'What is Liberalism' is the topic for philosophy students' event

Socrates (image from Shutterstock)

This year's "What is ____?" conference, sponsored by the University of Oregon's Graduate Philosophy Club, tackles the often politically charged term "liberalism."

The seventh annual event, which is open to the public, will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, in the Knight Library Browsing Room.

Faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students meet each year to exchange ideas and conversation about a topic. Last year's topic – “What is Pluralism?” – led to lengthy discussions about how to teach philosophy and which voices should be included. Other conference topics have included democracy, feminist philosophy and phenomenology.

The yearly conference began when of a group of graduate students came together and decided it would be valuable for the department to give students a chance to talk about their research in a stimulating environment.

"Their idea was that it was good for the department and culture to have something that was exclusive, small," said David Craig, director of the Graduate Philosophy Club and graduate teaching fellow.

Two undergraduates and two graduate students have 20 minutes, and two faculty members have 30 minutes, to present their research to be discussed and analyzed in each year's event.

"For undergrads in particular, this can be especially helpful practice, as few undergraduate philosophy majors have occasion to present their work at conferences,” Craig said.

This year's “What is Liberalism?” covers a concept that has been debated by many people from many angles. From mainstream political theorists to philosophers to queer and feminist theorists, “liberalism” can be thought of not only as a purely political term but also a philosophical term.

Beginning a month before the conference, students anonymously submitted papers or abstracts for consideration by a panel of independent judges. This year, Craig said, the panel received more submissions than the members knew what to do with. After a week of careful selection, the entries by two undergraduates and two graduates were chosen.

"The undergrads who are willing to submit papers and put themselves out there are usually more ambitious than the average students," Craig said. "They are go-getters."

Kelsey Elliot, an undergraduate in political science, will present a paper "The Power of Words.” This will be the first time a non-philosophy major has been included in the presentations.

Philosophy doctoral student Fulden Ibrahimhakkioglu will present a paper on "Liberalism and the Emptiness of Freedom: Anticolonial Feminist Critique and Muslim Women's Response to Femen."

Ibrahimhakkioglu is the winner of the 2013 Gary E. Smith Summer Professional Development Award and will be studying this summer in Barcelona, Spain.

Craig said he is excited about the two faculty members who are presenting, Colin Koopman and Rocio Zambrana, both assistant professors of philosophy. They joined the department in 2010, and their ideas about liberalism differ in interesting ways, Craig said. Koopman comes from a more sympathetic and political theory angle, while Zambrana is more critical of liberalism.

"They are both at really exciting places in their careers and are popular amongst the graduate students," Craig said.

The conference may expand to include outside speakers and a wider community in the future, he said. Though the conference is open to the public, Craig would like to push for more advertising and outreach to welcome other students and faculty.

Next year’s topic, Craig said, will stray from the political world and possibly venture into the world of aesthetics and art.

- by JoAnna Wendel, student writer, UO science and research communications