Jay Garfield (Smith) delivering the keynote address at the 2nd Annual Penn-MAP Non-western Philosophy Conference, February 26, 2016

MAP Chapter Profile: University of Pennsylvania

by Penn-MAP

Penn-MAP got started in Spring 2014 as a collection of grad students who decided to get on board the wider MAP movement. With the support of a couple of faculty members, we managed to organize two events the same semester – a panel discussion on diversity in philosophy, and an undergraduate social – and our chapter was up and running.

In the two years since, we haven’t become much more sophisticated on the organizational front: our model is that of a loose collective rather than a structured bureaucracy. Our main organizational tool is a listserv through which members organize reading groups, circulate announcements from the outside world, and seek volunteers for events. We also have a meeting at the start of the year to introduce the incoming cohort of grad students to MAP, and to discuss ideas for the upcoming year.

Jay Garfield (Smith) delivering the keynote address at the 2nd Annual Penn-MAP Non-western Philosophy Conference, February 26, 2016
Jay Garfield (Smith) delivering the keynote address at the 2nd Annual Penn-MAP Non-western Philosophy Conference, February 26, 2016

Our main activities are reading groups, undergraduate socials, and an annual conference. The project of diversifying the curriculum has emerged as a prominent area of member efforts. Currently, we have a reading group on the philosophy of race, and another on classical Chinese philosophy. Each group is organized by a separate MAP member and they advertise on the listserv. It has now become customary to hold reading groups in the philosophy department lounge, often around lunch time, which has the benefit of drawing the attention of passers-by and curious onlookers. Sometimes, unbeknownst to them, they get sucked into the discussion! We recently hosted our second conference on non-western philosophy (Feb 26-27), and have begun planning for a third edition on the topic of “Global Feminisms” (Mar 24-25, 2017: mark your calendars!). Non-western philosophy has picked up momentum in our department. In addition to our series of conferences, the department now regularly offers “Philosophy East and West” at the undergraduate level, and, for the first time, will offer a mixed grad/undergrad course on “African, Latin American, and Native American Philosophy” this Fall. We have several grad students with interests and developing competencies in Chinese, Indian, Arabic, or African philosophy. With next year’s conference, we plan to intersect the ongoing focus on non-western philosophy with member interests in the philosophy of race, ethnicity, and gender.

Our sources of funding are diverse. The main source is the Graduate Assembly at Penn, which has a mandate to fund graduate student groups. But we have also received funding from an outfit called the GPPC (Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium), other departments at Penn such as South Asia Studies and Africana Studies (for our non-western philosophy events), Penn’s College Office (for undergraduate events), and, of course, MAP’s central administration. Unsurprisingly, we have found that our concern to diversify the philosophy curriculum has attracted diverse sources of funding!

Philosophy of race reading group at their weekly meeting over lunch
Philosophy of race reading group at their weekly meeting over lunch

Our reading groups have had a wonderful and enriching effect on the students in our department. Some participants in the philosophy of race reading group report devoting as much time to the readings for this group as to any of their coursework, and others note that the diversity of students in the group, both professionally and personally, brings such a wide variety of perspectives to bear on the issues that their knowledge about analytic arguments and issues with respect to race expands rapidly, but in a collegial and friendly environment. Their discussions touch on a variety of authors and an even wider array of issues: from Kwame Anthony Appiah to Elizabeth Anderson, and from the metaphysics of race to reparations to race-based medicine. The classical Chinese philosophy reading group has met with similar success: using Bryan Van Norden’s introduction collection and commentary, the group has worked its way through some of the major texts, and has even branched into some more contemporary secondary literature. One happy consequence of this particular group is that it provided excellent background for the grad students that attended our non-western philosophy conference. Participation in the group facilitated their understanding of the talks on Chinese philosophy, and helped them formulate interesting questions to ask the speakers. Both of these groups have been great fun and of interest for many of us; for most, this was our first exposure to these philosophical traditions and methodologies, but through these groups we have learned a great deal both personally and professionally.

We’d like to think that MAP has had a positive qualitative effect on the department atmosphere, though that is, of course, difficult to measure. Suffice to say that a spirit of camaraderie is the norm at Penn philosophy. Grad students, as part of MAP and otherwise, are involved in a variety of colloborative activities: workshops, conferences, reading groups, film screenings, and community teaching initiatives. MAP hopes it has contributed to the general good here at Penn and intends to continue its advocacy for diversity and inclusiveness in philosophy.

Posts in this series: Introduction / Princeton / UCSB / Brooklyn / UPenn

If you have something to say about diversity and inclusiveness in the philosophy profession, we’d love to hear about it. Pitch a post to us here.