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Philosophy and Religious Studies

Department Newsletter



Spring 2018

From the Chair - Dr. Matt Altman

The reason most of your professors got into this profession is because we’re excited about the ideas and we love to share them with students. Teaching is our passion. That’s why often our moods change depending on how much interest and energy our students have for the material on any given day. Students are the lifeblood of the university, and teaching is the lifeblood of the college professor.

This isn’t the case at every university. At some places, professors try to avoid teaching so they can focus on their research. Central prides itself on being a teaching institution. What we do every day has as its ultimate goal to offer CWU students the best education that we can give them.

To be sure, Philosophy & Religious Studies has some of the most accomplished researchers at the university – something that I’ve detailed in a previous newsletter. However, we don’t see research and teaching as separate activities. Frequently, ideas arise during class discussion that professors later explore in conference papers and journal articles. For example, in Philosophy of Race, students examine how racial hierarchies establish a distinction between persons and nonpersons, and discussions in class have provoked Dr. Coe to write about moral considerability and refugees. And professors in the department bring their high-level research into the classroom. By using her new translation of and commentary on the Protevangelium of James in her Women and Gender in Early Christianity class, Dr. Vuong is exposing students to the most recent research on the topic and focusing discussion over its value for the development of the early church.

I encourage you to take advantage of the enthusiasm faculty have for this material by raising  questions and participating in class discussions. Visit your professors during their office hours to clarify ideas and have conversations about what interests you in philosophy and religious studies. Engage your professors in exploring the material together. For me and my colleagues, that’s the best part of the job.


Upcoming Events


Spring 2018 Colloquium
My Peace Corps Journey: Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone and Into Public Service
Tuesday, May 1 | Science II, Room 103 | 4-5 PM

For the past two years, CWU alumnus Sergio Madrid ('15) has served as a literacy volunteer with the Peace Corps. In this presentation, Sergio will tell the story of why he chose to delay graduate studies to enter the Peace Corps, what he accomplished while living in the island nation of Vanuatu, and how he hopes to build on his Peace Corps journey now that he has returned. His presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

Sponsored by the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Career Services.

Club News

The Philosophy & Religious Studies Club meets every Tuesday at 4:00 PM in L&L 106 E. The club holds open discussions on topics such as the meaning of life, religion, beliefs, moral and ethical issues, and how we ought to live.


Movie Night!

Tuesday, April 25
4:00 PM, Dean 103
Showing Chappie with discussion afterward
Free pizza and refreshments!



A Spotlight On...

Dr. Matthew Altman, Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair

Where did you get your degree(s), and when?
I earned my BA from Albion College in 1994, with a double major in Philosophy and English. I got my PhD from the University of Chicago in 2001. My undergraduate thesis was on Santayana and my dissertation was on Fichte.

Where are you from originally?
I spent the first twenty-three years of my life in Michigan. I was born and raised there, went to college there, and worked at a publisher in Detroit for a year before I headed off to graduate school.

Tell us something about yourself.
I’m a Quentin Tarantino fan. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill: Volume 2 are three of my favorite films. I also like Italian horror movies, especially giallo and especially Mario Bava and Dario Argento. They’re an underappreciated form of high art. Someday I’m going to teach a class on philosophy and horror movies.

What do you do outside of teaching?
I do a lot with my kids, I like to travel, and I also run, swim, or bike every day. If you see someone running around town with a black dog, it’s me.

What do you love most about teaching?
A lot of people think that philosophy is a solitary activity, but for me there’s nothing more energizing than discussing philosophy with other people. As a professor, the thing I love most is sharing interesting ideas with my students and hearing their thoughts. Conversations about philosophy in class and in my office are a high point of my day.


Summer 2018 Course Schedule


PHIL 101 - Philosophical Inquiry
PHIL 150 - Critical Thinking


RELS 101 - World Religions
RELS 402 - Religion and Film



Fall 2018 Course Schedule


PHIL 101 - Philosophical Inquiry
PHIL 104 - Moral Controversies
PHIL 150 - Critical Thinking
PHIL 306 - Environmental Ethics
PHIL 352 - Greek and Roman
PHIL 357 - Philosophy of Race
PHIL 380 - Philosophy of Science


RELS 101 - World Religions
RELS 354 - Christianity

What classes are you teaching now?
This quarter I’m teaching the Junior Seminar (PHIL 488) on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I really enjoy the seminar format and being able to do some high-level work on a specific text, and this one in particular, since I’ve done a lot of research on it. The first Critique is one of the most difficult books in the history of philosophy, but the students seem to be getting it, bit by bit.

What’s your most embarrassing moment while teaching?
In my first year out of graduate school, I was teaching an introductory ethics course, and we were reading some stuff by Martin Luther King, Jr. During our discussion of civil disobedience, we decided on the spot to march into the college president’s office and express students’ concerns about some local police practices. The college president took it well, but he had a polite talk with me afterwards.


The Importance of the Colloquium:

Harry Potter and the Humanities

Colloquia, from the Latin meaning “conversations,” are an important aspect of philosophy and religious studies as disciplines. They rely on engaged discussion to flourish. For that reason, we host at least one colloquium every quarter, sometimes with guest speakers, sometimes given by the Philosophy & Religious Studies faculty, and sometimes both, in an effort to encourage our students to think critically and engage material from a philosophical or religious  studies perspective. Our first colloquium of spring quarter, Harry Potter and the Humanities, was the second interdisciplinary pop-culture colloquium we’ve hosted.

Religious Studies professor Lily Vuong started the discussion with her presentation, “Harry Potter and the New Testament Gospels: Life, Death, and Resurrection,” which drew parallels between the Harry Potter stories and the story of the resurrection of Jesus, particularly in the way Harry’s ultimate death and resurrection were foreshadowed in each book leading up to the finale. Lexi Renfro from the English Department followed with "Bathroom Puns, Laughter, and Friendship: Tools for a Magical Revolution,” which examined the carnivalesque humor in Harry Potter, particularly the way bathroom humor is interwoven repeatedly, and the way laughter is used as a deliberate tool of rebellion. Next, Philosophy Chair Matt Altman challenged the idea that Severus Snape is a virtuous character with his presentation, “Severus Snape: A Moral Ideal?” which explained that because Snape is driven by emotion and not by the pursuit of a greater good, he cannot be considered a virtuous character. Communications professor Arrington Stoll then launched into “The Relational Turning Points of Cross-Sex Friendships,” which examined the changing dynamic between Harry, Hermione, and Ron, who start off as just friends, but whose relationship becomes complicated when Hermione and Ron start dating. English professor Maili Jonas concluded with “Triwizard Heroics: Harry, Hermione & Draco’s Bewitching Moments.” This presentation examined the iconic “hero” elements each character embodies, particularly bravery, ingenuity, and growth through the story arc. The presentations were followed by a question and answer session.

Harry Potter is a world rich for exploration, and each presenter was able to dig deeply into the source material and present something from their unique disciplinary perspective. And members of the audience asked engaging questions such as “Is Harry a moral character if his lack of choice means he was also not acting for the sake of virtue?” “Was Draco’s character an intentional reference to the Gnostic gospel of Judas?” and “How does the statement by Rowling that she should have had Harry marry Hermione influence their cross-sex friendship?” One of the reasons our department loves doing these pop-culture colloquia is because the source material itself, by being bigger than originally intended through fan engagement, is so ripe for intellectual examination. 



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