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ASU director explores cultural impact of Jewish philosophy


September 17, 2015

Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Moses Maimonides helped shape how the world approaches economics, psychology and law, respectively. While each had his own theories, the three brilliant thinkers did have one common trait, that their Jewishness shaped their work, and, in turn, human thought.

Understanding the impact of Judaism on our societal and cultural development, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, the director of Arizona State University’s Center of Jewish Studies, seeks to shed light on the contribution of Jewish philosophy to the humanities — from the pursuit of education to justice and social responsibilities. woman sitting in office with volume of books on table Hava Tirosh-Samuelson will soon begin the process of interviewing, writing and editing the 20th and final volume of the "Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophers," while completing volumes 14-19. Tirosh-Samuelson, the director of ASU's Center of Jewish Studies, is compiling introductions, writings and interviews with prominent Jewish philosophers from Israel, England, Canada and the U.S. Download Full Image

She is editing the “Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophy” with Aaron W. Hughes, of the University of Rochester, which will document how Judaism affects modern and contemporary thought. The 13th volume of the series will be released this month through Brill Publishers.

“Jewish philosophy has always interacted with the intellectual traditions of the culture at large," said Tirosh-Samuelson. “It is impossible to think about modern and contemporary philosophy without reference to Jewish philosophers.”

Today’s contemporary Jewish thinkers interpret Judaism’s sacred texts and religious traditions to shape ethical values and legal norms. The culture’s philosophy doesn’t just explore the meaning and purpose of being Jewish, but also touches on the diversity and complexity of our thinking today and the purpose of human life.

The “Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophy” will feature 20 volumes. Each volume details the contributions of a specific thinker to Jewish thinking in the mid- to late-20th century. Each volume features an essay summarizing the philosopher’s life’s work, a selection of representative works by the philosopher, an interview of the philosopher with Tirosh-Samuelson, and a select bibliography of 120 publications by the philosopher.

There are currently 13 volumes published in the series with seven more to be completed by March.

The “Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophy” covers a range of fields including theology, politics, ethics and hermeneutics. Featured philosophers include former Chief Rabbi of England Jonathan Sacks, the noted ethicist David Novak and the renowned scholars of Jewish mysticism Moshe Idel and Elliot Wolfson.  

Tirosh-Samuelson believes that the series will enable scholars to appreciate the diversity and complexity of Jewish thought and can inspire continued analysis and discussion about the contributions of Jewish philosophers to the cannon of Western thought.

“Jewish philosophy is a living tradition, not a fossil that needs to be preserved for posterity,” she said. “[It] offers us ways to reflect critically about being human in an age where our humanity is under duress.”

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Saving the rainforest no cliche for ASU biologist


September 17, 2015

The Amazon rainforest — it conjures up images of broad expanses of leafy canopies and tropical species of every shape and color. But it’s also something that we literally touch every day, says David Pearson:

“From the eggs we eat, to chicken, to vanilla … Thirty percent of the world’s medicine and hundreds of products we use from the rainforest that we take for granted, we use every day.” David Pearson gives an impromptu master class on Tropical Ecology 101. ASU research professor and Amazon Rainforest Workshops instructor David Pearson gives an impromptu master class on Tropical Ecology 101 at ExplorNapo Lodge in Peru. Photo by: Kelly Keena/Amazon Rainforest Workshops Download Full Image

Christa Dillabaugh calls the Amazon the “mother lode” for a biologist. As the director of Amazon Rainforest Workshops, she works directly with Pearson — a research professor in Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and the workshops’ lead instructor — spending their summers in the Peruvian Amazon helping to spread knowledge and appreciation for one of the world’s most abundant, yet swiftly depleting natural resources to fellow educators, students and locals.

“Dave not only brings a wealth of tropical ecology expertise to our program, he is also a fabulous educator,” Dillabaugh said. “His expertise is both wide and deep, and he is so generous with his time and talent. He has the ability to make science and the process of scientific inquiry fun.”

Pearson’s passion for living things and the environment began at age 10 when he developed a fascination with birds, which he said “just came out of nowhere.”

Later, he began traveling the world extensively after a trip to the Marshall Islands while studying as an undergraduate at Pacific Lutheran University. There he met a group of researchers who invited him to spend three months on a bird-watching cruise. He met more researchers on the cruise who had done work in Peru and, “one thing led to another.”

Besides Peru, Pearson has also traveled and researched in Ecuador, Bolivia, India and Madagascar.

“Tropical rainforests around the world always attracted me. They’re very different from Minnesota where I grew up, and they’re also where half the world’s biodiversity is, so thought I could do some good there,” Pearson said.

According to Dillabaugh, he has done a lot of good.

“Dave covers a wide range of topics with our participants — from basic tropical ecology, bird diversity in the rainforest, scientific inquiry and field studies, biomimicry and sustainability/conservation issues in the tropics, and more,” she said. “He is always available to participants for small group discussions, and by the end of the program, they all love ‘Dr. Dave.’”

“The rainforest is wonderful place to demystify science,” Pearson said. “We teach pedagogy, but we also teach storytelling abilities and to care, to be passionate about the rainforest; it’s a very mysterious place, a wonderful place.”

Bridget Molloy, who teaches high school science at La Academia in Denver, participated in the workshops as a “student,” learning from instructors like Pearson and taking that knowledge back to her classroom.

“He was amazing, to put it lightly,” Molloy said of Pearson. “We had a lot of great conversations concerning the conservation of the rainforest.”

When he travels with Amazon Rainforest Workshops to Peru again next summer, it will be Pearson’s third year with the program — and his 86th trip to the country.

“Dave is a rare breed of scientist, and we are so lucky to have him as an instructor,” said Dillabaugh.

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

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