We had an enriching, informative, productive, and fun time at the STCP's inaugural meeting at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Feb. 28-March 1, 2014. It was so valuable to gather together with other teachers in the field of comparative philosophy, to share ideas, discuss common problems, and brainstorm with each other about possible strategies and solutions. I think we all came away feeling invigorated about our work as teachers and optimistic about implementing many new ideas in our classrooms.
Back row: (left to right) Aaron Creller, Paul Carelli, Ben Lukey, Andy Lambert, Amy Donahue. Front row: Erin McCarthy, Leah Kalmanson, Jeremy Henkel.
We began our first symposium panel with with a presentation by Jeremy Henkel (Wofford College), "Structuring Introductory Comparative Philosophy Courses: Around Topics or Traditions?" Jeremy talked us through a persistent problem for comparative philosophy teachers--Do we organize our syllabi around topics (identity, metaphysics, etc.) or around traditions (Greek philosophy, Buddhism, African philosophy, etc). Too often our choices for topics are dominated by terms of discourse set by the Western canon. That said, our choices of traditions too often obscure the diversity that makes neat categories such as "Buddhism" questionable. Jeremy presented a variety of approaches to mediate these problems, centered on his ideas for organizing a new world philosophy textbook.
Our morning symposium continued with Aaron Creller's (University of Hawai’i at Mānoa) "Introducing the World: Making Time for Islamic and Chinese Material Alongside the Western Canon." Aaron presented several well-designed course modules, designed to allow professors to easily slot sessions on Islamic or Chinese philosophy into introductory philosophy classes.
Our next presentation was by Andrew Lambert (Western New England University) on "Integrating Chinese Thought and Debates in 'Western' Philosophy." Andy offered a range of creative solutions to one of the problems brought up in Jeremy's presentation, the issue of using topics from Western philosophy to organize all class material. Instead of using common themes from Western discourses (e.g., mind-body dualism, utilitarianism vs. deontology), Andy suggested a variety of organizational strategies on themes such as tradition, ritual, family, and guanxi 關係, which are rooted in the Chinese tradition but flexible and broad enough to organize a variety of philosophical material.
Our final presentation by Paul Carelli (University of Northern Florida) provided strategies for "Teaching Ancient Greek Philosophy as a Non-Western Tradition." As Paul reminded us, classical Greek culture is in many ways as remote from us today as any one contemporary culture is from another. He offered strategies for reinvigorating our approach to teaching Socrates in the undergraduate classroom.
After lunch, we continued with our first workshop, led by Erin McCarthy of St. Lawrence University, "Contemplative Pedagogies For Comparative Philosophy: A Hands-on Workshop." Erin provided an inspiring and thought-provoking overview of contemplative education practices that help students engage in experiential learning, critical self-reflection, and close reading of texts. These include, for example, breathing and meditation exercises that help students calm their minds and concentrate in class; contemplative reading exercises that can be used in class to foster deeper engagement with texts; and mindful listening exercises that help students process information together and reflect on what they've learned.
We reconvened on Saturday with our second symposium session, which started with Amy Donahue's (Kennesaw State University) "Sidestepping Colonialist Pitfalls in Comparative Philosophy Classes." Amy walked us through material by the Subaltern Studies Group that questions the Eurocentrism of historical narratives and the construction of so-called classical periods across world cultures. This deeply problematizes the role of comparative philosophy teachers in transmitting these histories and "classical" texts to students. Amy discussed with us constructive approaches to dealing with these issues.
We continued with Sarah Mattice (University of North Florida), "But Do They Know It's February in China? And Other Questions of Authority and Culture in the Comparative Classroom." Sarah helped us look at the difficult position that comparative philosophy teachers sometimes find themselves in, i.e., occupying the role of cultural representative for a variety of cultures and traditions. Sarah organized her talk around various questions students have asked her, each of which help problematize students' assumptions as well as teachers' responsibilities.
The last talk was my own "What's in a Name? Contextualizing the Colonial History of Comparative Philosophy for Students." Much like Amy, I raised issues of Eurocentrism in the portrayal of histories, cultures, and traditions. And much like Andy, I wanted to think through alternative categories for organizing class material.
We were fortunate to conclude our inaugural meeting with a second session led by Erin McCarthy, focused on mindfulness strategies that teachers can use to manage stress and promote wellbeing while seeking to maintain a healthy work-life balance within academia.
Our meeting was punctuated by several great meals at local restaurants and ample time for conversation and sharing. For making the first STCP meeting possible, we would like to thank the Florida Blue Center for Ethics at the University of North Florida, the UNF Asia Council, the Drake University Center for the Humanities, and Drake's Office of the Provost. We are already looking forwarding to planning the 2015 gathering. In the meantime, we'll soon be posting materials from the first meeting to the website, as well as building the content under Resources for Teachers.
Aloha from the STCP!
Blog post by Leah Kalmanson (Drake University).