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November 9, 2017

Five Professors Inducted Into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Five University professors were inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Professors Jonathan Lear, W.J.T. Mitchell, Tara Zahra, Lenore Grenoble, and Young-Kee Kim joined this year’s 228-member class in early October.

In an interview with The Maroon, Lear said he wanted to work on the intersection of philosophy and psychology because he shares the ancient Greeks’ interest in finding out what it means to live a good life.

For example, Aristotle was explicitly concerned with the way by which we can achieve eudaimonia, or happiness in a deep sense, which he believed was essential to living a worthwhile life.

Lear believes that the beginnings of philosophy and psychology are motivated by the same desire to understand ourselves. “I think psychoanalysis of the 20th and 21st century as being in that tradition, and I am trying to use it to continue thinking about the problem of human flourishing,” Lear said.

In the face of the analytic tradition that dominates contemporary academic philosophy, Lear said he believes that his work on Freudian psychoanalysis pushes the discipline’s boundaries.

Lear argues that all students, whatever their majors are, should consider taking a few philosophy classes before graduating. “I think [learning philosophy] is a completely wonderful experience for everyone,” Lear said, adding that many successful people find that having taken a course or two in philosophy is useful in their careers.

Regarding his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Lear said, “As much as one is honored, one has to be careful not to take recognition and awards too seriously.”

Zahra wrote in an email to The Maroon that her academic work focuses mostly on the intersection of politics and everyday life. That has led her to study several historical issues, from early 20th-century Central European children to the political and social mobilization of displaced families following the World War II.

Her current project focuses on how anti-globalization movements shaped the rise of fascism in Europe in the era between the two world wars.

Zahra noted in her email that arguments for excluding migrants and refugees from the United States today resemble those used in the interwar period to exclude refugees from Europe.

“I very much hope that my teaching and research on subjects like migration and nationalism will enable students and other audiences to understand contemporary politics, society, and culture, in a more critical way,” she said.

W.J.T. Mitchell, professor of English and art history, wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon: “My work has always been about the relation of words and images, the sayable and the seeable. This takes me across the boundaries between literature and visual arts into questions of media, visual culture and an ancient discipline called ‘iconology,’ the study of images across the media.”

Rather than focusing on language and written expressions, his work centers on the images in politics, advertising, and everyday life, including a recent study on the impotence of caricatures of President Trump.

Mitchell emphasized his thankfulness for the University’s interdisciplinary culture. “Physicists, anthropologists, artists, writers…[we] can find all sorts of contact zones here in a way that is unrivalled at any other university I know of,” he wrote.

Mitchell also believes that his scholarship has a significance beyond the University. He noted the duty of scholars to defend the truth in the midst of attacks from “alt-right” ideologues.

The key to resolving that crisis, Mitchell maintains, is to defend freedom of speech on campus. “The University needs to defend its mission, and that of the American Academy, of advancing knowledge and educating smart, critical citizens,” he said.

Lenore Grenoble of the linguistics department and particle physicist Young-Kee Kim were not available for interview as of press time.

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