Academic Center to Promote Teaching of America’s Western Foundations

MACON — Mercer’s recently established Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations launched its first lecture series on Sept. 18, bringing noted Aristotle scholar and Tulane University Professor Ronna Burger, Ph.D., to speak about the philosopher’s view of the “best human life.” The event was the first of three lectures to be held in the fall and spring aimed at shedding light on the intellectual underpinnings of American society, particularly the influence of prominent Western philosophers and thinkers. The center will also hold a conference in April.

The new center is an interdisciplinary, faculty-led enterprise that seeks to promote the study and teaching of the foundational works of Western Civilization, toward strengthening knowledge and understanding of the cultural-intellectual inheritance of America, according to center co-founder Matthew Oberrieder, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy.

“An assumption at many colleges and universities in our country is that students already know about the importance of Western Civilization simply because we live in the West, and that an exploration of the foundations of the West, including the American political order, is simply unnecessary, or something secondary, rather than primary and an indispensable ground for developing self-knowledge,” Dr. Oberrieder said. “Mercer, however, is one of a select few colleges or universities in the country that has a Great Books of Western Civilization program as part of our general education curriculum. We hope this center will complement Mercer’s curriculum with programs, such as this year’s lecture series and campus conference, and reinforce the importance of traditional liberal-arts education against the trend in contemporary academia away from a study of Western Civilization.” 

The Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations is one of three new initiatives supported by Mercer’s Academic Initiatives Monetary Fund grant program.  The purpose of the AIM Fund is to promote interdisciplinary and cross-university faculty collaboration toward developing academic initiatives that have the potential to become national Centers of Excellence for the University. The faculty of the center represent three different divisions of the University — the College of Liberal Arts, the Tift College of Education and the Eugene W. Stetson School of Business and Economics — and come from six different disciplines.

The center faculty include: Matthew Oberrieder, Ph.D., philosophy; Will Jordan, Ph.D., political science; Tom Huber, Ph.D., biology and director of the Great Books program; Charlotte Thomas, Ph.D., philosophy; Gregory Domin, Ph.D., political science; John Hintermaier, Ph.D., history; Susan Malone, Ph.D., Tift College of Education; and Angela Dills, Ph.D., Stetson School of Business and Economics. 

Western Civilization Guest-Lecture Series 2008-09
The three remaining events are free and open to the public.

Fall 2008

“Why Study the Classics?  On the Abiding Importance of Classical Education”
Christian Kopff, Ph.D., professor of classics at the University of Colorado
5:30 p.m., Nov. 20
Medical School Auditorium
Macon Campus

Spring 2009

“Caveat Lector: The Veiled Beginnings of Modern Political Life”
Stuart Warner, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at Roosevelt University
6 p.m., Feb. 19
Willingham Auditorium
Macon Campus

“Conference on the Triumphs and Travails of the Natural Rights Republic”
April 1
Location and time to be announced
Keynote Address: John Danford, Ph.D., professor of political science, Loyola University of Chicago. Dr. Danford will discuss the intellectual origins of the American founding. 

Day-long Campus Conference
April 2
Locations and times to be announced
Keynote Address: Michael Zuckert, Ph.D., professor of government, Notre Dame University.  Dr. Zuckert will address the issue of race in the American founding by discussing the controversy over slavery at the Constitutional Convention.

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