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Grant for the Cosmopolitan

In collaboration with a number of universities across the nation, King’s recently received more than $200,000 in partnership development funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

In collaboration with a number of universities across the nation, King’s recently received more than $200,000 in partnership development funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
The grant will fund an extension of a nearly decade-old research project directed by King’s professor and doctor of humanities, Gordon McOuat.

(Photo: Paul Rebar)

The project, called “Cosmopolitanism and the local in science and nature: Creating an east/west partnership,” focuses on globalizing the traditionally Western academic framework that exists across North America.
It encourages exchange between Western and Eastern cultural, scientific and philosophical schools of thought, through research and collaboration between schools in Canada, America, India and Southeast Asia.
The recent grant is a testament to the program’s prolific success, and will fund the three-year extension that McOuat said will continue to dispel the “uni-linear” concepts of history, philosophy and science.
“It’s disrupting our notion that there is a ‘Plato to NATO’ narrative of the so-called West that is just built on itself, almost dialectically, and that the rest is a mere periphery that isn’t participating in the story,” McOuat said.
“In reality, all along the line, the stories of our supposedly modern world have always been totally engaged with non-European explorations of the world.”
This view is grounded in cosmopolitanism, McOuat said, which involves the shared responsibilities of a globalized world without centres and peripheries.
The grant will allow the project to address this cosmopolitan responsibility through a number of short-term implementations and long-term goals.
One course currently in session at King’s is a short-term goal of the grant. Called “Centuries of Dialogue: Asia and the West,” it features a number of lectures from national and international scholars and philosophers.
The course’s motives echo those of the research project; it aims to identify the ways Asia has influenced historical and modern western culture, science and philosophy. By examining the ways these areas converge, students are asked to question the isolated Western narratives and frameworks that may exist in their own thought.
Douglas Berger, a visiting scholar from the United States and a doctor of religious studies, is the class’ professor. He believes the addition of Asian thought into the King’s curriculum is a beneficial –  even essential – choice.
“Given the kinds of things that King’s has generally been doing, to really talk about cultural hybridity is important,” he said.
“It is important to realize that European culture isn’t one thing with a closed set of traditions and systems of thought. It’s evolved over the centuries precisely through interaction with other cultures.
“This is true of Chinese culture, it’s true of Japanese culture. It’s true of everyone.”
Long-term goals of the project are still in the “preliminary inquiry phase,” McOuat said, though, like the lecture series, these contain the potential for international partnership.
Over the past nine years, leaders from institutions in Singapore and India have been meeting with leaders of Canadian and American universities to explore options for collaboration.
“Throughout this time, we were working up an idea that we could make institutional relationships between Canada and India in the humanist and social studies of science and technology,” said McOuat.
Thanks to the SSHRC grant, there is a possibility for an exchange program between North American and Indian students and scholars.
“It’s a utopian “It’s a utopian dream which I think is realizable,” McOuat said.
The exchange program would include a summer school in India for eastern and western students, followed by the opening of a similar program in Canada. The final goal is to offer an international, online course shared by eastern and western students, taught and accredited by a school in Canada and India.
“The logistics are crazy, so it will take a lot of work. Right now the project is very exploratory,” said McOuat.
But the members of the research project believe it will be worth it. Both McOuat and Berger are excited by the prospect of cross-cultural, interconnected academic thinking.
“One of the things that’s so prevalent today is a kind of ‘us versus them’ thinking, where we think we can’t understand each other, and dialogue isn’t possible,” Berger said.
“I think that it’s very important for people to realize that not only is that not the case, but also that dialogue and interchange have been going on for millennia. That’s the way that cultures are shaped and they develop.”
McOuat agrees. For him, the grant means the possibility of a new global worldview for history, philosophy, science and technology.
“I think that it is so amazing to begin to open up our doors a little wider to perspectives from all over the world,” he said. “It’s beyond exciting.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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