Dialectical discussions enliven French House

September 17, 2014 Features, Student Orgs

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With the participation of students, staff, and alumni, the Philosophy and Religion Club hosted a reflective first meeting.

On Tuesday, September 9, Rollins College’s Philosophy and Religion Club hosted its first dialectical conversation in the French House Lounge. Presenter Ashton Lange ’15 guided the conversation, co-presenting a Collaborative Faculty Research Project that compared the ultimate Buddhist goal of an enlightened existence to the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion’s theory of O, a psychological state which he promoted as a tool to treat patients. Though the subject could have been dense and inaccessible, the informal treatment of it by co-presenters Lange and Dr. D’Amato, the Philosophy and Religion Department Chair about whose research Lange spoke, kept everyone in attendance on the same level to facilitate discussion. During and after the presentation, the students, faculty, and alumni that made up the audience questioned and challenged the conversation leaders about their findings and their perspective on them, requesting clarification, disagreeing with their ideas, and putting forward their own views on the topic.

The idea for a club that would encourage thinking about philosophical and religious subjects across campus came about at the suggestion of Dr. Kenyon, who wanted to compensate for the absence of dialectical conversation at Rollins. A dialectical conversation, according to the club leaders, is a discussion in which one speaker or a group of speakers introduce a theme for which they provide background and then promote questioning and debate. Whereas a conventional classroom emphasizes the direct, unquestioned transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student, this open exchange of thoughts and opinions allows new ideas to emerge and people to test them, important aspects of philosophy and religion courses. The environment of a larger university, with more students majoring in those courses, naturally promotes such interaction; to achieve something similar, Rollins created a club.

When interviewed, Philosophy and Religion Club President Camilo Garzon ’15 described the club as “super-informal” and “straight to the point.” He considers these qualities vital to the success of the club saying, “For dialectic to exist… [we] need to understand the limits of language, and the formality and informality of professors and students is taken down.” This way, the club can fulfill “one of the purposes of the liberal arts, [which] is philosophical discussion.”

The college community has great interest in the Philosophy and Religion Club, if the first meeting indicates anything; from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., people filled the lounge of French House. Undaunted by the insufficient seating, many people stayed standing the whole meeting, intrigued by the conversation.
As of Tuesday, the club has more people signed up to lead discussions than it has meetings scheduled, with seven potential presenters vying for an opening. Among them are Rollins alumni Alexander Earl, Yale School of Divinity student, and Prea Persaud, Ph.D. candidate at University of Florida; faculty members Dr. Kenyon and Dr. Cook; and Garzon himself. One of the applicants will present at the next dialectical conversation, taking place Tuesday, September 23, again from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. in the French House Lounge; all meetings are open to the public.

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