David DiPasquale has devoted his career to confronting difficult and often unanswered questions. In his work as a professor in the Boston College political science department, his research and teaching often extend outside of the classroom. His many intersecting philosophical interests inspire both students and colleagues to examine those same difficult questions.
Fueled by his fascination with the unknown, DiPasquale pursued a double major in political science and philosophy as an undergraduate at Kenyon College.
“At a very young age I was interested in the question of reason versus revelation and how I should live my life, DiPasquale said.
With the adult world on the horizon, DiPasquale decided to pursue graduate school at BC, where he completed his master’s degree in political science. His interest in his studies continued to simmer, especially while working with Rev. Ernest Fortin in a class called Theology and Medieval Political Philosophy. He studied medieval philosophers, who he says first began questioning the idea of philosophy’s legitimacy in the face of divine revelation.
Though he has studied the Jewish and Christian traditions, DiPasquale continued to come back to Islam throughout his career. In his course, Islamic Civilizations, DiPasquale tries to get his students to understand the rich culture that the religion has developed while dismantling stereotypes.
“Islam is not a monolith, but an excitingly diverse intellectual civilization,” he said. “There’s an embarrassment of riches and I think too often people focus on this or that aspect.”
Noticing DiPasquale’s avid interest in Islam, Fortin urged him to contact his friend and colleague at Harvard, Muhsin Mahdi. DiPasquale began auditing Mahdi’s classes and eventually, upon Mahdi’s suggestion, applied and was admitted into a doctoral program at Harvard. There, he studied the tradition of Islam and the political philosophy of Al-Farabi, a seminal Arabic philosopher of the 9th and 10th centuries. Upon completing his doctorate at Harvard, DiPasquale came to teach at BC.
“I take advantage of my students’ interests coming into the class,” he said. “I know that a good number of them choose to take my courses because they want to know what’s going on in the world.”
His courses, including Islamic Political Philosophy and Introduction to Modern Politics, often focus on the interaction between the Muslim and Western worlds. DiPasquale prompts his students to collect articles that they encounter and bring them to class so that he can incorporate contemporary news items into the classroom discussion.
“I want my students to realize that what I am doing does not merely have antiquarian interest,” he said. “I teach classes that are meant to be relevant to contemporary discussion.”
In the future, DiPasquale would like to incorporate more of his intellectual background in Arabic language and literature, as well as Islamic law, into his classes, much of which is experiential. Throughout his 20 years of teaching, he has lectured in various Muslim countries, including Kuwait and Egypt. The heart of his scholarship, however, takes place in libraries between the pages of the ancient texts that he spends countless hours translating from Arabic to English. Most recently, he has completed a book with Cambridge University Press on Al-Farabi’s work from the 10th century.
When translating, DiPasquale explained that he tries to be literal above all else and additionally tries to walk that very fine line between accuracy and readability.
”What’s remarkable about Arabic is that it’s a beautiful tool able to be used to compose poetry and epic literature,” he said. “It’s the language of Allah and also a language of philosophy. I appreciate that flexibility, and it certainly took me a great deal of time to master it.”
DiPasquale stresses how the ancient traditions of text are still so relevant in modern society, which is why it is imperative to teach about such traditions in the classroom.
As students of philosophy, it is easy for people like DiPasquale to get bogged down with research or stuck down an unending hole of existential questions. Fortunately, DiPasquale has found several outlets in his non-academic life that take the pressure off finding the answers to life’s biggest mysteries. When he is not translating or teaching, DiPasquale enjoys fishing, running 5k and 10k road races, and hiking with his wife.
“I like being in a natural environment and appreciating the beauty of the natural world,” he said. “Being in nature helps to clear the mind and rejuvenate the soul.”
In his continued study of ancient texts, his diligent attempts to broaden his students’ minds, and his probing examination of the world around us, DiPasquale continues his search for the answers to those timeless questions by his understanding of an often misunderstood faith.
Featured Image Courtesy of Pierce Harman