NEH Grant Promotes Philosophy as Way of Life

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Fordham University, along with Notre Dame and Wesleyan Universities, has received a grant of $137,045 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support a NEH Summer Institute for faculty, with a focus on teaching “Philosophy as a Way of Life.”

Stephen Grimm, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy, will head up the effort with colleagues Meghan Sullivan, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, and Stephen Angle, Ph.D., the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies and professor of philosophy at Wesleyan University.

The two-week summer institute will take place in 2018 on the Wesleyan campus, with some two-dozen members of faculty from institutions around the nation invited to participate. Grimm said the seminar will encourage university faculty to offer their students practical courses in everyday philosophy, rooted in intellectual rigor.

“There’s been a dumbing down of some of these ancient traditions; if it’s not an ad on the subway, it’s [the word]‘mindfulness,’” said Grimm. “We’re all overwhelmed by technology, and it’s hard to find space to reflect, breathe, and find perspective. The ancient traditions have insight into how to avoid being swept along with the affairs of the day.”

Grimm said the institute is part of an ongoing revival of interest in “philosophy as a way of life,” which “is grounded in our basic human desire to live well.”

“We’ve always had to desire to live well,” he said. “Maybe for some people it is tied to traditional sources of advice, like religious sources.”

He said he finds that the various religious philosophies—from Stoicism to Buddhism to Confucianism to Existentialism—complement his beliefs as a Christian.

“But even if you were coming at the ‘way of life’ approach with no commitments or religious beliefs, these are still fascinating ways on how to deal with things like technology, which has practically been weaponized through the constant texting, emailing, and social media,” he said. “Each of us needs time to step back and analyze these things thoughtfully, and learn how to train our attention on what’s important in life.”

He said that without an understanding of the various ways of reasoning, any philosophy could be imposed.
“If you don’t choose it, the culture will do that for you,” he said.

An integral part of the Fordham core curriculum, philosophy also plays a much larger role in one’s career, said Grimm, whose own groundbreaking research on understanding earned Fordham its largest-ever humanities grant.

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