The Department of Religion & Philosophy provides undergraduates a unique learning experience through the Undergraduate Research Symposium course each year. This course is a signature high-impact feature of the Transdisciplinary Collective, a new academic initiative established with other programs in the Humanities whose mission is to be a cutting-edge site for integrative studies in the Humanities worthy of national attention.

The Symposium is a year-long, team-taught, reading and research intensive course that culminates in a public presentation and subsequent publication of the student’s work. The subject may be thematic based (e.g., “Race and Religion”, “The Decolonial Option”, or “Crossing Boundaries”) or focused exclusively on a prominent contemporary figure (e.g., Catherine Malabou, Paul Kahn, Walter Mignolo). External expert scholars are incorporated into the course as guides, resources, and critical respondents through videoconferencing and the public symposium held every spring in conjunction with Inquiry, LVC’s annual celebration of student learning.

The Symposium has been offered at LVC for the past four years. Students from the course have twice won 1st and 3rd prizes for “Most Outstanding Paper” at the annual North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy, and have earned admission and scholarships to leading graduate programs in the Humanities from institutions such as Cornell University and Union Theological in New York City. In addition, assessment data for the course shows not only that students develop their critical reading and thinking skills and their writing, oral presentation, and research capacities at a higher rate than in comparable classes, but perhaps even more significantly, that they become more engaged, curious and confident.

This model of undergraduate research within the humanities builds on historic strengths of the college with the sciences and has garnered national attention for its innovation and impact.

Signature Features of the Model:

  • Emphasis on undergraduate research (includes forum for public presentations, peer review, and opportunities for publication)
  • Team-taught
  • A living, dynamic, and challenging subject that requires a sustained, year-long treatment
  • Distinguished external scholar providing critical feedback to students’ signature work

The Religion and Philosophy 2015-2016 symposium, “Global Minds, Local Bodies: Deconstructing the West,” features Professor Walter Mignolo from Duke University. Professor Mignolo is the leading international figure in what is termed the “Decolonial Option.” He is the author of eight books and has published extensively on semiotics and literary theory. He has worked on different aspects of the modern and colonial world, exploring concepts such as global coloniality, the geopolitics of knowledge, border thinking and pluriversality. He is a native Argentine. He received his Ph.D. In Paris. He has been at Duke University since 1993, where he is the William Wannamaker Professor of Literature and Romance Studies, and has joint appointments in Cultural Anthropology and Romance Studies.

The English department 2015-2016 symposium, Crossing / Boundaries: Experimental Thinking in U.S. Arts, Culture, and Identity, featured artist and scholar T Meyerhoff of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) this past fall. Meyerhoff is a part of 3Text studio. 3Text carries on the important work of seminal queer theorist and fiber artist Eve Sedgwick through its experimental engagement with the materiality of language and bold reconsideration of forms of collective scholarship / constructive play / making things. This spring, the department is featuring guest speaker Crystal Parikh, NYU and Bryan Konefsky from the Experiments in Cinema festival (link and link).


Past Symposiums have featured Paul Kahn (Yale University) and Elias Ortega (Drew University) in 2014-15, George Yancy (Duquesne University) and J. Kameron Carter (Duke University) in 2013-14 and John Caputo (Villanova University) and Catherine Malabou (Kingston University) in 2012-13.

The idea for the Symposiums was generated by Dr. Jeff Robbins, professor and chair of religion and philosophy, faculty mentor for the Allwein Scholars program, and director of both LVC’s American studies program and the Undergraduate Research Symposium. “The idea was to create a context in which our undergraduate students would learn what it means to do research in the Humanities,” Robbins said. “It’s very different than research in the sciences. They’re not accumulating data and working in labs. Instead, they’re reading, thinking thoughts, and presenting papers in the public forum.”

For its first thinker, the group selected Catherine Malabou, whose work is based in neuroscience, psychoanalysis, philosophy, religion, and feminist theory. Students studied Malabou’s work in a course team taught by Drs. Robbins, Robert Valgenti and Noëlle Vahanian.

"One of the unique and enriching aspects of this course is the fact that it is team taught," said Ashley Ferrari '14, a triple major in philosophy, International Studies and Spanish. "The different professors balance one another very well while each bringing their own background and specializations to the discussions."

“What has been helpful within the course,” according to Valgenti, “is that the students have the chance to witness us as instructors grappling with the difficulties of the texts. We disagree at times. We really wanted to use the idea modeling philosophical research for the students to help both our majors and the students coming from other disciplines.”

The Undergraduate Research Symposium courses are open all LVC students. They are designed specifically to attract and engage both majors and non-majors.