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Select Current and Past Diversity-Relevant Courses

2017–2018

PHIL 560, Africana Philosophy (Kathryn T. Gines)

This course explores and analyzes existing and emerging dominant themes in Africana philosophical discourse. It examines the construction of the Africana Philosophy canon and dominant themes that emerge within that canon while also identifying new directions for this important area of philosophy. With this in mind graduate students will explore central foundational articles and books that signaled the rise of Africana Philosophy, edited collections and anthologies in Africana Philosophy, existing course syllabi, and more recent trajectories in Africana Philosophy in the 21st Century. Furthermore, the course will make central not only the contributions of early and contemporary male philosophers and activist-intellectuals to this tradition, but also critical women philosophical figures (who have often been marginalized by their male counterparts).


WMST 597, Feminism, Intersectionality, Decolonialism: The Work of María Lugones (Nancy Tuana)

This course provides an opportunity to study the lineages of the work of Latina feminist theorist, María Lugones.  Her thought has been central to the formation of Latina feminist philosophy and theory and has been highly influential in liberatory work in both feminist and decolonial theory.  Her writings span a wide range of topics including importance of the affective, “Hard-to-Handle Anger,” the interrelations between oppressing ßà resisting relations, “Purity, Impurity, and Separation,” the role of world-travelling “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling, and Loving Perception,” street-walker theorizing as a way to bridge theory and activism, “Tactical Strategies of the Streetwalker/ Estrategias Tácticas de la Callejera,” and the modern colonial gender system, “The Coloniality of Gender.”

The seminar will enable participants to develop a foundational understanding of Lugones’ thought in anticipation of a conference that will be held at Penn State in May 2018.  Seminar participants will be encouraged to develop and submit an abstract to the conference.  The conference provides a unique opportunity to continue the work of the seminar as it will likely attract top Latina/o thinkers, both feminist and decolonial.



2016–2017

PHIL 597, Decolonizing Philosophy: Topologies of Reason (Eduardo Mendieta)

This seminar will engage the work of postcolonial and decolonial thinkers through the trope of the “topology of reason.” We will study the work of Said, Spivak, Bhaba, Coronil, Dussel, Quijano, and Lugones in order to track/trace the idea that the logos of reason is always tied to, or thought from, a particular configuration of space and time—a chronotope. We begin with a critique of the notions of post-colonialism and post-orientalism, which reinscribe the hegemony of “Western” reason. An alternative, which aims to circumvent the double bind of colonialism, is proposed in development of a notion of “post-occidentalism” that is coupled with the work of decoloniality, which is profiled as the work of immanent critique that aims to dispense with the soteriological purism of the other and the viscous perniciousness of an alleged sovereign reason. Reason has its time and place, but is always already the time and place of the other. The court of reason is the court of the other.

 

WMST 507, Feminist Theory (Nancy Tuana)

Feminist theory has two aims; the first is to critique existing knowledge practices and theoretical paradigms in a wide range of disciplines for impeded biases and exclusions of gender-related issues and experiences, and the second is to propose new theoretical paradigms that will be more inclusive of and accurately reflect the variety of human experience, as well as transforming unjust institutions, practices, and beliefs. The wide-ranging approaches that constitute the domain of feminist theory have placed justice and ethical considerations at the heart of research arguing for research that is a) epistemically responsible, b) attentive to the complexity of diversity or intersectionality, and c) has as its goal social transformation and empowerment. 

This course provides a graduate level introduction to some of the key theoretical trends and debates in feminist theory today, including: (1) feminist epistemologies, including the debate over accounts of epistemic privilege, epistemic injustice, and liberatory epistemologies such as standpoint theories and epistemologies of resistance;  (2) the debate over gender identity itself or the viability of the category "woman" and correlated concerns regarding essentialism and heterosexist economies;  (3) debates about intersectionality or how to theorize with attention to difference (including gender, race, sexuality, class, nationality, and other others), (4) postcolonial critiques of western feminism and the attempt to create a transnational and anti-racist feminism; (5) material feminist attention to the role of the body including issues of embodiment and labor; (6) accounts of agency in feminist and other liberatory narratives.

 

PHIL 539, Critical Philosophy of Race: Fanon (Robert Bernasconi)

The primary focus of the course is a close reading of the major writings of Frantz Fanon with particular attention to the context in which these texts were written as well as the sources on which he drew. So, for example, when reading Black Skin, White Masks we will look at his reading of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, his discussions of psychiatric literature, and his responses to both Leopold Senghor and Aimé Cesaire. When reading The Wretched of the Earth we will look at his responses to Touré and Cabral, as well as the debates occasioned by his discussion of violence. Fanon’s relation to Jean-Paul Sartre will be a particular focus of the course and we will read Anti-Semite and Jew, “Black Orpheus,” and extracts from Critique of Dialectical Reason. Finally, we will look at feminist critiques of Fanon and discussions of his legacy in the secondary literature.

 

2015–2016

PHIL 460, African American Philosophy (Paul Taylor)

African American philosophers and social activists have produced important texts that both take their place in the philosophical canon and revise the canon and indeed how we understand the practice of philosophy. This course surveys twentieth century African American philosophy, from Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk and Dusk of Dawn, to King's Why We Can’t Wait, to Davis's Women, Race and Class, to Boxill's Blacks and Social Justice. The books refer back to both liberal democratic and socialist philosophical treatises, as well as theological and jurisprudential writings, in order to construct new conceptions of race, citizenship, freedom, the rule of law. Moreover, they are all grounded in the concrete, problematic situation of African Americans in twentieth century America, so that they raise with special urgency the question of how philosophical reflection can address social change. In classroom debate, students will rediscover and critically examine how the history of racial strife and reconciliation affects local, national and international civic life.

