Thursday, Oct. 18 marked the first faculty research forum initiated by the Faculty Life Committee. The goal of these forums is for professors to share their current research with the faculty and student body in an open environment where questions and ideas can be brought and shared to help develop their research topics.



The goal in the future is to have two such forums each semester. There will not be another talk this semester, but next semester, the regular schedule should begin, taking place in February. The forum will provide a way for professors to share what they are currently working on with a diverse background of intellectuals and to encourage the sharing of research between departments, something that has not happened in the past.



As Professor of English Carol Holly said in the introduction of the speakers at the forum on Thursday, the forums should "cultivate more intellectual community for which we all hunger."



The intermingling of ideas between departments will not only lead to more bonding across disciplines, but will also bring a larger and more prevalent scope to the research itself.



Professor Michael Fuerstein of the philosophy department, who presented on Thursday, expects this forum to "prove a valuable opportunity to illuminate for one another the diverse bits of the universe that we have devoted ourselves to understanding."



Professor Mara Benjamin of the religion department, the other professor who presented on Thursday, stressed that teaching is only part of the professors' responsibility.



"An active research agenda is a crucial component in the vitality of our teaching and our excitement about ideas," she said.



Thus, the research forum will help the professors not only in their research, but also in their teaching, as they are encouraged to become the students in their research lives to explore and probe new connections in their fields.



Fuerstein and Benjamin presented their research topics in the form of thought processes in their exploration and development of a thesis.



Fuerstein asked the question, "What is the distinctive good that is in democracy and what does it entail?" He then dove into his thoughts on the definition of democracy, its influences on society and society's influences on democracy.  He described two ways to look at democracy: the procedural approach and the epistemic approach. The procedural approach focuses on the good of democracy because of its fair decision-making process. The epistemic approach, that there is some standard of truth, is what Fuerstein wanted to focus on, however.



In this idea, justified policies will be those that reflect the values of citizens.  Democracy should give us what we want, and therefore constitute our own morality, which should match the epistemic truth. Achieving this society, however, means paying attention to the citizens' particularities, but not necessarily giving them what they want because of the average person's biases or lack of expertise. Keeping society involved requires a balance between making sense of the values we want in our country and realizing when to say to someone, "No, your values are wrong." When opening up to the audience, questions were explored regarding how this would work and what is missing from the argument.



Benjamin thought about the relationship she had with her children as a basis for her research on understanding parent/child relationships using the modern Jewish thought framework. She first thought about parent/child relationships when talking about God and how the very idea of God as a father and people as his children fosters this discussion between parents and children.



This led to thoughts about burden and obligation in caring for primal creatures such as babies, which are constantly "yoked" to someone.  She thought about how some interpret proper freedom as having the right relationships and, thus, burdens. This argument of a self with obligations challenges the other thought of the self as a free agent, bringing a new perspective on the modern self. Jewish thinkers are divided on this new idea of self, but she wants to "forge this conversation."



Overall, the forum on Thursday was an enlightening kickoff to the first of many faculty discussions to come. Students are encouraged to keep their eyes open for future seminars, especially when their favorite professors are due to present.



Thanks to the inauguration of faculty research forums, students and faculty alike will truly have the opportunity to learn something new every day.



 



dipietro@stolaf.edu