Institutes to Help Faculty Members Navigate ‘New Currents in Teaching Philosophy’

Philosophy Institute brochure coverPhilosophy instructors at liberal arts institutions face a “high-stakes challenge,” according to Edward J. (Ned) Hall, Norman E. Vuilleumier Professor of Philosophy and chair of the philosophy department at Harvard University. “On the one hand, an education in philosophy offers our undergraduates an unusual, even unparalleled experience in rigorous thinking and communication across profound differences of opinion. On the other hand, you have to get them in the door—at a time when so many voices are clamoring that a college education must be ‘practical.’”

To help meet this challenge, CIC will offer three annual Institutes devoted to New Currents in Teaching Philosophy, beginning in July 2020. The programs are designed to introduce faculty members in philosophy at CIC member institutions to a range of topics and pedagogies that have proven to be successful in attracting students to the study of philosophy.

The Institutes will be directed by Hall, a leading scholar of metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of science. Earlier this year he was named a Harvard College Professor in recognition of his commitment to research and transformative undergraduate teaching, following his service at the helm of Harvard’s Standing Committee on General Education. The Institute’s other faculty members include innovative teachers who are also leading scholars at research universities and representatives from CIC member institutions that have built and sustained vibrant philosophy programs at smaller colleges.

Each Institute will focus on four specific topics. And each unit will include a seminar that highlights recent scholarly work on the topic and a hands-on workshop to help participants teach the topic effectively at their own institutions. The topics and key presenters for 2020 will be:

  • “Current Moral and Social Issues,” led by Mark Schroeder, professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California and author of Slaves of the Passions (2007);
  • “Philosophy as a Guide to the (Good) Life,” led by Meghan Sullivan, the Rev. John A. O’Brien Collegiate Chair and professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Since it was introduced in 2015, Sullivan’s course on “God and the Good Life” has become the most popular general education course at Notre Dame and a model for courses elsewhere;
  • “Minds and Machines,” concerning challenging questions at the intersections of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and artificial intelligence, led by Eric Swanson, associate professor of philosophy and linguistics at the University of Michigan; and
  • “Theories of Justice,” led by Christopher Lebron, associate professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea (2017).

In addition to these topic-driven units, Mara Harrell, teaching professor of philosophy and director of undergraduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University, will offer a workshop on “argument mapping in the philosophy classroom,” an innovative pedagogy that she helped pioneer. (Her work in the area was recognized by a 2018 Prize for Excellence in Philosophy Teaching, presented jointly by the three leading national philosophy associations.) Finally, in a session devoted to best practices in teaching philosophy at small colleges, representatives from the philosophy programs at Connecticut College and the College of Wooster (OH) will describe strategies they have pursued to attract students and create courses of study that are both rigorous and relevant to contemporary issues. The ultimate goal of the Institute, explains Hall, is “to attract more students to philosophy classes and majors and to push back against a wider culture that is often blinkered in its view of the value of philosophy.”

Outside of the seminar room and teaching workshops, participants will use their time at the Institute to develop specific plans to apply the content of the program to the curricula at their own colleges. “We know that developing a range of new, engaging courses can be a challenge for philosophy departments that consist of only a few faculty members (or even just one),” said CIC President Richard Ekman. “But we are confident that participants will leave the Institute with novel techniques for teaching philosophy and concrete plans to create a new course or transform existing courses at their institutions.”

Generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the inaugural Institute will be held in Baltimore, Maryland, July 26–30, 2020. CIC will select up to 30 participants by competitive nomination, and all nominees must be full-time, ongoing faculty members in philosophy or related programs at a CIC Institutional Member. The nomination deadline for the 2020 Institute is January 24. View more information.