One constant feature of this course is that white students and students of color become aware of differing perspectives that are hard to reconcile; this helps them to re-examine their own social identities and those of their classmates. When the course is team-taught (with one white faculty member and one faculty member of color) the same dynamic occurs between the instructor: watching them reconcile their views in discussion and pedagogy helps the students as well. It is hoped that this course will often or always be team-taught.

 

PHIL 503  Ethics and the Politics of Violence (Sarah Clark Miller)

The course will consider philosophical theories of violence, as well as their possible resolution. We will examine theories of violence in both the history of philosophy and contemporary philosophical discourse. We will analyze the specific forms of violence on which philosophers have frequently commented—for example, war, terrorism, and torture—then move beyond these forms to consider less-explored, recent philosophical work on micro-aggressions and discursive violence. Seminar members will consider when, if ever, is violence morally permissible or justifiable and whether it can, in some contexts be morally obligatory. Are there contexts other than self-defense in which violence is morally permissible? Can one perform a violent act of self-defense in an ethically correct fashion? Or is this a contradiction in terms?

We will draw on the intersection of ethics, politics, and epistemology as we determine which public and private actions are thought to be violent and which are not, and, moreover, of which forms of violence we tend to remain ignorant. Is epistemic injustice itself a form of violence? Throughout the semester, we will continually redefine what violence is, reshaping the boundaries of this concept as we encounter new texts and even examine the question of whether violence is always a normative concept. In the panoply of ways of causing others harm, what distinguishes violence as a distinctive form of bringing about harm? Other guiding questions for the seminar will include the following: Generally speaking, how ought we evaluate the moral (im)permissibility of violence? Through the associated intention? The consequences of the violence? The role it plays in the formation or deformation of the subjectivity of perpetrators and victims? Its use as a means of accomplishing the aims of social justice? Can violence ever be considered a virtue? Such questions will lead us through a comprehensive analysis of the philosophical relationships between the concepts of violence, harm, vulnerability, and wrongdoing. In the aftermath of violence, what ought we do? What are the different forms of trauma that violence can introduce and what normative responses are most effective for resolving specific traumas? Which normative responses to violence are most appropriate?

Throughout the semester, we will conduct an intersectional analysis of violence—paying close attention to the role of gender, race, and class in the perpetration and perception of violence—and will examine different levels and contexts of violence beyond the individual level, including collective, institutional, and state violence. Overall, the course will provide a balance between educating seminar members in more canonical theories of violence and exposing them to recent, cutting-edge work on these topics.

 

2014–2015

PHIL 564   Major Figures in Twentieth-Century Philosophy: Simone de Beauvoir (Kathryn Gines)

In this course we will explore some of Simone de Beauvoir’s major philosophical writings, specifically Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex, essays in the collection Simone de Beauvoir: Philosophical Writings (Ed. Simons et al), along with two of her memoirs (America Day by Day and The Force of Circumstance).  The main focus will be on her writings, but we will also consider a comparative analysis of her philosophical positions with some of her interlocutors (such as Sartre, Fanon, and Wright).  Additionally, we will examine early seminal and more recent critical engagements with de Beauvoir in the secondary literature.

Philosophical Questions and Themes: Emphasis will be placed on Simone de Beauvoir’s analysis of ethics, politics, freedom, and situation; her theoretical framework for various systems of oppression (including race, gender/sexuality, colonialism, and age/aging); and her contributions to/influence on feminist philosophy.

 

PHIL 425W  Epistemology (Vincent Colapietro)

The first part of this course will be devoted to the main positions in contemporary epistemology (skepticism, foundationalism, coherentism, contextualism, and relativism) as these are defended by their most influential advocates (e.g., Sosa, BonJour, Williams, Putnam, and Rorty). Some attention will be paid to canonical figures in the modern epoch (e.g., René Descartes’s foundationalism, John Locke on the dangers of “enthusiasm” – i.e., fanaticism – and Thomas Reid on memory and testimony), the principal focus will be on contemporary authors.

The second part of this course will focus on social epistemology.  In addition to selections from Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance (SUNY Press, 2007), edited by Nancy Tuana and Shannon W. Sullivan, we will read Miranda Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowledge (OUP, 2009) and José Medina’s The Epistemology of Testimony: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistance Imaginations (OUP, 2012).

The course will be unevenly divided into these two parts. Roughly one third of the course will be devoted to the main positions in contemporary epistemology, whereas about two thirds will be devoted to social epistemology, with special attention being paid to the most prevalent, systemic forms of epistemic injustice. Here and there representative figures from philosophical traditions especially of interest to students (e.g., the phenomenological, hermeneutic, feminist, and pragmatic traditions) will be used to supplement the focal readings.

 

PL SC 583  Modern Political and Social Theory: The Politics of Social Identities (John Christman)

Multiculturalism and identity politics has posed a complex challenge to the modernist project of liberal democratic theory.  In particular, these movements have raised fundamental questions about the nature of the self and the political subject assumed in models of justice and social theory generally.  The idea of the rational autonomous agent whose perspective and interests are independent of social and cultural identity markers has been the focus of complex critique on behalf of those engaged in social movements that deny that very picture of the political subject.   Of particular concern for the course will be the nature and ground of social identity at issue in these debates.

This course will begin with a brief overview of the major tenets of liberal democratic theory, in particular recent work by Rawls and Habermas.  The rest of the class will then look at contemporary work that both challenges and defends that approach with regards to the question of identity politics, the politics of recognition, and claims of social identity.  Works by feminists, critical race theorists, multiculturalists and other liberals will be included.  Thinkers such as Iris Young, Linda Martin Alcoff, K. Anthony Appiah, Charles Taylor, Amy Gutmann, and others will be considered.