This year marks the seventh annual “What Is ______?” conference held by the University of Oregon's Graduate Philosophy Club. This year's event, open to the public, runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 25th, in the Knight Library Browsing Room and tackles the often-politically charged term "liberalism."
Every year faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students meet to exchange ideas and conversation about a topic. Last year's issue was “What is Pluralism?” which led to lengthy discussions about how exactly 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.
Every year 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 a like-minded environment.
"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 different people from many different angles. From mainstream political theorists to philosophers to queer and feminist theorists, “liberalism” is a word that 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 is 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." (She also is the winner of the 2013 Gary E. Smith Summer Professional Development Award, according to a departmental announcement, and will be studying this summer in Barcelona, Spain.)
Craig says he is especially excited about the two faculty members who are presenting, Colin W. Koopman and Rocio C. Zambrana, both assistant professors of philosophy. They joined the department in 2010, and their ideas about liberalism differ in interesting ways, Craig says. 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.
In the future, Craig said that he hopes the conference will expand to include outside speakers and a wider community. 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 venture possibly into the world of aesthetics and art.