I offer the following as a break from our (excellent!) long posts reflecting on conference matters:
1 (of 5). The Problem of Political Philosophy: Only Links to Offer
Bookforum‘s excellent Omnivore blog held forth on “The Problem of Political Philosophy” in a post a few days ago. If you’re not familiar with Omnivore, its posts are constructed as carnivalesque clouds of links on specific themes. Each link is usually a full story, opinion piece, or book review. My favorite link in this post is to a paper by Francesca Pasquali that brings together political theory, political philosophy, and public philosophy. The last has been a concern to me for some time because it links the work of Walter Lippmann and Mortimer J. Adler. Here’s a provocative excerpt from Pasquali’s abstract (bolds mine):
Public philosophy detects the shared values grounding political practices and employs them to develop criteria for guiding policy decisions. It is attentive to empirical data and constraints and it provides solutions that are effective in political terms. Political philosophy takes its distance from congiuntural facts and practically subscribed principles. While sensitive to practical problems, it does not aim at elaborating practically viable solutions: it is rather concerned with the theoretical adequacy of its principles. Public philosophy seems better equipped for developing proposals serviceable during hard times, when effective political responses are in need.
2. A Poll: “The Best Quality Journals in the History of Philosophy”
University of Chicago Law School professor (and philosopher) Brian Leiter, who runs Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, recently conducted a poll that should be interest to all intellectual historians. Using CIVS (Condercet Internet Voting Service), he asked readers to rank the best journals, of a list of seventeen, for publication on the history of philosophy. Here are his Top 11:
1. Journal of the History of Philosophy
2. Philosophical Review
3. Philosophy & Phenomenological Research
4. British Journal for the History of Philosophy
5. Archiv fur Geschichte der Philosophie
6. History of Philosophy Quarterly
7. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society
8. European Journal of Philosophy
9. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly
10. Canadian Journal of Philosophy
11. Journal of the History of Ideas
See the rest of his results here.
3. Teaching The Big, Hard Ideas—Online
Writing for the National Association of Scholars (a rather conservative group that advocates “working to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges”), David Clemens offers a rather pessimistic assessment of the ability of online courses to relay the essence of the humanities online. Here is a sampling of his reflections (bolds mine):
I recall a college administrator who while cutting literature classes spoke passionately about more “student access to higher education.” I said, “Access doesn’t do them any good if there’s no higher education when they get here. What you are cutting is higher education.”
Between dumbing down and advocacy teaching, peer editing and “student-centered” classrooms, Theory and CorporateU., PowerPoint presentations and courses on Buffy— higher education in the traditional sense has been smothered. …Instead of seriously examining such eternal questions of the meaning of life, the liberal arts and humanities wither away in favor of pragmatic but less formative pursuits. What do these words have in common: American, leisure, postcolonial, liberal, gender, disability, queer, environmental, animal? Answer: followed by the word, “studies,” all are degree-granting college majors. …
The Big Question is whether the imperatives of current educational models make widespread embrace of online classes inevitable. It may be a situation of hug or die. …Conversely, online is ideal for what I call “boutique” courses, classes people take because they are interested in the subject, not because they “need” them. …That’s online’s proper role—to supplement face-to-face classes for students in special circumstances (pregnant, remote, homebound) and as a lab for exploration of niche topics. Will that prevail? I doubt it.
To bring this home, Clemens piece makes me skeptical that intellectual history courses can be effectively taught—or at least effectively absorbed by students—in an online teaching environment.
4. Defining American’s Knowledge of Religion
About a month ago, before the elections heated up, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s “U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey” was all over the news. Like other “shocking” surveys that make an impression, this one was about how ignorant Americans are. These are usually about history (or those are the ones I remember), but this one covered comparative religion. Because it asked respondents their religious affiliation, it was also able to break down responses by sect. Here’s an excerpt from the survey’s Executive Summary (to catalyze your memory):
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey. …Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
I’m bringing this to your attention not to replay the results, but to draw your attention to this excellent set of scholarly replies posted at The Immanent Frame, a blog hosted by the Social Science Research Council. Here is a sampling of the first reply by Richard Amesbury, Associate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology; Associate Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate University (bolds mine):
Insofar as it aims to grade Americans on their “religious knowledge,” the new Pew survey contains a strongly normative subtext: that there are certain things that every American ought to know about religion. …In an earlier piece, I suggested an alternative interpretation: that the things social scientists take to be important about “religion”—–in this case, a range of externally available facts about “the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions”—–aren’t all that important to many Americans. This need not imply that Americans are insincere or incapable of successfully orienting themselves in a culturally diverse environment; rather, it suggests that the conceptual maps they use to do this don’t always conform to the expectations of demographers.
Instead of concluding that Americans lack “religious knowledge” because they don’t know what social scientists think they should, we might want to ask what, if anything, the study reveals about lived religion.
Amesbury suggests the very thing I pointed out to a few friends in a debate about the results: We study epistemology because there are different ways of knowing. And in this case, the creators of the Pew survey did not address practical knowledge in relation to religion—or the kinds of knowledge (i.e. ethics, or how-to navigational skills) that practitioners seek from their chosen faiths. I hope that historians of American religion make these distinctions when they assess how religion operates? And this topic also matters to those assessing how religion fits into the Culture Wars in the United States.
5. A New Journal: History of the Present
Andrew Hartman alerted me to this via his FB page, but History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History should be of interest to U.S. intellectual historians. It relays its avowed purpose as follows:
Its aim is twofold: to create a space in which scholars can reflect on the role history plays in establishing categories of contemporary debate by making them appear inevitable, natural or culturally necessary; and to publish work that calls into question certainties about the relationship between past and present that are taken for granted by the majority of practicing historians. Its editors want to encourage the critical examination of both history’s influence on politics and the politics of the discipline of history itself. The journal’s object is to showcase articles that exemplify the practice of what might be called theorized empirical history.
I can definitely see some of our regular USIH contributors and commenters taking an interest in getting into this periodical. It seems like this endeavor borders on investigative journalism—which reminds me of a quip I recently heard, relayed by Bill Moyers: “The difference between a journalist and an historian is that the historian knows the difference.” Humor aside, it looks like History of the Present will be a place for historians to act in the Laschian tradition of social criticism. – TL