teach at BISR in addition to appointments at Hunter College, Columbia University, University of Denver, University of Cincinnati, and Manhattan College, amongst other institutions.
BISR takes its name from the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, the pre-WWII Germany research institute and free school associated with Marxist cultural theorists including Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin. This inspiration imbues BISR’s courses on subjects as diverse as Enlightenment Philosophy, Classics, Art History, History of Science, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Economics with a leftist ethos that presents education as something accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages, within and beyond the academy. Current and upcoming course titles include “Edward Said: Culture and Empire,” “Alternative Economies: Market Socialism,” “Critical Global Health,” and “Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah, Messianism, and History.” In addition to the Institute’s central courses, BISR runs courses under a Community Initiative, which pairs with New-York-based nonprofit organizations providing services for homeless, low-income, or formerly incarcerated New Yorkers to provide free humanities education for these underserved residents. BISR also teaches outside of organized classes by presenting faculty research for the general public through a blog called Tzeitung and the Podcast for Social Research.