Kenneth P. Serbin, PhD

Kenneth P. Serbin
Phone: (619) 260-4037
Office: Kroc Institute for Peace & Jus 268

Professor, History

  • Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, History (1993)
  • M.A., University of California, San Diego, History (1988)
  • B.A., Yale, History (1982)

Areas of Expertise

Brazil and the history of science, technology, and medicine.

Scholarly Work

Dr. Kenneth P. Serbin's research spans the fields of Brazilian social, cultural, political, and religious history as well as the history of science, technology, and medicine. His Brazil-related projects have focused on the history of the Catholic Church, the relationship between religion and democracy, the revolutionary left in contemporary society, and society, religion, and reproductive issues. Serbin's book Secret Dialogues: Church-State Relations, Torture, and Social Justice in Authoritarian Brazil (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000) appeared in a special augmented Portuguese edition with Companhia das Letras, Brazil’s top publisher, and received wide coverage in the Brazilian news and cultural media. In 2003 it won the Book Prize of the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association. Serbin’s book Needs of the Heart: A Social and Cultural History of Brazil’s Clergy and Seminaries was published by University of Notre Dame press (2006) and won the same prize. In 2008 it was also issued by Companhia das Letras. Serbin is the co-editor of O bispo de Volta Redonda: memórias de Dom Waldyr Calheiros, an oral autobiography of Dom Waldyr Calheiros, one of Brazil’s leading bishops (2001). He is also the author of “The Catholic Church, Religious Pluralism, and Democracy in Brazil,” a chapter in the edited volume Democratic Brazil: Actors, Institutions, and Processes (2000). Serbin’s many articles have appeared in the Hispanic American Historical Review, the Journal of Latin American Studies, Latin American Politics and Society, The Christian Century, National Catholic Reporter, In These Times, Folha de S. Paulo, O Estado de S. Paulo, Valor and other publications. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other major news sources.

Based on research supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Fulbright-Hays program, Serbin’s book From Revolution to Power in Brazil: How Radical Leftists Embraced Capitalism and Struggled with Leadership was published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2019.  It chronicles the history of a generation of militants who opposed Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) and U.S. imperialism but came to hold positions of power in Brazil’s democracy. As part of this project, Serbin published “Mainstreaming the Revolutionaries: National Liberating Action and the Shift from Resistance to Democracy in Brazil, 1964-Present,” a chapter in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Moving from War to Peace (2009).

Serbin is a former fellow of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame and was a research associate of the North-South Center at the University of Miami. He served as vice president, president, and immediate past president of the Brazilian Studies Association (2004-2010). He was also the co-chair of the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association (2003-2006).

In his work on science, technology, and medicine, Serbin has documented the new and harrowing human experience of living in the gray zone between a genetic test result and onset of a disease. His blog At Risk for Huntington’s Disease chronicles his family’s struggle against Huntington’s, an untreatable brain disorder, and the movement to conquer it. At the outset of the blog, Serbin wrote under a pseudonym, “Gene Veritas,” in order to avoid genetic discrimination. In 2012 he exited the “Huntington’s closet” by publishing an essay titled “Racing Against the Genetic Clock” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Serbin’s research interests in this area include bioethics, the evolution of patient advocacy, and the rise of biotechnology. For his advocacy efforts, in 2011 Serbin was named the Person of the Year of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. On May 18, 2017, Serbin, his family, and Huntington’s advocates from around the globe met in a special audience in Rome with Pope Francis, who declared Huntington’s “hidden no more”. On September 28, 2017, Serbin gave a talk exploring the social, scientific, and religious meaning of this extraordinary event.

Areas of Interest

Serbin teaches courses on the History of Brazil, Modern Latin America, Latin America through Film, Religion and Social Upheaval in Twentieth Century Latin America, History of Mexico, and Big History: From Cosmos to Cannibals. He is currently preparing a new course, A History of the Brain.