George Thomas


Professor of Global Studies


School of Politics and Global Studies


George Thomas's research and teaching focus on world cultural processes and their constitutive effects on authority, agency, and identity. Globalization is not merely greater interconnectedness and complexity worldwide; it also involves a consciousness and culture of the world as one place. In this view, culture is not synonymous with local, traditional practices and identities that are marginalized by technical, economic, material globalization. Global processes are thoroughly cultural and characterized by a hyper rationalism.

In one research program Thomas studies the dynamics of global rationalistic institutions such as the creation and practice of rules, standards, programs, and principles of authority, organization, and participation. He studies how global problems are identified, formal bureaucratic organizations are created to solve them, and activists mobilize to influence those organizations. A current project examines the role of international nongovernmental organizations in the establishment of climate change and adaptation as a global governance issue area. Another project is the study of a "global social imaginary" and how in the context of global rationalism we explain or give account of catastrophes and chronic failures. In this work documents of international organizations are studied as cultural texts.

In a second research program Thomas studies how religious groups engage globalization and contend over emergent rationalistic institutions and policies at all scales from local to national to global. Religious contentions are especially revealing because they contest (1) the underlying assumptions and narratives of global rationalism and (2) the attribution of sovereignty to rational actors (individuals, states, humanity). A current project is on religious rights: how the global community answers the "religion question" will have profound effects on the nature of the emerging world society. He examines different sites of contention: debates in the UN system, conflict over national policies, and the place of religion in mass schooling. Another current project is on the emergence of "new religious orthodoxies" - religious movements that are not easily categorized as either liberal or fundamentalist.

In rather abstract, theoretical terms, the issue that cross-cuts these research programs and informs his teaching is how rational actorhood is constituted such that actors of all sorts have the agency to rationalize and reform the world.