Six Faculty + Summer Grant = Interesting Scholarship

Each summer at Gordon, the Provost’s Office invites applications for small grants that Faculty can use toward ongoing research and scholarship in between academic years. This summer, six were awarded stipends, ranging in projects from screenwriting and data reviews to humanitarian logistics and fiction writing. Here are two recipients, with the others to follow:

For his project called,”Impacts of habitat fragmentation on small-mammal carriers of Lyme Borreliosis, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis,” Greg Keller, associate professor of biology  and curator of birds and Mammals, says his summer research will include: “1) an increase in efforts to study small mammals and tick-borne diseases; and 2) an application to the National Science Foundation Research in Undergraduate Institution program for grant support. Habitat fragmentation may impact small mammals and transmission of parasitic diseases they carry. Students and I will live-trap small mammals, collect tissue samples, and collect ticks to analyze for infectious agents of Lyme borreliosis, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. We will compare four habitats to identify specific types of fragmentation that affect these measures. This project will yield considerable data, incorporate student assistance, result in publication, and foster collaboration.”

For her research entitled, “Ritualized Interpretations: A Hermeneutic Account of Social Identities,” Lauren Barthold, associate professor of philosophy and coordinator of gender studies minor, describes her abstract this way: “Most contemporary feminist theories of identity tend toward either gender realism, with its untenable metaphysical assumptions, or post-structuralist gender deflationism, with its danger of political quietism. In an attempt to move beyond this polarizing and paralyzing dilemma, my manuscript draws on the resources of the hermeneutic tradition in philosophy, specifically that of Hans-Georg Gadamer, and argues that identities are like interpretations. Conceiving of identities as interpretations affirms their plural, dialogic and ritualized nature and shows how their main function is not to express the essence and meaning of an individual but to foster community creation.”

Grant to Ask New Questions on the Problem of Suffering

How does one address, and think about, suffering in a way that goes beyond academic engagement to practical theology? Ian DeWeese-Boyd, associate professor of philosophy & education, hopes to find out. DeWeese-Boyd is part of a team with two other scholars who have been awarded a $14,260 grant from the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame for the formation of discussion groups that will focus on such analytic theology. The grant will help DeWeese-Boyd, Patrick Smith of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Rev. James Arcadi, adjunct instructor of the Great Conversations course at Gordon, explore how contemporary approaches to the problem of suffering might address the existential and pastoral dimensions of this problem. They expect to form the group in the fall of 2014 and bring Eleonore Stump and Oliver Crisp as guest speakers. Here’s the team’s abstract:

“In addressing the problem of human suffering, analytic philosophers have traditionally been accused of doing little to comfort those actually enduing suffering. However, recent work on the problem of evil has begun to recognize the existential limits of responses to the problem of evil that focus exclusively on the reasons justifying God’s allowance of evil.  This new line of thinking holds that to respond fully to the problem of human suffering, we must expand beyond typical limits to address deeper questions than merely, ‘How can God allow this to exist?’ Eleonore Stump and Marilyn Adams suggest that responses to the problem of suffering must offer alternate routes to consolation for those suffering the heartbreak and horrors of this world. Stump focuses on how the biblical narrative provides what she calls second-personal knowledge of God. Adams focuses on how the person and work of Christ provides a redemptive identification with humans that engulfs the experience of horror. Both approaches offer substantial material for thinking about how to console suffering Christians.

“We will form a Cluster Group of seminary theologians (who specifically train those who minister to the suffering) and philosophers trying to connect theoretical discussions to the concrete struggles of those in their communities. We aim to bring these rich discussions of analytic theology to those who can benefit practically in their encounters with suffering. For this reason, we also hope to include the voices of those directly ministering to the suffering (e.g., local clergy, campus counselors, hospice workers) as we consider the pastoral significance of these contemporary analytic theodicies.  We will engage these discussions with consideration of the nature of God’s self-revelation in, through, and in spite of human suffering. We plan to discuss our epistemic access to God through Scripture, Christ, and the Sacraments as means of knowing God in the face of experiential counter-arguments. In this way, we hope to highlight the personal and practical significance of analytic theology.”

Distinguished Faculty Awards, 2012-13

On Saturday, May 18, at Gordon’s 121st Commencement ceremony, provost Janel Curry recognized professor of recreation and leisure studies Valerie Gin and assistant professor of philosophy Brian Glenney as this year’s recipients of the Distinguished Faculty Awards. The Distinguished Faculty Awards are given annually to one senior and one junior full-time faculty member in recognition of excellence in teaching, substantial scholarly and professional achievement, and notable service to the Gordon community. Upon being nominated by the faculty and members of the graduating class, the final recipients of the award are chosen by a committee comprised of Distinguished Faculty Award winners from the previous three years and the provost.

Said Provost Curry of Senior Distinguished Faculty Award winner Valerie Gin, “The Senior Distinguished Faculty Award recipient can be found almost anywhere in the world–mentoring others in places as far-ranging as South Africa or China. Beyond cultural boundary crossings, she has also been exploring the boundaries of gender and sport, and is presently working on a novel–collaboratively–around the topic of Title IX.”

