Face of the Other: Levinas, Postmodern Ethics, and Jewish Thought

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Spring 2018
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

American studies, folklore

This program will explore Emmanuel Levinas’ compelling ethics of responsibility for the other. Levinas forged his understanding in reaction to the Holocaust of World War II, critiquing the moral limitations of Western philosophy while finding an imperative for human conduct that is “pre-philosophy.” He locates the origins of ethical meaning in the face-to-face encounter: the experience of being called by, and responding to, another. For Levinas, responsibility to other persons is unlimited—and its realization, through acts of recognition, hospitality, fellowship, and justice, is the means of transcendence in human existence.   

This inquiry is for students who seek foundations for ethical action via philosophy, religion, politics, psychology, education, literature, and the arts—fields that are challenged and inspired by the implications of Levinas’ work. We will look closely at Levinas’ connection to Judaism, in particular his rich readings of the Talmud, which root his search for the universal values necessary to pursue ideals like justice and truth in ancient Jewish narratives, and, by implication, narratives of other religious/spiritual traditions. We will study Levinas’ philosophical writings, trace how he developed his worldview over the course of his career, and consider work by thinkers who influenced him and whom he has influenced.

The program will involve intensive reading, dialogue, and writing, with seminars, lectures, workshops, and guest speakers. Students will share responses in brief papers, journal entries, and oral presentations. They will undertake an individual exploration (their major piece of writing) to investigate, apply, or otherwise creatively engage with Levinas’ vision in relation to a topic that matters to them. We will fashion our own stories and models to engage contemporary cultural, political, and intellectual debates about what it means to lead an ethical life.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: humanities, social sciences, arts, community work, theology, law, education, and writing.

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia

Final schedule and room assignment: