Our good fortune continues. Today, we are very pleased to welcome Richard Shusterman (Florida Atlantic University) to our blog for a brief interview related to the opening of the Center for Body, Mind, and Culture and its inaugural conference, which will take place this week.
FSPB: Richard, thank you for joining us. Congratulations to you and to FAU on the opening of the Center for Body, Mind, and Culture. Can you tell us a little about the center: what motivated its development, and what is its purpose?
RS: The Center for Body, Mind, and Culture is an interdisciplinary initiative dedicated to promoting research, programming, and teaching of topics concerning the body-mind-culture nexus. The Center’s motivating logic affirms that the three terms constituting its name are essentially interdependent rather than separate entities and that they therefore need to be studied in terms of their interrelations and through interdisciplinary research. After many years as a philosophy professor, including several years as Chair of the Philosophy Department at Temple University, I realized that although the profession of philosophy is wonderful, its academic structure imposes certain limits that frustrate certain practical dimensions and experiments of philosophy as an embodied way of life or art of living. The academic discipline of philosophy also tends to discourage (more in practical terms than in theoretical injunctions) adventurous efforts of interdisciplinary collaboration, especially when it comes to issues of embodiment. I have found that these limits are extremely difficult to overcome when working entirely within the traditional departmental structure, so I thought an interdisciplinary Center was needed to pursue my goals of collaborative, interdisciplinary research and community outreach. I have written about this at greater length in an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. My interests and those of the Center still remain largely grounded in the philosophical tradition, though the scope of our pursuits is undoubtedly wider.
FSPB: The Center seems to focus, in part, on the ways in which Western and non-Western philosophical theorizing can inform one another. Was that an essential aspect of the founding vision, or is that simply a happy consequence of the Center’s mission?
RS: Yes, it is a part of the founding vision. After training in analytic philosophy in Oxford and discovering pragmatism when I moved to America, I initially knew little of Asian philosophy. I began to study it to prepare prefaces for a number of my books that were translated into Japanese and Chinese, and then I came to realize how certain East-Asian philosophies are not only very appealing but also very convergent with the pragmatist views I have been developing since my book Pragmatist Aesthetics (Blackwell, 1992). I was invited for a year to Japan (2002-2003) because of my work in somaesthetics, and during that time I was able to spend some time studying with a Zen master in his remote cloister. That experience confirmed my sense that philosophy can be advanced not only through reading and writing but through disciplines of body-mind training.
FSPB: Now, the Center’s mission centers around themes about which philosophers care deeply, but the Center itself is much more broadly interdisciplinary. Correct?
RS: Yes, we have faculty in the arts, history, communications, anthropology and other social sciences, and connections with the FAU nursing school and Center for Complex Systems and Brain Science. We also sponsor and direct seminars on practical issues. We recently had a three-day sleep seminar with an expert (Michael Krugman) on insomnia and its treatment. It’s actually a “sominar”, where falling asleep during the event is regarded as a good thing, unlike a regular seminar where it is bad form to sleep through it. Insomnia is a good example of a body-mind-culture problem. Our insomniac society is sleep-deprived because of hyper-arousal due to the cultural pressures of our lifestyle; our bodies cannot rest in sleep because our minds keep racing due to the stresses and hyper-stimulation built into our culture. The methods taught in this seminar improve one’s capacities for sleep without requiring drugs whose grave dangers are becoming ever more evident. Our inaugural conference is also an interdisciplinary affair involving philosophy, history, art, cognitive science, and bio-medical research.
FSPB: The Center will be holding its inaugural conference March 29th and 30th. Information about the conference theme and speakers is available at the conference website, here. Further information is available in press releases, here and here.
Thanks, Richard. Perhaps we can do this again in the future and focus on questions about your research.
RS: I’d be happy to do an interview about my research when things calm down.
Richard Shusterman holds the Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar Chair in the Humanities and is Professor of Philosophy at Florida Atlantic University, where he also directs the Center for Body, Mind, and Culture. He has written and edited numerous books on pragmatism and aesthetics as well as numerous articles on the same topics in journals such as Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, and the British Journal of Aesthetics. More information on Professor Shusterman is available here.
– Rico Vitz