About Sophia

Sophia A. McClennen

Sophia A. McClennen works on the intersections between culture, politics and society. Her books focus on cultural responses to complex social change, such as satire and contemporary politics or the power of storytelling in advancing human rights. She is professor of international affairs and comparative literature at Penn State University and founding director of the Center for Global Studies. She also has a regular column with Salon.com.

Click here for her CV

The daughter of an Afghan economist and the granddaughter of an art historian, she was raised by a strong, sassy mother, who taught her children that “rules were made to be broken” and to question authority. She grew up experiencing the social transitions from the 70s to the 80s in an atmosphere of dinner table debates, community service, and exposure to the arts. These early influences likely shaped her interest in studying the ways that people respond to abuses of power through creative expression.

As a child she lived in Manhattan, Washington DC, and Fort Lauderdale—a mix that affected her fondness for cities and interest in the Spanish-speaking world. She studied philosophy at Harvard University, where she worked on The Harvard Lampoon, and did her graduate work in Latin American cultural studies at Duke University, where she developed a love for college basketball.

She is currently Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Penn State University and founding director of the Center for Global Studies. Since founding the Center for Global Studies in 2010, she has raised over $6 million in funding. At Penn State she teaches courses on human rights culture, culture and globalization, media studies, global cinema, the cultures of displaced peoples, cross-cultural conflict resolution, political satire and critical theory. Click here for her academic bio.

When she isn’t teaching or lecturing, she is writing. She has published thirteen books and has two in process. Her most recent book is Trump Was a Joke: How Satire Made Sense of a President Who Didn’t, which has a foreword by Michael Moore (Routledge 2023). She is also working on a project that advances the work done in Pranksters Vs. Autocrats: Why Dilemma Actions Advance Democracy (Cornell 2020), co-authored with Serbian activist, Srdja Popovic. A co-edited volume with Jeffrey DiLeo Left Theory and the Alt-Right is forthcoming from Routledge in 2023. She is also working on a book in the global impact of political satire: The Revolution Will Be Satirized.

She also published Globalization and Latin American Cinema: Toward a New Critical Paradigm (Palgrave 2018), a project that she researched for 25 years. Other books include The Routledge Companion to Human Rights and Literature (2015), co-edited with Alexandra Schultheis Moore, which includes over 50 contributions to the topic. She made Penn State history by publishing the first scholarly book co-authored with an undergraduate, Is Satire Saving our Nation? Mockery and American Politics (Palgrave 2014), co-authored with Penn State communications undergraduate Remy Maisel.

She has published over 80 essays in books and journals. She writes regularly for Salon and has published in Slate, Huffington Post, Daily Beast, Truthout, Counterpunch, and other sites as well.  She has been interviewed by Neil de Grasse Tyson, CNN, BBC TV, Al Jazeera TV, Wall Street Journal TV, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Variety, The Hill, NPR-Miami, and CBC Canada among others.

Find her on Twitter @mcclennen65.

One of the great benefits to her work has been the opportunity to travel. In 2006 she was the Fulbright Research Chair in Globalization and Cultural Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and she also held a Fulbright faculty award in Peru (2003) where she researched Peruvian cinema.  She has taught in Chile, Germany, Kazakhstan, and Peru, and has also done research in the UK, Serbia, Cuba, France, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Spain, Guatemala, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.

When she isn’t working, she practices Pilates, stand up paddling, and teaches yoga.  In summers she races wooden sailboats with her family on Cape Cod. She spends a lot of time on social media and she loves watching clips of political satire–but since it helps her research she counts that as work and play.  She reads the columns of Andy Borowitz as often as The New York Times.

She lives in State College, PA and Chatham, MA.

Write to Sophia McClennen at sophia.mcclennen@gmail.com