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NEH summer grant winners

Two philosophy faculty members dish on upcoming scholarship at Yale and Wesleyan, winning proposal content for prestigious awards.

By Cory Phare

May 9, 2018

National Endowment for the HumanitiesTransformation happens when Roadrunners have access to excellence. And thanks to two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar invitees in our Department of Philosophy, that excellence is coming home to Metropolitan State University of Denver.

We recently had a chance to catch up about the competitive programs with Carol Quinn, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, who will take part in “The Bhagavad Gita: Ancient Poem, Modern Readers” at Yale University’s Bard College; and Caleb Cohoe, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy, who will contribute to “Reviving Philosophy as a Way of Life” at Wesleyan University this summer.

Congratulations on the prestigious honor – what will you be working on as part of the program?

Carol Quinn, Ph.D.: For the first week and a half of the comprehensive program, I’ll be immersed in studying the Bhagavad Gita. By doing this in its original Sanskrit, it gives me a chance to look at interpretive biases, as any translation inherently carries these. The second half of the three-week program will be devoted to looking at the text in contemporary settings – how we’re receptive to the teachings today.

Caleb Cohoe, Ph.D.: I’ll be looking at philosophy as a way of life – and the various views on what that involves, from Eastern thought such as Confucianism and Buddhism to the Stoics and modern existentialists. Also, I’ll be looking at teaching this in the classroom: how we can use different exercises and immerse ourselves to promote dialogue so it’s not just about writing things down and memorizing them.

How did you get interested in this area of study?

CC: I’ve long been interested in the techniques of the ancient Stoics such as Epictetus, a freed slave who advocated for the application of philosophy beyond theoretical exercise. In my Intro to Ethics course, we practice pre-imagining possible negative situations to better face them; I’ll also be conducting an Honors Program colloquium on “The Art of Living: Ways of Life in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy, Religion, and Literature,” so the application was a natural fit.

CQ: I’ve been teaching the Bhagavad Gita for about three years now but haven’t done anything immersive like this before. The text is really a lovely piece of writing; it’s essentially a dialogue between Krishna (in Hinduism, the eighth avatar of principal deity Vishnu) and Arjuna, a warrior prince who is reluctant to fight a war against his kin. The lessons that Krishna teaches are loving and tender (although Arjuna is admonished at times); they also depict a spiritual warfare in each of us between good and evil – and how to overcome the darker tendencies within. 

What goes into a winning proposal submission?

CQ: I tried to show a deep engagement with the text in my application, along with referencing passages that talk about free will – a personal interest of mine. Additionally, I bring a feminist philosophical perspective, which is fairly unique: Female-identified individuals are underrepresented in the field of philosophy, and I highlighted my work with the Undergraduate Women’s Philosophy Conference. In my materials, I also drew on parts of the Bhagavad Gita that can be read as having anti-female elements, which we’ll discuss as part of the program.

CC: In my proposal, I specifically talked about the ways I envision this experience helping students to connect abstract ideas with practical suggestions for living their lives. I also included my research interests involving the connections between ancient philosophy and early Christianity, such as St. Augustine’s engagement with the Stoics and Platonists. 

How do you foresee this benefiting MSU Denver students upon your return?

CC: I’m hoping to get some new teaching ideas and exercises for both introductory and upper-level classes, looking at ways to present areas like Buddhism and Confucianism more effectively for students. Additionally, I was involved in one of our Faculty Learning Committees this year using the Reacting to the Past pedagogy, where we participated in role-playing political factions in ancient Athens – I’m really interested in connecting this pedagogy up with philosophy as a way of life.

CQ: I anticipate that the instructional benefit to my students will be immeasurable, solely from having a more comprehensive understanding of the text to be able to communicate with them. The text contains so many open questions; being surrounded by a group of experts will no doubt help advance both my teaching and ongoing scholarship here at MSU Denver.

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