Political Theory Institute: “Democratizing the Great Books”
The Political Theory Institute at American University, a JMC partner program, is holding a conversation with JMC faculty partners Roosevelt Montás and Thomas Merrill on the Great Books’ place in education.
The “Great Books” have often been presented as one side of a culture war between traditionalists and progressive advocates for historically marginalized communities. But does that understanding of the culture war rest on a correct understanding of the meaning and spirit of the tradition of liberal education? Roosevelt Montás will draw on his experience as the director of Columbia’s Core Curriculum to argue that liberal education and canonical texts, correctly understood, offer emancipatory and transformative possibilities to all students.
Thursday, April 15, 2021 • 5:30 PM EDT
A virtual lecture • American University
Free and open to the public, registration required.
Roosevelt Montás is a Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University. He was Director of the Center for the Core Curriculum at Columbia College from 2008 to 2018. Professor Montás specializes in Antebellum American literature and culture, with a particular interest in American citizenship. His dissertation, Rethinking America: Abolitionism and the Antebellum Transformation of the Discourse of National Identity, won Columbia University’s 2004 Bancroft Award. In 2000, he received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student. Roosevelt teaches “Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West,” a year-long course on primary texts in moral and political thought, as well as seminars in American Studies including “Freedom and Citizenship in the United States.” He is also a Rene Plessner Lecturer in Freedom and Citizenship.
Professor Montás is a JMC faculty partner.
Thomas Merrill is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University. He is the author of Hume and the Politics of Enlightenment (Cambridge, 2015), which won the Delba Winthrop Prize for Best Recent Work in Political Philosophy. He is also the co-editor of three edited volumes, including The Political Thought of the Civil War (University Press of Kansas, 2018) and has held fellowships from Harvard, Princeton, and the American Enterprise Institute. He was a senior research analyst for the President’s Council on Bioethics during the George W. Bush administration and is the Associate Director of the Political Theory Institute at American University, which has hosted many public intellectuals from across the political spectrum as well as many academic political theorists. He has served as coordinator of the undergraduate program in Government and, more recently, as chair of the Department of Government.
Professor Merrill is a JMC faculty partner.
The Political Theory Institute at American University’s School of Public Affairs encourages the serious study of the great questions of political theory and brings insights of political theorists to bear on current issues and events. American University has a long tradition of vigorous political debate. Behind every serious political controversy, however, lies a disagreement about political principles, justice, what constitutes “the good life,” or fundamental assumptions about human nature. A thoughtful and morally serious engagement with the controversies of the day, therefore, requires serious reflection on the underlying questions of political theory.
Open to all ideas and perspectives, the Political Theory Institute promotes vigorous and thoughtful discussion and critical engagement by American University faculty, the national and international political theory community, and policy makers with the problems confronting liberal democracies. It supports scholarship that informs and enriches the larger conversation about political ideas. Above all, the Political Theory Institute fosters a spirit of enlightened citizenship—at once thoughtful and engaged—that takes intellectual disagreements seriously without being ideological.
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