I think about who I became at Elon, and I like that person. Most of the things I’m proud of about myself, I trace back in some way to my experience as a philosophy major. Philosophy is how I learned feminism, and how I learned about activism and navigating institutional problems with a sharp critical eye. It’s where I found my fit at Elon, and where I developed my intellectual passions. I miss my Elon philosophic community something fierce – the table where I sat and had so many hard but productive conversations, the community of awesome thinking friends, the constant encouragement to try things that most undergraduate philosophers would never have been encouraged to do, and the frequent presence of baked goods and coffee…I just really appreciate and value my experience as a philosophy major at Elon. And I think it’ll serve me well in the future in some traditional and not-at-all traditional ways.
The Pursuit of (Practical) Wisdom
At the heart of liberal arts education lies an understanding of philosophy — that’s why the most advanced degree in the liberal arts is known as the Doctor of Philosophy. But philosophy is a rewarding and valuable field of study in its own right. The word itself means “love of wisdom,” and as a philosophy major at Elon, you can gain the understanding, insight, perspective and skills — the practical wisdom — to be prepared for whatever postgraduate path you pursue.
Elon’s philosophy program is built on twin foundations: a broader philosophical perspective that encourages the exploration of enduring human concerns; and a practical intent, emphasizing skills and techniques for putting the broader understanding into practice and enriching human life and the unfolding world around us.
These twin foundations lead to a wide variety of ways of engaging in philosophical learning. Certainly there is a lot of reading, close summarizing and deep engagement with the great texts that make up philosophy’s past and present, both within and well outside the cannon. In addition, students are engaged in a tremendous variety of innovative experiences: you might hold class discussion while walking across campus; go to a meditation retreat; play with circuits to learn logic; present at a professional conference; work on cutting edge research alongside a faculty mentor; create and perform your final exam as a rap (on stage and in front of a live audience); write and publish an editorial in a local paper; visit and partner with lions, servals, binturongs and other wild animals at local refuges and sanctuaries; teach your classmates for a week; collaborate on a semester-long project; get involved with a service-learning project in the community; or even try to give up a bad habit. The variety is endless, but the purpose is constant: to engage in profound, transformative experiences that lead to deep and powerful learning.
Everyone in a philosophy class, whether a student who only takes one class or our majors, gain experience practicing a vital set of tools: critical-thinking skills and the capacity to clearly articulate a point of view; an ability to grasp a variety of viewpoints and a deeper understanding of the nature and limits of understanding itself; a keen sense for moral and ethical perspectives and the ability to bridge social and cultural differences; and more imaginative and open-ended kinds of thinking and creative problem solving. And students will find a vibrant and supportive community within the department, encouraging academic excellence and authentic engagement in the hard, powerful and rewarding work that philosophy offers. Taking one class or many, students will take away skills that they can bring to bear in any endeavor, and work in the places where, as the poet Frederick Buechner put it, “our own deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”
At Elon, students enjoy significant individual attention and build close working relationships with their professors. Faculty members take a personal interest in each student’s progress. And that relationship doesn’t end at the classroom door; professors are happy to meet with students outside class to answer questions, explore new ideas, offer advice or suggest new ways of thinking and unsuspected possibilities.
The philosophy faculty are recognized experts in the field, and their range of specialty areas is wide.
- Dr. Nim Batchelor’s work focuses on the philosophy of law, social justice, and helping students in their search for meaning in life. His discussion-oriented classes strive to enable student curiosity, productive reflection and philosophically informed, mindful living.
- Dr. Stephen Bloch-Schulman works at the intersection of political philosophy and the scholarship of teaching and learning, with a focus on critical democratic pedagogy.
- Dr. Ann J. Cahill studies the intersection of feminist theory and philosophy of the body, and is the author of Rethinking Rape (2001) and Overcoming Objectification: A Carnal Ethics (2011). Her current teaching involves experimenting with “just-in-time” pedagogies, which allows for student interests to guide the specific content of a class.
