Philosophy professor to examine ‘monsterology’ in Honors Lecture

Stephen T. Asma, a professor of philosophy at Columbia College in Chicago, will be the guest speaker at the annual Honors Lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 22, at Radford University.

Asma’s talk, “Thinking about Monsters: A Philosophy of Horror and Vulnerability,” is scheduled for 4 p.m. in the Bonnie Hurlburt Student Center auditorium. The event is free and open to the public and is sponsored by Radford University’s Honors College, with support from the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Lab and the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.  

“The category ‘monster,’” Asma said, describing his lecture topic, “disrupts the borders and boundaries of what we consider natural, normal and even intelligible. Our rational systems of order are overturned by the monstrous.”

In his lecture, Asma will “examine the role of monsters in cognition and knowledge, the ethical and political uses of monstrosity, the relation to personal identity and the problem of evil,” he said. “A philosophical ‘monsterology’ is committed to the idea that we can better understand the human condition by examining what scares us – what makes us vulnerable.”

Asma’s message is an important one to hear, said Philosophy and Religious Studies Chair Paul Thomas, Ph.D., and “for students, studying monsters is an excellent window into social anxieties.

“Human atrocities against outsider groups are often preceded by language that paints them as monsters,” Thomas continued. “Stephen Asma’s work on the monstrous teaches us to recognize this language and to understand its rhetorical purpose. In today’s highly polarized atmosphere, where migrants are described as beasts and healthcare professionals as demons, it is important that students identify monstrous language and to understand the potentially disastrous implications of dehumanizing others.”

Asma, who also serves as senior fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture at Columbia College, is the author of 10 books, including “On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears.” He frequently writes for The New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Big Think.

He was a visiting professor at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2003 and has researched Asian philosophies in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and Laos. In 2014, he taught philosophy as a Fulbright Scholar in Beijing, China.

In addition to his upcoming Honors Lecture at Radford, Asma has been an invited speaker at Harvard University, Brown University, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and many others. 

“The Honors Lecture has a wonderful tradition of bringing interesting speakers to campus, but Professor Asma might have rocketed to the top of that list,” said Honors College Director Niels Christensen, Ph.D. “His multi-disciplinary approach to understanding monsters is certain to generate thoughtful reflection on the problem of evil in the world today.”

The Honors College at Radford University is an academic program and vibrant community defined by intellectual curiosity and active engagement in the educational process. 

Students admitted to the Honors College are eligible for a number of benefits, including enrollment in honors classes, honors housing, honors programming and honors advising. Students who complete the 27-credit hour honors curriculum graduate as Highlander Honors Scholars, the highest academic distinction for Radford undergraduates. Students who complete the 15-credit honors curriculum graduate with the Highlander Honors Distinction.

The Honors College at Radford University is a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council, the Southern Regional Honors Council and the Virginias Collegiate Honors Council.

Feb 15, 2022
Chad Osborne