Of Junior Distinguished Faculty Award winner Brian Glenney, she noted, “The Junior Distinguished Faculty Award winner also crosses boundaries–especially disciplinary boundaries. I believe our conversations this year have ranged from: perception of place, to the sovereignty of God and cultural landscapes, to randomness in nature, to graffiti art, and finally, to the construction of shelves in my house–from the abstract to the concrete and everything in between. Often I forget what department he actually belongs to because his work is so creatively cross-cutting.”

Center for Faith & Inquiry Honors Faculty Scholarship: Part II

In an effort to promote outstanding scholarship that can reach both professional and public/church audiences, the Center for Faith and Inquiry recently announced its inaugural Fellows for the 2013-14 academic year. Congratulations to the follow faculty!

David Lumsdaine

Professor of Political Science, David Lumsdaine will explore the implications of “Biblical and Ethical Perspectives on International Affairs”:

“As Christians, and simply as citizens concerned with our ethical responsibilities, we must weigh what kinds of international policies, practices, and institutions are just and good. As Christians we believe that all creation is God’s, and all we do – publically and governmentally, as privately, should be governed by God’s principles and commands, which are right and good, and thus can alone help bring about a better world. However, many students, church members, and citizens, arrive at conclusions with at best a rather cursory understanding—and often one-sided—of the background and issues.  Explicit consideration of ethical considerations—and theological or biblical considerations—is well off the beaten track in the study of International Relations. This project aims to help remedy that situation, by developing a short book which will discuss international affairs from an ethical and  a theological point of view, in a balanced, historical, and accessible way to Gordon students and the general reading public.”

Brian Glenney

Craig Story

And conducting collaborative and interdisciplinary research around the project topic, “A New Approach to Theistic Evolution: Determinate Outcomes of Random Processes,” will be Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, Craig Story, associate professor of biology, and Mike Veatch, professor of mathematics and chair of the mathematics and computer science department:

Mike Veatch

Philosopher Michael Ruse presents a fundamental problem for theistic evolution: according to many religious beliefs, human beings had to exist, because God directly created them as intelligent and moral beings. But according to the random and contingent processes of evolutionary theory, these beings need not have existed. The most popular form of reconciling these views is to consider the process of random species modification itself to be guided by bottom up causal influence from God’s careful manipulation of quantum states or some other as-of-yet-unknown strategy. We offer another theory: well-defined genetic mechanisms, while random at the lowest level, may still be determinate in that they give rise to defined higher-level functional outcomes—including traits such as intelligence and morality . . . Our project will consider and popularize the claim that the evolutionary mechanisms, though random in the individual modifications produced, operate on such a large scale that the overall outcome is, in important respects, determinate.”

Where Do Philosophical Problems Go When They Die?

Brian Glenney

Some scholars say that philosophical problems should be annihilated or killed off once they’ve outlived their usefulness. But Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, believes they live past their usefulness for philosophy and can be resurrected by scientific experiments. In fact, Glenney’s recent article “Philosophical Problems, Cluster Concepts and the Many Lives of Molyneaux’s Question” explores this in the December online issue of the top-tier journal, Biology and Philosophy. The article will also appear in a later print edition. Here’s Glenney’s abstract:

“Molyneux’s question, whether the newly sighted might immediately recognize tactilely familiar shapes by sight alone, has produced an array of answers over three centuries of debate and discussion. I propose the first pluralist response: many different answers, both yes and no, are individually sufficient as an answer to the question as a whole. I argue that this is possible if we take the question to be cluster concept of sub-problems. This response opposes traditional answers that isolate specific perceptual features as uniquely applicable to Molyneux’s question and grant viability to only one reply. Answering Molyneux’s question as a cluster concept may also serve as a methodology for resolving other philosophical problems.”

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Neither Male Nor Female: Voters on Human Issues

As the presidential election draws to an end, philosophy professors Lauren Swayne Barthold and Brian Glenney raise some interesting questions in the following editorial about why the candidates won’t get “women voters.” 

Why There Are No Women Voters and No Women’s Issue

By Lauren Barthold and Brian Glenney

Lauren Barthold

Brian Glenney

Binders or not, there are no women voters. Period. There is, we mean, no unique demographic of women, whose vote Governor Mitt Romney is supposedly losing and whose vote President Obama is supposedly gaining (or maintaining), depending on which news you heed (See “‘Gender Gap’ Near Historic Highs” by Nate Silver, New York Times, October 21, 2012.)

In the second presidential debate, when Romney described his process for hiring qualified women for his cabinet, he did not confuse and frustrate women voters, but any prospective voter. Nor did his description prompt the abortion debate or any other issue that allegedly concerns only women voters because there are no “women’s” issues.