- Dr. Martin Fowler’s academic work and community practice include restorative justice and ethical skills for critical thinking, with emphasis upon service learning and servant leadership. He is the author of The Ethical Practice of Critical Thinking and You Always Belonged and You Always Will: A Philosophy of Belonging (2014).
- Dr. Ryan Johnson explores the productive encounters between contemporary continental and ancient philosophy. His classes include Philosophies of Rome and Philosophy of Food, and he is the author of The Delueze-Lucretius Encounter and co-editor of The Movement of Nothingness.
- Dr. Yoram Lubling teaches American pragmatism and Jewish philosophy. He is the author of Twice-Dead: Moshe Y. Lubling, the Ethics of Memory, and the Treblinka Revolt.
- Dr. Anthony Weston is author of a variety of widely-used textbooks, such as A Rulebook for Arguments (Hackett) and A 21st Century Ethical Toolbox (Oxford) as well as Jobs for Philosophers and numerous other books.
- Dr. John Sullivan, professor emeritus, is a beloved teacher and author of To Come to Life More Fully and Living Large.
Dr. Shannon Lundeen works on the intersections of feminist bioethics, social justice, and the history of sexuality. She employs critical and hybrid pedagogies in the classroom and is currently experimenting with teaching metacognitive practices and writing in order to promote deeper, more engaged learning.
The Department of Philosophy prides itself on a distinctly practical orientation. In a co-authored piece that was published in the journal Bridges, the department’s faculty advanced a vision of philosophy — described as “transformative practice” — that “calls us to live with larger mind, to marshal our ethical intelligence, to uncover hidden dynamics and beliefs that inhibit our understanding and compassion, and to belong in our ever-widening concentric circles of relationships with kindly acumen and reconstructive flair. In short, the task of philosophy as transformative practice is to intentionally and unapologetically deepen experience and foster human flourishing.” To study philosophy, then, is not only to seek knowledge of texts and ideas, or to become proficient in a certain set of skills. It is to seek ways of living that are richer, more meaningful and more ethically sound.
The philosophy curriculum at Elon is designed to train students in three broad sets of skills:
- Critical and constructive thinking: learning how to identify, analyze and find solutions to problems
- Ethical practice: exploring ways to act wisely and effectively
- Interpretive understanding: bridging the meaning and value systems of diverse individuals, cultures and epochs.
Building upon the principles of critical thinking and ethical practice, philosophy students survey both ancient and modern philosophy. Each student then pursues a curriculum tailored to his or her interests, such as feminist philosophy, environmental ethics, or philosophy of education. The philosophy major is designed to allow students to double major. Many choose to pair it with a professional program, such as education or communications, or with a major in the arts and sciences.
Elon students are encouraged to build on their classroom knowledge by pursuing internships, service learning programs, study abroad opportunities and other experiential avenues. You might put your learning to work in the real world by volunteering with community organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or at a soup kitchen. Senior majors in the department’s integrative seminars partner with community organizations to explore philosophical perspectives on pressing social issues and actions.
You also will have the chance to conduct original research, working with faculty or on your own with their guidance. Philosophy students regularly present research findings at the Elon’s annual Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF).
Philosophy students established a chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, the national philosophy honor society, which overlaps with the very active Philosophy Club called the Philosollamas. Members conduct engaging meetings, host public events (such as the Diotima Series), and make field trips to regional philosophical events, lectures, and happenings.
While many people joke about the job prospects of philosophy majors, vast job and graduate school data and our experience show that, in truth, a philosophy degree is exceptionally useful. Many Elon philosophy majors go on to graduate school, especially law school. Many law schools seek students with a degree in philosophy, as do divinity schools and many corporations and nonprofit organizations that value the critical-thinking and imaginative skills that philosophy offers. Other philosophy graduates enter careers in fields ranging from community organizing to education to business to government. Regardless of which path you choose, your studies at Elon will give you the tools, the insight and the perspective to make a real contribution to society.