Opinions, Column

Bringing Us Closer to a Global Understanding

Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and Dante Alighieri are names that every Boston College student has heard mentioned in their classes by the end of their four years, at the latest. Alfarabi, Avicenna, al-Kindi, and al-Razi are names that have far less cache on the Heights.

BC, as an elite, Jesuit university, has incredibly strong philosophy and theology departments and ensures that these disciplines play a significant role in the liberal arts education of every student, regardless of undergraduate academic track. Students commonly take Philosophy of the Person I & II and one of the various Christo-centric or comparative religion courses to fulfill their philosophy and theology requirements, respectively. There is also the option to enroll in the Pulse program, where the classroom component fuses philosophy and theology and the volunteer component fulfills the Jesuit ideal of “men and women for others.”

My experiences with the philosophy and theology departments have been largely positive. As a freshman, I delved into the theology department when I enrolled in The Religious Quest I & II, taught by Ruth Langer. This course compares Catholicism and Judaism and identifies the points at which the religions intersect and diverge.

During the fall and spring semesters of my sophomore year, I took Philosophy of the Person I & II. In these courses, students had immense flexibility to write and discuss any philosophical issue or concept, so long as our discourse was related to the theories purported by the Western philosophers about whom we were learning. The Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences’ Honors Program provides a curriculum of heightened academic and intellectual rigor in the program’s course entitled Western Cultural Tradition during freshman and sophomore year.

Keyword: Western.

While the course offerings in BC’s philosophy and theology departments are indisputably intriguing, challenging, and taught by highly qualified members of the University’s faculty, they are also predominantly Western-centric. I was completely unaware of this subtle failure to acknowledge Eastern thought until I took professor David DiPasquale’s Islamic Political Philosophy course within the political science department.

DiPasquale’s course entailed reading myriad Eastern, Muslim sages in tandem with documents from political scientists and Middle-Eastern extremist groups. The course additionally involved an extensive, albeit necessary, examination and understanding of Islam’s religious doctrine.

In addition to the disparity in quantity between Western-centric and Eastern-centric courses—favoring the former—there is an accessibility problem that hinders students’ exposure to Eastern thought as well. The amount of sections offered for Philosophy of the Person I & II vastly outnumber the amount of courses relating to Eastern politics, philosophy, or religion. I was narrowly able to squeeze into DiPasquale’s class because someone dropped the course and I was the fastest to react to the EagleScribe notification.

The same trend can be found within the theology department’s course offerings. The majority of courses that fulfill the theology portion of students’ core requirements—most students’ rationale behind enrolling in theology courses—are overwhelmingly related to Christianity, Catholicism, and Christianity’s interactions with other religions/belief systems.

This, in part, is to be expected at BC, a Jesuit university. The extent to which this occurs, however, reveals a disappointing reality for such a well-ranked university.

This omnipresence of the proverbial West in contrast with the minimum spotlight shined on Eastern intellectual discourse is at best unfortunate, and at worst academically negligent. To offer only a small number of courses that provide perspectives that most American students probably haven’t encountered prior to college demonstrates a shortfall in the University’s pursuit to produce students that are globally-minded.

It seems as though diversity at BC, while rare enough, has been limited to diversity in race, gender, and sexual orientation—there frankly is not much diversity in intellectual discourse in the University’s academic program.

The conjectures and concepts derived from Eastern philosophers, religionists, and political scientists serve as the foundation for how a vast number of people understand the way the world works. To minimize one worldview and inflate the importance of another is a disservice to students and effectively invalidates the ways in which a significant portion of the world thinks.

The popular freshman course “Perspectives on Western Culture” provides an additionally troubling instance of unabashed Western-centricism, just within its title. The course’s title suggests it will endeavor upon examining multiple perspectives. Immediately after, however, the “on Western Culture” unabashedly notifies students that, while a variety of perspectives will be considered, they will predominantly exist within the confines of “Western Culture.”

The end of the course description as of Fall of 2017 importantly states, “attention will also be paid to non-Western philosophical and theological sources.” This statement purveys a noble effort at including non-Western material into the course, yet from firsthand experience with BC’s M.O., it’s obvious that the attention disparity with respect to the East and the West still leans heavily towards the West.

The individuals who conduct important world-changing work today, for the most part, have developed  a multidimensional and all-inclusive worldview. Those who assume positions that craft future public and international policy decisions unequivocally ought to be knowledgeable in a diversity of political, social, and economic perspectives.

To more comprehensively incorporate Eastern intellectual discourse into more students’ academic experience at BC, the University ought to consider adding Eastern-oriented philosophy and theology courses to the core curriculum. Perhaps a course that juxtaposes Eastern and Western Philosophy in depth would serve this purpose. While I recognize Perspectives’ recognition of Eastern thought, I firmly believe more weight can be placed on exposing BC students to this critical worldview. This would most effectively occur in a course where both Eastern and Western thought are treated as close to 50-50 as possible.

It is our duty as students to seek opportunities to expose ourselves to different perspectives and to treat such an endeavor as though the stakes are high. They are high.

Following commencement, it is imperative that us Eagles are at the forefront of inspiring positive change. This mission is only possible if we do more than merely “pay attention” to perspectives different from our own. We must struggle with, challenge, and dedicate ourselves to understanding diverse perspectives in order for any sort of advancement to occur.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

September 30, 2017