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SOPHIA Wants to Talk to You

By Ashley Carreño-Millan '20
Division of Humanities

Communities of alumni, students, Parkland residents, and more all gather together to talk about philosophy, not to debate with one another, but to learn.

Professors Sergia Hay, Mike Rings, and PLU alumni Matthew Salzano presenting on their SOPHIA group at a conference in March 2018.

The SOPHIA (Society of Philosophers in America) organization connects people globally and locally. Some of the events organized by SOPHIA are hosted by two PLU Philosophy professors. Dr. Sergia Hay teaches courses in applied ethics and the history of philosophy. Her area of scholarly specialization is Søren Kierkegaard, and she is an organizer/officer within the SOPHIA Organization. Dr. Mike Rings teaches courses in ethics, social and political philosophy, and environmental philosophy. He helps Dr. Hay create SOPHIA-sponsored events that enact deep conversations and dialogues.

The purpose of the SOPHIA organization, as Dr. Hay stated in an interview, “is to promote public philosophy, a philosophy in and beyond the academy. So we’re not just talking about philosophy in school but having conversations about philosophy at libraries or community centers. I think one of the things that’s interesting about it is that it started out as a group of professional philosophers who were very optimistic about what philosophy can do for everybody. It’s not just something for people who studied it for many years and are experts, but it’s something that is useful for all people.”

When I asked more about the events and what they entailed, Dr. Rings replied, “They’re not like other things we’re used to focusing on as faculty. It’s not like a lecture class, though it’s discussion-based. It’s not like a talk or a paper at a conference because it’s not just one expert standing up talking. It’s not limited to just PLU students and faculty and staff. It’s open to the general public. We can’t assume that the participants have familiarity with philosophical concepts or ways of doing philosophy. So we’ve had to adjust our usual way of doing things. We try to be creative in setting up an event so that it’s a discussion everyone feels welcome to participate in. But it can also go to interesting places and not just be something that is so loose and free form that it hasn’t taken any shape.”

In a series of questions, I asked more about the SOPHIA Organization events and how they have been able to engage students, faculty, staff, and the general public in deep conversations:

Ashley: What the are specific events you have hosted?

Dr. Rings: One was called Truth and Post-Truth. We discussed the idea of objectivity in truth versus relativism. We asked if there is just one truth that we all share, or if we each have our own truth. Our definitions of the term are not all the same. We also had an event where we discussed disagreements.

Dr. Hay: That’s right. Then we had Dr. Sam Liao, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University of Puget Sound, come and talk about structural racism and objects. That event was set up as a talk with a Q&A session. And then we had another event entitled  “Strategies for Talking Across Divides.” We also had a conversation entitled “Outrage and Deliberation” in May 2018.

Dr. Rings: “Patriotism: Vice or Virtue?” was another event we hosted. At SOPHIA events we like to discuss topics that are going to make people think, topics that will evoke strong viewpoints or burning questions. Even if it’s uncomfortable! We want to take things in that direction and try to make the discussion productive and not just contentious.

Ashley: Would students be able to approach you with any ideas and be able to collaborate with you?

Dr. Rings: Yes, in fact, “Outrage and  Deliberation” was run by a student working together with Professor Art Strum. We would really welcome having more students, alumni, or community members bring us their ideas for fun topics to discuss.

Taken at a distance to preserve participant's privacy, this photo shows the group nature of SOPHIA gatherings. Photos courtesy of Sergia Hay.

Ashley: Where can we find more information about these events and find ways to participate?

Dr. Hay: We are called the Tacoma Philosophy Group: South Puget Sound Chapter of SOPHIA. Every day I get notices that somebody has joined, and we welcome new members. People interested in participating can find us at  https://www.meetup.com/South-Puget-Sound-Chapter-of-SOPHIA/

At the end of the interview, one thing was clear: these professors and the philosophy department continue to bring forth in-depth dialogue to keep PLU and the surrounding community on their toes:

“People have an idea of philosophy as something that’s just an Ivory tower endeavor. It’s seen as abstract, and maybe not useful, and so difficult; it is assumed that most people are going to have no connection with it. We are trying to get away from that stigma so that people can see that philosophy can be useful. It can speak to what’s going on now and to where people are living now, in terms of issues that are pressing to them.” – Dr. Hay

For more information on SOPHIA, visit their official website:

https://www.philosophersinamerica.com/2018/05/24/068-ep64-philosophy-as-play/

Ashley Carreño-Millan is a PLU junior, with a double major in Hispanic Studies and English Writing.  She is a Diversity Advocate for commuter students and Assistant Director of the Parkland Literacy Center. She completed this article as part of her work in English 320, Intermediate Creative Nonfiction.