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Jots and Tittles (vol. 3, no. 1)
THE NEWSLETTER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY & RELIGIOUS STUDIES
Welcome New Freshmen
A hearty welcome to all of our new freshmen and majors. We hope you are enjoying your philosophy and religious studies classes.
Dr. Paul Thomas, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, is the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies chairperson. If you have questions about PHRE curriculum, the major and minor, or about the department, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Good Fruits of PHRE
"My mind has been opened up to a new way of thinking about how religion and culture interact, and I feel like I better understand people."
--Grace Bryant, PHRE major, religious studies concentration
"Inspiration is really what it is all about for me. What is education, after all, if not inspiring others to learn and grow?"
--Mr. Darrell Shomaker, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Welcome New Faculty!
The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies is excited to welcome our new faculty members!
- Dr. Steven Fesmire joins us as Professor of Philosophy. An expert on the thought of John Dewey, Dr. Fesmire will be teaching a variety of courses, including ethics.
- PHRE welcomes Mr. Darrell Shomaker as Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Mr. Shomaker joins us from the former Jefferson College--the newly formed Radford Univerity Carilion--and is a former graduate of our program!
- Dr. Heather Keith joins us as Professor of Philosophy. Dr. Keith comes to Radford University as the new Executive Director of Faculty Development and we are excited to add such a distinguished philosopher to our roster of instructors.
Philosophy & Religious Studies in the News
Grace Bryant (Philosophy Concentration)
What attracted you to the philosophy and religious studies major?
I was attracted to the philosophy and religious studies major because of Dr. Jordan's world religions class where I was able to learn all about cultures from across the world. I had never been exposed to a religion class prior to being at Radford University, so the newness of it was very exciting. I decided I wanted a more informed worldview, so I declared my major almost immediately.
How has taking philosophy and religious studies courses benefited you?
The philosophy and religious studies courses have benefited me greatly because I know much more about not only the various religious traditions of the world, but about what can constitute a religion, and why people believe and worship in the ways that they do. My mind has been opened up to a new way of thinking about how religion and culture interact, and I feel like I better understand people.
Which classes have been among your favorites?
My favorite classes by far have been Dr. Jordan's world religions class because it got me into the major, Dr. Thomas's American Sects and Cults class because I have learned something new almost every class period, and Dr. Jordan's Religions of China and Japan class because it inspired me to begin learning elementary Chinese.
What do you plan to do after college?
After college, I'm not entirely sure what I want to do honestly. Becoming a librarian, a professor of religion, or a professional translator have all been on the table though, so to speak. Either way, I know my religion classes will benefit me by helping me to understand the perspectives of others.
Why should students consider a major in philosophy and religious studies?
Students should consider a major in philosophy and religious studies because it will help them broaden their worldview and understand people better. Even if they don't consider becoming a major, however, they should at least consider taking a class or two because all of them are enjoyable and offer up knowledge that they most likely won't get anywhere else.
Declare a Major with Us!
World turbulence and discord got you down? Looking for some bright spots in seemingly gloomy times? Consider a major or minor in philosophy and religious studies. In our classes you can explore some of the most vexing problems faced by society today and explore ways in which other cultures have found meaning in the face of challenging problems. New course substitutions make majoring in philosophy and religious studies easier than ever and our 30 credit major makes us one of the easiest double majors! Stop by CHBS 4209 for more information or email email@example.com.
Faculty Spotlight on Research
Dr. Steven Fesmire (Philosophy)
You have recently published two significant works on John Dewey. Can you tell us a little bit about who John Dewey was?
John Dewey (1859-1952) was the foremost figure and public intellectual in early to mid-twentieth century American philosophy. He remains the most academically cited English-speaking philosopher of the past century, and he’s among the most cited Americans of any century. Instead of approaching philosophy as a luxury indulged by folks with nothing better to do, he approached philosophy as an essential tool for sympathetically meeting widely shared problems with fresh hypotheses and helping to interpret, evaluate, and redirect our confused cultures.
What attracted you to John Dewey as a research subject?
In 1988 I enrolled in a Philosophy of Education course as a junior at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. The professor, who I admired, was especially excited about a book titled Democracy and Education, written by a philosopher whose name had to be differentiated from the library’s Dewey Decimal System. I found the first few chapters tedious, but I remember one evening I committed myself to understanding what my professor saw in this philosopher. In the coming weeks I grew fond of the bespectacled old man on the back cover of my book, who understood that students are active and creative participants in who they are becoming and that they’re also contributors to the world that they’re helping to make through they’re choices.
