Summary of Research Interests
My research concerns the concepts and norms governing relationships between citizens, including those structured and mediated by state institutions. I am particularly interested in ways that our assumptions about the nature of citizenship, political action, and coercive political power guide normative positions on civic ethics, legal legitimacy, and rights of self-determination. The broad question driving my research is: what is the best way to conceive of democratic citizens and the relationship between citizens and democratic governing institutions?
My book, Democracy as Strangers: Governing without Ties of Intimacy, argues that current democratic theory fails to account for one of the most important realities of contemporary democratic life, namely the fact that the vast majority of democratic citizens are strangers to one another. Without understanding this central fact, it is difficult to develop adequate and robust norms of just democratic deliberation. Theorists are likely to create false ideals of impartiality and open communication that leave out the more challenging democratic aim of reaching consensus across deep cultural, digital, racial, gender, and economic divides. Accounting for democratic strangers means that democracy itself needs to be understood as an exercise in governing without ties of intimacy.
I have developed these topics in two directions so far: (1) as applied to the specific issues that arise in the context of relationships between religious and nonreligious citizens and the state, largely drawn from resources that I’ve found useful in the works of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, and (2) in terms of my own development of a concept of democratic citizens as strangers and an analysis of the particular challenges and promises this shift has for contemporary democratic societies. Concretely, the first involves the development of articles that are offshoots from my dissertation work, and second is undertaken in my new book project on Democracy as Strangers: Governing Without Ties of Familiarity.
Course and Program Development
As a professor of social, political philosophy and ethics in an increasingly diverse university setting, I regularly seek ways to encourage respect and toleration amongst my students. A component of my research involves questioning the assumptions that lead students to be uninterested and underinvested in comprehending their differences of lifestyles, cultures, and religious beliefs. I hope to show that taking disagreements seriously and respecting differences requires that citizens understand and evaluate divergent worldviews. In my first year at Rutgers-Camden I created a new permanent course, entitled “Religion and Democracy”, that aims to provide students with a systematic approach to these issues. I have also created a permanent class on “Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality” that analyzes very recent scholarship in relation to gender and sexuality. The class satisfies a “diversity” core requirement, and provides students with opportunities to compare feminist and multiculturalist theories of value and justice.
I have also developed online and hybrid versions of two of our courses, Biomedical Ethics and Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality. The Biomedical Ethics online class has since been used by part time faculty in their teaching. I have participated in workshops focusing on the unique pedagogical considerations of teaching and learning in these environments and have found the experience, particularly now that I’ve had more practice, rewarding.
Since joining Rutgers-Camden I have created three new special topics classes aimed to expand course offerings for majors and non-majors. I taught a course on the “Philosophy and Politics of the Public Sphere” for the Honors College, which invited non-majors to explore the concept of the public sphere in relation to democratic theory, theories of identity, and applications to online political action. I also developed a class on “Social Criticism: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Foucault,” modeled closely after a class that was very inspiring to me when I was an undergraduate. This class gave students an opportunity to develop close reading skills and to apply tools of social criticism from these historically significant figures to contemporary social issues in economics, religious studies, ethics, psychology, and gender studies.
I have also restructured my standard class, “Modern Social and Political Philosophy,” by breaking it into two courses: “Political Philosophy,” and “Social Philosophy,” allowing each course to cover more ground. In “Political Philosophy,” I use the extra time to include more history of political thought of the twentieth century, since many of our students have very little experience with the political theories at the heart of industrialization, labor movements, and the two world wars. In “Social Philosophy,” I use the extra time to include greater attention to Philosophy of Race and Philosophy of Gender, since many students have few opportunities to study these topics in other courses.
I plan to create and propose a new course related to my recent area of research, titled “Philosophy of Technology and New Media.” The class will be a 200-level course that will fit well with our newly established program in Digital Humanities. But it will also be pitched as a class that should count toward the Ethics Minor within our department, as the class will consider ways that technology changes and reflects philosophically loaded ideas about cultures, identities, and values. I also plan to propose a new course at the 200-level titled “Happiness,” which will combine ethical theories about the value of happiness as it relates to obligations and questions about what makes life meaningful, with recent psychological and cognitive science literature on the nature of pleasure and the experience of happiness. The aim of this class will be to introduce students to some ethical and metaphysical questions about happiness in a way that relates to empirical approaches.