Students to apply Socratic method in fall 2022 ASU course

Students talking in a classroom.

Arizona State University Assistant Professor Karen Taliaferro has a big course ahead for the fall 2022 semester, and the path is not predictable.

Her course, Comparative Political Thought, is an invitation to students of all backgrounds to examine Western civilization’s fundamental texts of political thought — from Plato and Aristotle to John Locke — in dialogue with texts from different global traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Confucianism and Hinduism.

These sources are discussed using the Socratic method, a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking.

“The Socratic method allows us to keep an open mind and question our own assumptions,” Taliaferro said.

CEL 394: Comparative Political Thought (class #94866) is open to students of all majors and units. It caters to students dedicated to the humanities, and to those who are seeking an elective that will inspire them to be informed citizens. The course is offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. during Session C on the Tempe campus.

In this course, students will engage in participative discussions comparing texts across civilizations, religions and traditions, addressing basic political principles, such as justice and order, from multiple perspectives. 

“Western civilization’s great heritage of political thought calls us to remain vigilant about today’s challenges by diving into humanity’s most important questions of self-governance, justice, individualism and civic life. We understand the present by reflecting upon the principles and texts from the past,” Taliaferro said.

The course will focus on sources of political authority, ideas of membership in a political community, the relationship between reason and religion in a polity, constitutionalism, and natural or human rights. 

“This course is a great opportunity for students of all majors and minors who are interested in our society’s great questions of justice, power, community, reason, religion and how these aspects impact our daily lives. We will read classics of political thought, writings from different traditions and contemporary texts,” Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro has been a faculty member at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership since the school was founded at ASU in 2017 and dedicates her research to ancient and medieval political philosophy, religion and politics, with a particular emphasis on Islamic thought. Her 2019 book "The Possibility of Religious Freedom: Early Natural Law and the Abrahamic Faiths" examines the conflict of divine law and human law in sources ranging from ancient Greece to medieval Islam, and asks whether various traditions of natural law might mitigate the conflict.

We understand the present by reflecting upon the principles and texts from the past.
— Assistant Professor Karen Taliaferro

Karen Taliaferro

Taliaferro graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and French from Marquette University. She then went on to earn a master’s degree and a PhD in government from Georgetown University, as well as additional training in classics from Northwestern University. She has previously taught humanities and great books at Villanova University, and has held research fellowships at the James Madison Program at Princeton University, as well as Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Doha, Qatar. 

Comparative Political Thought integrates the fall 2022 list of courses offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The school combines philosophy, history, economics and political science to examine great ideas and solve contemporary problems. Courses such as Great Ideas in Politics and Ethics; Debating Capitalism; Politics and Leadership in the Age of Revolutions: 1776-1826; and Globalism, Nationalism and Citizenship prepare students for careers in such fields as business, law, public office, philanthropy, teaching and journalism, among others.

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