Consider this noteworthy term “women.” As philosophers, we of course feel compelled to ask, “Do women even exist?” A recent consideration of the history of western thought by Denise Riley  shows the use of the label “women” to be, well, erratic at best: at some points in history it suggests equality to men in terms of passion, at others superiority in terms of social morality, and at others inferiority in terms of intellect. In other words, historically we have never been able to agree on an unequivocal definition of “women.” Continue reading

Moving Forward: Glenney Shows Why Symbols Matter Around Campus

Turn into any parking lot and it’s easy to spot the handicapped spaces by the traditional blue and white accessibility icon: a stationary wheelchair under a static stick figure. But this month, the handicapped spaces across Gordon’s campus show a new icon, a person leaning forward, arm in the air as if to push the wheels, making the College the first in the nation to display the new, more engaged symbol.

Thanks to the efforts of Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, who collaborated on the design with Sara Hendren, graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the new symbol challenges how people perceive those who are disabled. The forward moving icon, which the two designed and printed locally, grew out of two years of research in Glenney’s Philosophical Psychology Lab as well as advocacy in and around Boston. As a result, one local town is in the process of updating its wheelchair symbols with Glenney and Hendren’s new one and a few area businesses have done the same. But Gordon is the first college to make the switch as Glenney, students from an aesthetics class and physical plant staff replaced the old signs with new ones on October 22, 2012.

“The (old) handicap symbol, visible in every public building in the western world, offers a lifeless, passive, helpless and medical representation of people with disabilities,” Glenney said. “I realized that this representation was actually part of my own real perception of this population, and I didn’t think I was the only one. So the Accessible Icon Project began as a way of correcting this perception by re-imagining the symbols we use to represent people with disabilities.” Continue reading

Philosophic Insights of the Encyclopedic Kind

Lauren Barthold

Lauren Swayne Barthold, associate professor of philosophy and coordinator for the gender studies minor, has been busy lately. Her article “Rorty, Religion, and the Public-Private Distinction” appears in the October 2012 print issue of the peer reviewed international journal, Philosophy and Social Criticism, Volume 38 Issue 8. 

And the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a peer-reviewed academic resource, has just become a little more well-rounded, thanks in part to a new contribution from Barthold.  Her entry explores Gadamer’s perspective on the “question of Being,” and guides readers through three ways of understanding his approach and many works:

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002)

By Lauren Swayne Barthold

Hans-Georg Gadamer was a leading Continental philosopher of the twentieth century. His importance lies in his development of hermeneutic philosophy. Hermeneutics, or “the art of interpretation,” originated in biblical and legal fields and was later extended to all texts. Martin Heidegger, Gadamer’s teacher, completed the universalizing of the scope of hermeneutics by extending it beyond texts to all forms of human understanding. Hence philosophical hermeneutics inquires into the meaning and significance of understanding for human existence in general . . .

To read the rest of her entry, click HERE:

Seeing Beyond Perceptual Representations

Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, has long been interested in matters related to sensory perception. Consequently, the History of Philosophy Quarterly published Glenney’s article, “Leibniz on Molyneux’s Question,” in its July 2012 issue. The paper fills a gap in Leibniz scholarship as Glenney looks at three issues of Leibniz’s account of perception: whether perceptual representations are a species of thought, how perceptual representations are employed in their task of relating the perceiver to the external world, and how and to what degree perceptual learning influences perceptual representations. He believes the paper will be of interest to those concerned with how perceptual representations are integrated, a topic known today as “cross-modal integration.” Below is the introduction to his article:

Leibniz on Molyneux’s Question

By Brian Glenney, associate professor of philosophy

Gottfried Leibniz interposes William Molyneux’s question within his New Essays on Human Understanding

Suppose a Man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to distinguish between a Cube, and a Sphere of the same metal, and nighly of the same bigness, so as to tell, when he felt one and t’other, which is the Cube, which the Sphere. Suppose then the Cube and Sphere placed on a Table, and the Blind Man to be made to see. Quære, Whether by his sight, before he touched them, he could now distinguish, and tell, which is the Globe, which the Cube. (RB II.ix.8, 137)

Its prior publication in John Locke’s Essay included “not” replies, both by the question’s author Molyneux and Locke himself. Leibniz, however, replied “yes” for reasons yet to be directly discussed with any depth, a lacuna this paper seeks to address.

Read the rest of Glenney’s article here.

On Molyneux’s Question

Even while he’s on sabbatical in Seattle this semester, Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, is engaged in educating others about issues within his field. Recently, he made this contribution to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Molyneux’s Question, he says, prompts a number of perplexing issues in both the psychology and philosophy of perception. Primarily it links these fields of study by asking a variety of questions about how sensory perception relates to our conceptual repertoire and its utilization:

Molyneux’s Question, also known as Molyneux’s Problem, soon became a fulcrum for early research in the epistemology of concept, challenging common intuitions about how our concepts originate, whether sensory features differentiate concepts, and how concepts are utilized in novel contexts. It was reprinted and discussed by a wide range of early modern philosophers, including Gottfried Leibniz, Adam Smith, and was perhaps the most important problem in the burgeoning discipline of psychology of the 18th Century. The question has since undergone various stages of development, both as a mental exercise and as an experimental paradigm, garnering a variety of both affirmative and negative replies in the next three centuries of debate and deliberation.”