2019–2020 Lecture Series: WISDOM & TRANSFORMATION

Welcome to the Boston University Institute for Philosophy & Religion!

The 2019-2020 academic year brings us a new lecture series, on the topic of “Wisdom and Transformation.” This series brings together intellectual traditions, East and West, to ask whether philosophy can make us better people, and how we can transform our own moral selves!

Please like our Facebook Page for convenient updates and notifications of upcoming lectures, and view the complete program for a list of the fall semester’s events!

The fall series has come to an end, but feel free to view the videos of this semester’s wonderful lectures, below!



List and links to last year’s lectures below!

Paul Katsafanas drew our attention to the issue of self-understanding, through some interesting ethical points raised by Iris Murdoch and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Video of Professor Katsafanas’s lecture is available here.

Agnes Callard argued that there is a fundamental problem in ethics, and that our common view of the mind as a tool exacerbates it, forcing us to consider some people more inherently valuable than others.

Video of Professor Callard’s lecture is available here.

Jay Garfield explained the rich and distinct ethical phenomenology offered by Santideva, illustrating how the way we see our moral landscape can be more decisive than we the ways we intentionally act.

Video of Professor Garfield’s lecture is available here.

L.A. Paul offered a nuanced account of how decision theory breaks down in cases of epistemically and personally transformative experiences, and proposed some ideas for pursuing rationality under those conditions.

Video of Professor Paul’s lecture will be available at a later date!

Richard Eldridge argued that Plato and Žižek present visions of courage that miss the mark, and that Werner Herzog presents a more compelling picture of courage in his films.

Video of Professor Eldridge’s lecture is available here.

Susan Sauvé Meyer launched our series on “Wisdom and Transformation” by helping us put our feet down in Aristotle’s moral philosophy, especially the issue of whether we are responsible for the sorts of people we become.

Video of Professor Meyer’s lecture is available here.

Aaron Preston talked about the rise and fall of Personalism in the popular philosophical discourse, and made a compelling case for why we should bring it back into the discussion.

Video of Professor Preston’s lecture is available here.

Brook Ziporyn shed some light on how Buddhist ideas transformed as they made their way from India to China, specifically in the context of Tiantai Buddhism and its understanding of nonself.

Video of Professor Ziporyn’s lecture is available here.

Randall Auxier wrapped up our semester with a discussion of the importance of “the personal” as a category for understanding our cosmos, and brought the Boston personalists to center stage.

Video of Professor Auxier’s lecture is available here.

Margarita Mooney helped us to understand how personalism can play a role in the 21st century, by focusing our attention on the development of ourselves (and our students!) as full human beings, in loving contact with a Transcendent Other.

Video of Professor Mooney’s lecture is available here.

Sarah Jacoby introduced us to the autobiographical writing of Tibet, through a discussion of the early 20th century treasure-revealer Sera Khandro, and helped us realize a vision of personhood that is deeply interrelational, involving both other persons and one’s physical place on the Earth.

Video of Professor Jacoby’s lecture is available here.

Shaun Gallagher helped us understand the complicated landscape of cognitive science, and how it can be applied to the study of religion with care and precision, to elevate our understanding of human personhood.

Video of Professor Gallagher’s lecture is available here.

Marya Schechtman’s precise and careful argument in favor of a tripartite bio/psycho/social view of human personhood forced us to challenge the mostly-Lockean roots of many “commonsense” ideas about who we are.

Video of Professor Schechtman’s lecture is available here.

David Lamberth opened our series with a discussion of how several key personalists, including William James and Hermann Lotze, grappled with the problem of consciousness and agency in a seemingly mechanistic universe.

Video of Professor Lamberth’s lecture is available here.

Paul Bloom explained his thoughtful critique of the concept of empathy, and told us why it makes a poor guide for moral decision making. Instead, he recommends reasoned compassion, and makes a compelling case for its superiority in this regard.

Video of Professor Bloom’s lecture is available here.

Anna Bialek discussed Alexander Nehamas’s view of friendship as the promise of happiness, but cleverly reversed his formula to focus on the happiness of promise that we derive from spending time with the people we love.

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Kieran Setiya presented his unique stance on the nature of personal acquaintance, and the incredible difficulty of explaining precisely what it consists in, forcing us to rethink what it means to know someone, to love someone, and to bear moral responsibilities toward someone.

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Molly Farneth walked us through the difficult, sometimes esoteric works of Hegel, in search of a refined and sophisticated understanding of conflict and reconciliation that recognizes the ongoing nature of differences, even within close-knit communities.

Video of Professor Farneth’s lecture is available here.

Stephen Bush introduced us to the difficult thought of Emmanuel Levinas and Iris Murdoch on the question of whether the immediate ethical demands made by the face of the Other can be broadened into an ethos of care for the world at large, and whether mere empathy is sufficient for ethics.

Video of Professor Bush’s lecture is available here.

Marion Holmes Katz gave us an insightful discussion of the struggle to locate love within the broader narratives of Islamic studies, and made it clear for us that traditional pictures that take love to be the exclusive domain of Sufism are misguided and out of date.

Video of Professor Katz’s lecture is available here.

Wendy Doniger introduced us to the concept of dvesha-bhakti, a hatred so powerful that, over time, it transforms into a kind of devotion.

Audio of Professor Doniger’s lecture is available here.

Robert Merrihew Adams started our series for the year with a discussion of the seeming contradiction between the nature of love–namely, that it can only be love if it is had for the sake of the beloved–and God’s commandment to love thy neighbor.

Video of Professor Adams’s lecture is available here.

Peter Hawkins delivered our final lecture of the year, on Dante’s Divine Comedy, with a beautiful explication of the steps along Dante Pilgrim’s journey from the depths of the Inferno, to the heights of Paradiso.

Video of Professor Hawkins’s lecture is available here.

Our symposium with Brita Heimarck, Jason McCool, Victor Coelho, and Joseph Winters was a big hit, bringing the blues, jazz, and hip-hop into our philosophical discourse about hope and despair in some very interesting ways.

Video of Professor Winters’s lecture is available here.

We had a great panel discussion with Jamel Velji, David Frankfurter, April Hughes, and Michael Pregill, on the wide variety of apocalyptic thoughts and movements, along with some–sometimes disturbing–similarities between them.

Video will be available soon.

We thoroughly enjoyed Professor Jordan’s talk on the Dionysian nature of beauty, especially as it appears in Plato’s Symposium and the works of Nietzsche (two thinkers who might not be so incompatible in this regard, after all).

There will not be any video of this lecture.

Professor Coyne offered us a look at the changing understanding of the relationship between hope and despair by tracing a path through the thought of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida.

Video of Professor Coyne’s lecture is available here.

Professor Marasco’s lecture on critical theory after Hegel, and especially on the notion of dialectical despair and its strong motivational power for “the ruthless critique of everything existing,” challenged us to think in a radically different direction about what despair is and how it acts in our lives.

Video of Professor Marasco’s lecture is available here.

We received Professor Chignell’s Kantian approach to the question of why we ought to be hopeful, even in this modern era of climate change and global strife. What we saw was a picture of the world in which every opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, is cause for hope and action.

Video of Professor Chignell’s lecture is available here.

Professor Schilbrack gave us a glimpse into a more inclusive and expansive philosophy of religion as he envisions it for the future of the discipline, and Professors Lewis and Pritchard gave sharp, insightful responses. Much food for thought was generated in a wonderful start to our series this year!

Video of Professor Schilbrack’s lecture is available here.

Our full schedule of this past year is here

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