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Comparative Philosophy

Comparative Philosophy prepares students for a wide range of meaningful work through study of diverse systems and cultures of critical thinking and transformative living.

Classroom discussion

Why Study Comparative Philosophy at Randolph?

Randolph’s innovative comparative philosophy program challenges students to look beyond Eurocentric thought traditions, religion, and philosophy.

More then ever, the chaotic state of the world demands responsible inquiry, intercultural competence, ethical reasoning, and justice.

Students gain competence in multiple philosophical cultures, allowing a broad comparative approach to philosophical inquiry, examining issues from multiple angles and perspectives.

Courses are multidisciplinary, geared toward public engagement, and representative of thinkers from throughout the world.

The goal of comparison is not to prefer one against the rest, but rather to enlarge our students’ vision and imagination and thus their capacity for negotiating difficult problems of self and society.

Degrees offered

Comparative Philosophy major (BA)

Comparative Philosophy minor

Curriculum and Courses

Related Programs

Art History

Economics

English

Political Science

Sociology

Opportunities for Experience

Will Andress ’17 and Professor Gordon Steffey meet to discuss one of their readings for their Summer Research project on The History of Martyrdom.

Summer Research Program

Spend the summer working closely with a professor and focused on a specific aspect of mathematics.

Randolph’s intensive eight-week Summer Research Program enables students to work with professors on a research of their own design; live in a residence hall on campus, participate in on-campus summer events, attend special seminars with guest speakers; and share the progress and results of their research.

Learn more about the Summer Research Program.

Symposium of Artists and Scholars

Modeled after a traditional academic conference, the SAS brings together students of all disciplines to share the results and highlights of the best work being produced at the College –  oral presentations, readings of creative works, performances, exhibitions of student artwork, and poster presentations.

Learn more about the Symposium of Artists and Scholars.

Internships

Learn by doing – in the field and on the job.  The Career Development Center will help place you in positions with leading companies and organizations in your field of study.

Learn more about internship opportunities.

Unique Experiences

Outcomes

Phuong Tran

Digital Persuasion

Phuong Tran ’15
Digital Communications Manager, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia

Tran joined ACLU-VA in 2016 as a part-time employee and is now the organization’s digital communications manager, work that centers on building relationships and encouraging collective action.

“A lot of the problem-solving and logical thinking skills I use come from my Randolph philosophy degree. It has really helped me understand long and complicated legal issues, and my communications degree helps me translate them into simple language to share with the public to have more impact. Knowledge means nothing if you’re not good at sharing it.”

She develops strategic communications plans to advance advocacy goals while working to inform, inspire, and mobilize supporters to action.

“It’s my job to get people to care. It’s my job to use my creativity to get the stories out there.”

Opportunities

Top Ranked Professors

Randolph College’s faculty are consistently recognized as among the best in the nation. The Princeton Review ranked the College in the Top 20 for most accessible professors in the 2021 edition of its flagship college guide, The Best 387 Colleges.

Randolph has been ranked in the top 20 for most accessible professors for four consecutive years.

Comparative Philosophy Faculty

Kaija Mortensen

Associate Professor of Comparative Philosophy

Read More... Kaija Mortensen

Suzanne Bessenger

Associate Professor of Comparative Philosophy

Read More... Suzanne Bessenger

David Schwartz

The Mary Frances Williams Chair in Humanities, Professor of Comparative Philosophy

Read More... David Schwartz

Gordon Steffey

Barbara Boyle Lemon ’57 and William J. Lemon Professor of Religion and Philosophy

Read More... Gordon Steffey

Only at Randolph

Randolph students can take advantage of unique programs which give them a more enriching education than can be found anywhere else.

TAKE 2

Two courses per half-mester means you get to focus in and dig deep into your coursework while still having time for the rest of the college experience. Two classes. Seven weeks. Repeat.

Learn More
The Randolph Plan

Randolph students work with faculty mentors to explore a broad range of disciplines as they chart their academic path.

Learn More
Money for Your Research

The Randolph Innovative Student Experience (RISE) program provides every student a $2,000 grant to fund research, creative work, experiential learning or other scholarly pursuits.

Learn More
The Liberal Arts Advantage

Randolph graduates learn to think critically, solve problems and work well with others. They are prepared to succeed in all aspects of life.