What are some things that students can learn from John Dewey to help them navigate their lives?
One of Dewey’s most relevant contributions for helping students to navigate problems is his careful distinction between what people intend to do, on the one hand, and what they’ve actually done, on the other hand. He discussed this as the “ends-means continuum.” Choices are pregnant with unanticipated connections, so we usually do more than we mean to do. For example, many migratory songbirds I enjoyed this morning while sipping my cup of coffee are declining in numbers, in part because trees in their winter nesting grounds in Central America have been burned and bulldozed to plant coffee plantations. Yet I only set out to make a cup of coffee!
We tend to only keep track of the consequences (the “ends”) we meant to bring about (making a cup of coffee, eliminating an enemy, etc.), so we don’t usually feel responsible for the side effects of our choices. But as ecologists like to point out, we can never do just one thing. To restate Dewey’s point as a pragmatic maxim: Always state your ends in terms of the means you plan to use to achieve them. Then track all of the rippling consequences of those means and not just the ones that suit your agenda. Review what you’ve actually done, and revise what you mean to do next accordingly.
How does your research inform your teaching, and vice versa?
I’m a teacher-scholar, and I can’t imagine one of these identities without the mutual support of the other. Nourished by the feedback loop of teaching and research, I support the holistic aims of a liberal cultural education, which in a democracy is the right of everyone. I’m committed to the liberation of students’ energies so that they can realize their own potentials to be humane, compassionate, active, and informed members of a world that, at best, is too often indifferent to their welfare, and at worst, sends many of them daily signals that their lives are of lesser worth than students from the other side of their hometown.
What’s next on your research agenda?
If we’re going to deal more intelligently with ethical and political entanglements, then we must cultivate better conditions for dialogue, debate, and persuasion. Toward this end, I’m currently completing two book manuscripts: Beyond Moral Fundamentalism: Pluralism in Ethics, Education, and Politics, and Ecological Imagination. Both books explore the lack of fit between “my way or the highway” moral fundamentalism and the messy problems of our place and time. We must see how far we can go toward replacing the current one-way-street moral and political mentality with a context of democratic social inquiry.
Faculty Spotlight on Teaching
Mr. Darrell Shomaker (Philosophy)
What initially attracted you to philosophy?
I think I must have been born a philosopher. Even as a child, I was a “deep thinker,” always preoccupied with the ultimate questions concerning the mysteries of existence, God, and the nature of reality. I tested my parents’ patience with those questions I am sure. Once I started reading philosophy as an undergraduate I was attracted to the inexhaustible, immense scope of the field. There is truly something for everyone in philosophy.
What inspires you as a teacher?
Inspiration is really what it is all about for me. What is education, after all, if not inspiring others to learn and grow? So, it is the potential I have to inspire others that motivates me as a teacher. The possibility that I may present a message or facilitate a conversation in class that inspires students. That’s what drive me.
What do you find most challenging about the classroom?
The classroom certainly provides many challenges. Perhaps the most difficult challenge comes in trying help students be truly present and genuinely open to learning experiences in the classroom. That is, helping students to lean in to engage and appreciate our time together instead of bracing themselves for anticipated boredom with determination to “get through” the class meeting. Formal methodologies aside, I find that affirming students, relating to their challenges and reminding them that I genuinely care about their success in class (and life) often goes a long way toward overcoming resistance and dissonance in the classroom.
What advice for doing well in the classroom would you offer students?
Recognize the moment and honor the extraordinary and somewhat privileged opportunities before you. Sometimes I remind students that “this is YOUR college experience, don’t miss it!” Be part of the tradition and immerse yourself in the material for the sake of academic success, but also for your own enrichment and personal development. Read, read, read, bring ideas to class, and be co-facilitators in the classroom.
Why do you think education in philosophy is important?
Philosophy fundamentally questions everything and presumes little to nothing. That uncompromising commitment to critical thinking and fearless inquiry is just what students need as they prepare to take their place in a world facing many serious problems. While known for its focus on contemplation and deliberation of classical ideals, philosophy is best understood as an applied field of study with the capacity to inform and guide participation and success in any field of study, profession, or path in life.