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When Faculty Study Abroad
08.28.13 |
Dr. Jeff Robbins, chair of religion and philosophy, professor of religion, and director of LVC’s American studies program, sets a strong example of internationalism among LVC’s already well-traveled faculty. Robbins has presented in the Netherlands, Tunisia, Turkey, China, Ireland, Spain, Canada, and England. And not just because he wants to collect stamps in his passport—he is very clear on how his travel informs and enhances his teaching: “On one level, I consider opportunities for international travel to be opportunities for personal and professional development,” he says. “By traveling to new places and meeting new people I get to come into contact with different ideas and perspectives—not only do I get to share my work with a larger audience, but many of my basic assumptions come under scrutiny due to the altered socio-political context. So in this sense, international travel makes me a better thinker and scholar.

“That said, I’m firmly convinced by and committed to the LVC ideal of a teacher-scholar,” he continues. “So if I have opportunities to become a better thinker and scholar, this makes me a more effective teacher and mentor.” Robbins points to his department’s recent yearlong symposium on the work of French philosopher Catherine Malabou. “I first met Professor Malabou at an international conference on the Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion, where she was one of the keynote speakers and I was one of the conference organizers. It was then that I first proposed the prospect of her serving as LVC’s first featured philosopher for our Symposium course.”

The class culminated last spring with a weeklong visit from Malabou, who worked individually with students and gave a public presentation of her work. “And during that visit to LVC, one of our recent philosophy graduates, Michael Ardoline ’10, was able to meet with Malabou and discuss his plans for graduate school. She invited him to apply to her department at the University of Kingston, and he recently learned that he’s been accepted into the program.”

Robbins also points to his recent academic trips to Tunisia, where the Arab Spring was born, and to Turkey, now struggling with violent internal tensions. “Just about two years prior to those events I walked many of the same streets that were the sites of the protests,” he says. “I’d met and discussed the issues of religion and politics with Tunisia’s leading constitutional scholars. So when the news broke, I was in a much better position to speak with firsthand knowledge and authority to my students about the social and political contexts for the protests, and about its stakes for the future of the country and the region. Likewise with Turkey. I spent 10 days there three summers ago, both in Instanbul and Ankara. No matter the outcome of the current protests, the time spent there gives me much greater insight, which informs my scholarship on religion and politics, as well as my teaching of Islam.”

In summer 2013, Robbins was on the road again. He recently co-authored the book, “Religion, Politics, and The Earth: The New Materialism” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) with Clayton Crockett of the University of Central Arkansas, and last June he and Crockett presented a series of talks on the book in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as participated in the International Conference on the Cognitive Dimension of Chinese Culture, hosted by the Institute for the Study of Chinese Thought and Culture at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

Dr. Tim Peelen, associate professor of chemistry, recently spent a sabbatical doing research and teaching in Budapest, Hungary at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), the country’s largest university with some 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. “Hungary was an easy choice for me, since my wife is Hungarian,” Peelen says. “Spending a year there gave us the opportunity to return to her home and immerse our three children and me in the language and culture.” Peelen worked on a number of research projects in Hungary, taught a graduate-level organic chemistry class in English, and laid groundwork for a longer-term exchange partnership between LVC and ELTE students in the future.

Two LVC students, Tai Nguyen ’14 and Rachel Denny ’14 joined Peelen in Budapest for five weeks last summer, each working on an individual research project (see “Student Summer Research Abroad”). “Tai is trying to make a new family of dye molecules while Rachel is working to discover a new photocatalyzed reaction,” Peelen explains. “Besides gaining solid research experience, their time in Hungary really challenged them and opened their eyes to the world around them. Exploring the city, using public transportation, shopping for groceries—all while immersed in a language and culture that were very different from their own—in the time that they were there, I saw their confidence and comfort level increase rapidly.”

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