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Department News

PHOTOS: Lamas create sand mandala at Randolph College

Three lamas from the Drikung Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism constructed a sand mandala on Randolph College’s campus from Sept. 13-18, 2021. 

Read More

Tibetan lamas to build sand mandala at Randolph College

After an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 13, in the south wing of Lipscomb Library, they will work daily from 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m. on the mandala.

Read More

Mortensen publishes article in philosophy journal

She published “Knowing How as a Philosophical Hybrid,” with co-authors Chad Gonnerman and Jacob Robbins in the journal Synthese this summer.

Read More

Evan Pausic ’21 awarded annual Academy of American Poets prize

Since its inception in 1955, the University and College Poetry Prize program has awarded cash prizes to nearly 10,000 student […]

Read More

Meet the graduates: Rabiea Ashraf ’21

Ashraf, a psychology and religious studies major, will be heading to Columbia University next fall to earn a dual master’s degree in Islamic studies and Muslim cultures.

Read More

PHOTOS: Lamas create sand mandala at Randolph College

Three lamas from the Drikung Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism constructed a sand mandala on Randolph College’s campus from Sept. 13-18, 2021. 

Read More

Tibetan lamas to build sand mandala at Randolph College

After an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 13, in the south wing of Lipscomb Library, they will work daily from 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m. on the mandala.

Read More

Mortensen publishes article in philosophy journal

She published “Knowing How as a Philosophical Hybrid,” with co-authors Chad Gonnerman and Jacob Robbins in the journal Synthese this summer.

Read More

Evan Pausic ’21 awarded annual Academy of American Poets prize

Since its inception in 1955, the University and College Poetry Prize program has awarded cash prizes to nearly 10,000 student […]

Read More

Meet the graduates: Rabiea Ashraf ’21

Ashraf, a psychology and religious studies major, will be heading to Columbia University next fall to earn a dual master’s degree in Islamic studies and Muslim cultures.

Read More
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Department Chair

Kaija Mortensen

Associate Professor of Comparative Philosophy

Credentials:B.A. Colorado College, Philosophy
Ph.D., University of California-Santa Cruz, Philosophy
Associated Departments:Comparative Philosophy
Office:Psychology 307
Phone:4349478535
Email:kmortensen@randolphcollege.edu
Website:http://www.kaijamortensen.com/

News Headlines

My first course as an undergraduate was Philosophy of Mind. As we read the work of philosophers from Aristotle to Daniel Dennett, I was fascinated by the ways our collective inquiry mirrored our subject matter as we used both our introspective experience and collaborative analysis to draw conclusions about the nature of the mind. I marveled at the skillful way my professors orchestrated class discussion. I was impressed by the pleasure my classmates took in listening to and challenging one another and the course texts. Over time, I realized that I wanted to spend my life doing these things, thinking in concert with other minds.

I teach a variety of courses, including Knowledge and Reality, Philosophy of Mind, History of Modern Philosophy, Practical Reasoning, and Logic. I am convinced that dialogue is the central activity of philosophy. Participation in such dialogue regardless of one’s role as a student or teacher requires learning (1) how to charitably understand the ideas of others, (2) how to critique ideas in ways that contribute productively to an overall investigation, and (3) how to enter one’s own voice (in writing and speaking) into an ongoing conversation articulately and on point. I help my students strengthen their skills in each of these areas and hope that, as a result, they leave my class with an increased understanding of the relationship between themselves as knowers and the things they claim to know.

My current research questions the ways theories of knowledge and theories of mind inform how philosophers (should) do philosophy and the ways expertise is developed (both in philosophy students and professional philosophers). I am also interested in Experimental Philosophy, a new field that uses the methods of social science to answer philosophical questions, and what it can teach us about the discipline of philosophy.

My philosophical interests also include peer disagreement; the relationships among philosophical, scientific, spiritual, and aesthetic ways of knowing; and the historical origins of current philosophical debates about intuition.

As you may have inferred from my emphasis on dialogue in my description of philosophy above, my second love is theatre, followed closely by the other performing, literary, and visual arts.

