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In Brief: More News from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

Exterior of Withers Hall
Withers Hall, home of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

Leadership Changes: After twenty years as head of the department, Michael Pendlebury retired on January 1, 2024. Stephen Puryear, Professor of Philosophy and Associate Head, served as interim head in Spring 2024 and was appointed as the ongoing head from July 1, 2024. Robert Mabrito served as interim associate head during Spring 2024. Karey Harwood was appointed as the ongoing associate head to start July 1, 2024.

New Faculty: The department conducted two searches this year for tenure-track assistant professors, one in the philosophy of science and one in African American religions. Four faculty were hired out of these two searches: Irina Mikhalevich (Ph.D., Boston University) and Travis McKenna (Ph.D., Pittsburgh) out of the former search and Marcelitte Failla (Ph.D., Emory) and Seth Gaiters (Ph.D., Ohio State) out of the latter. Mikhalevich, Failla, and Gaiters will join the department in August 2024; McKenna will join in August 2025 after a one-year postdoc at CalTech.

Faculty Scholarship: Members of the department’s faculty conduct scholarly research on a wide range of topics. In philosophy, these include early and late modern philosophy, African American philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of psychology, political philosophy, and the ethics of artificial intelligence. In religious studies, they include Christian and Judaic studies, Islam in the modern world, and religion and politics in both contemporary America and contemporary Japan. During the past two years, departmental faculty have published eight books. Publications of refereed journal articles increased by 42%, and of chapters in books by 29%, from 2014-2019 to 2019-2024.

Scholarly Reassignment: Sanem Soyarslan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, was granted a one-semester scholarly reassignment for Spring 2024, during which time she advanced a project related to Spinoza’s famous conatus doctrine, according to which we strive by our nature to preserve ourselves and increase our power. The project involves a new interpretation of Spinoza’s ethics that recognizes the significance he places not on our power but on our finitude and lack of power.

Major Anniversaries: Three members of the department’s faculty celebrated significant long-term service anniversaries in 2024: Matt Hettche, Assistant Teaching Professor of Philosophy, 10 years; Jason Sturdevant, Assistant Teaching Professor of Religious Studies, 10 years; Catherine Driscoll, Professor of Philosophy, 20 years; and Bill Adler, Distinguished University Professor of Religious Studies, 40 years.

Staff Changes: Jackie Grossano resigned as the department’s student services associate in August 2023 to pursue a master’s degree in Social Work. Kendall Hubbard, who earned an M.A. in English from NC State in May 2023, was appointed as the department’s new student services associate in October.

2023-24 Graduates: Twenty-three students graduated in either philosophy or religious studies during the 2023-24 academic year. Fourteen of these students graduated with honors: nine summa cum laude, two magna cum laude, and three cum laude. Nine completed second majors outside our disciplines, including majors in Aerospace Engineering, Arabic Studies, Biological Sciences, Computer Science, English, Environmental Engineering, History, and International Studies. Eleven completed one or more minors, including minors in Cognitive Science, English, French, Journalism, Logic & Methodology, Middle East Studies, Music Performance, Music Studies, Nutrition, Political Science, Renewable Energy Assessment, and Statistics.