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Suzanne Bessenger

Associate Professor of Comparative Philosophy

Credentials:B.A., Mills College, Anthropology
M.A., University of Virginia, History of Religions, Tibetan Buddhism
Ph.D., University of Virginia, History of Religions, Tibetan Buddhism
Associated Departments:Comparative Philosophy, Asian Studies
Email:sbessenger@randolphcollege.edu

News Headlines

My first year of college I found myself in an introductory philosophy class called “Crucial Human Issues of Our Culture,” where I discovered, to my amazement, that the questions that had consumed me in my high school years — What is a good human life?  What is beauty?  Why do we suffer?  What does it mean to die well?– were questions that lay at the heart of the academic enterprise, and that philosophers had been asking for millenia.  My pursuit of answers to these questions eventually led me to the study of Asian religions and philosophies, the creation of a self-designed major in Asian Studies at Mills College in Oakland, California, and a college semester abroad experience studying Tibetan Buddhism in India, Nepal, and Tibet through the School for International Training.

After college I spent a year teaching science in a Bay Area public school, and then another year traveling through Buddhist pilgrimage sites in northern India and living at a Buddhist nunnery in the foothills of the Himalayas.  I eventually pursued a masters and doctorate in the History of Religions at the University of Virginia, where I focused on the study of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as South and East Asian religions and philosophies.  My research focuses on the 14th century Tibetan saint Sönam Peldren and her husband Rinchen Pel, some of which I have published in the book Echoes of Enlightenment: The Lives of Sönam Peldren (Oxford, 2016).  I am currently working on a complete translation of Sönam Peldren’s biography.

At Randolph College I enjoy introducing students to the distinctive traditions of thought found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Daoism, and to topical courses on subjects such as death and dying, gender, and visual culture.  Randolph students bring to the classroom the same questions and passions that started my own intellectual journey all those years ago, and it is a joy and privilege to work alongside them as they find their own paths forward to meaningful and abundant lives.

 

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David Schwartz

The Mary Frances Williams Chair in Humanities, Professor of Comparative Philosophy

Credentials:B.A., Texas Christian University
M.A., Rice University
Ph.D., Rice University
Associated Departments:Comparative Philosophy
Office:Psychology 302
Phone:4349478534
Email:dschwartz@randolphcollege.edu
Website:http://consumingchoices.com/

News Headlines

I teach a wide range of philosophy courses, including Ethics, Environmental Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, and Classical Greek Philosophy. I have published numerous articles on ethics and the philosophy of art, as well as a book on federal funding for the arts.

My book, Consuming Choices , was published in April 2010, by Rowman and Littlefield. The book explores whether consumers have moral obligations to boycott products made with immoral practices such as slave labor, animal cruelty, or environmental harm.

In my spare time, I like to play with my crazy chocolate lab, Dolly, and my two wily cats, Satchmo and Edith. I also spend time working on and driving my mobile artwork, “The Ant Car”.

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Gordon Steffey

Barbara Boyle Lemon ’57 and William J. Lemon Professor of Religion and Philosophy

Credentials:B.A., St. Olaf College
M.Div., Yale University
M.A., University of Virginia, Religious Studies
Ph.D., University of Virginia, Religious Studies
Associated Departments:Comparative Philosophy
Office:Smith 307
Phone:4349478550
Email:gsteffey@randolphcollege.edu

News Headlines

My commitment to the study of religion was born in the old city of Jerusalem and reared in an ecumenical monastery in the Saône-et-Loire department of the Bourgogne region of France.

I have shared hot chocolate with the late Frère Roger of Taizé and blood cake with a Miao shaman in Guizhou province, China. I have rubbed the elephant’s back at Wannian Temple on Mount Emei Shan in Sichuan province and surveyed the Dead Sea from amid the ruins atop Mount Masada.

These experiences aren’t incidental to what/how I teach.

Religious Studies is a discipline for travellers, for those resolved to fathom lands near and fear and break bread with strangers in pursuit of insight. It is a discipline especially for those who welcome dislocation and the crumbling of old securities. I encourage my students to take to the road and tutor them in the arts of traveling well.

My teaching interests are sweeping and include the study of religious autobiography, Abrahamic apocalypticism, spiritual exercises, text criticism and historical Jesus research, religion in film, women and gender in late antiquity, classical and Continental philosophy, and modern religious thought. My cross-disciplinary scholarship has been published in Critical Muslim, East-West Affairs, and elsewhere.

When at rest, I may be found solving dilemmas terrestrial and otherwise in the company of friends, cultivating cosmic consciousness, plotting the founding of the philosophical commune Platonopolis, and cheering on Chelsea FC.

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