Starting and Maintaining a College Philosophy Club

A professor of philosophy at a U.S. college writes in with a request for information about undergraduate philosophy clubs:

My university currently does not have a philosophy club. For various reasons my department thinks such a club would be a good idea, and I, perhaps foolishly, volunteered to help get it started.

I have a pair of philosophy majors who are willing to found the organization but we are looking for suggestions about a couple of matters that may be interconnected. First, what are some good ways to recruit other members of the club? Second, what kinds of things should a philosophy club do? I imagine that some of your readers have been involved in philosophy clubs or are at least at schools that have them and could provide some much-needed advice. Thank you.


Roy Lichtenstein, "House I"

Roy Lichtenstein, “House I”

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4 years ago

We had both a philosophy club and a philosophy honors society at my school. I was in both. The club met about once a week and would have open forums on topics (anyone was welcome to suggest a forum or volunteer to speak one week). In essence it was just a good place to further cultivate relationships with other students; some philosophy majors and some not.Report

Luke Ford
4 years ago

Hello there,

I was president of the Philosophy Club at my undergraduate institution and it had many events with attendance rivaling the most popular student organizations. We were less of a club and more of a lecture series, though. There are many ways to set up a philosophy club, but this worked well, and got people into the room. Basically, students, professors, or guest speakers were arranged for our monthly meeting and they presented their ideas, then had a question and answer period, similar to every other talk at a university, but the topics were all philosophy and students presented their ideas as well. Another technique we used was partnering with other organizations on campus to dip into both populations who might be interested. Report

Jake W
Jake W
4 years ago

Hi there

My uni has a decent philosophy society, that has been running for some time (I joined in 2010 as an undergrad, and it had been going for a while then). Here are some things they have done:

Talks by external speakers were the centrepiece of the society. They’d usually be 45 minutes to an hour, with some questions at the end, then a pub trip/dinner (which a few of the audience would join). These would happen every week or two. (I had a hand in organising this as a postgrad rep a few years ago, and it wasn’t too much hassle.)

This year the society have also started to run debates amongst students, and talks by post-grads.

There’s also a facebook page, which is used both to advertise events, discuss matters on the course (many if not most members are undergradute philosophy students), and it only rarely descends into chaos.

Oh, also regular pub trips occur, and other social events.Report

Jake W
Jake W
Reply to  Jake W
4 years ago

Oh, also, they’re running reading groups (Marxism, formal philosophy, Kierkegaard, Bernard Williams). And have Christmas/start of term parties. (We used to have an on-site bar, but I don’t know how well these things go off-campus)Report

Josh May
4 years ago

The Phil Club in our Dept has been doing quite well. Some things that seem to work for us:
– Get some money for food, such as pizza (from the Dept or student government)
– Advertise in philosophy classes (and advertise the food)
– Emphasize that students don’t have to be a philosophy major or minor to attend. In fact, encourage people to bring a friend to the meetings.
– Have events/activities that the students enjoy (they can vote on them). Help the club but let them make it their own. Report

4 years ago

I started our club in 2007 and it has been doing well since. That might be in part due to our name: That club than which none greater can be conceived.
We have weekly discussions on topics students pick and bring in other professors to talk about anything that interests them. We typically have no problems tying it into a philosophical discussion, and this helps demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of philosophy. We also have food when we have guest speakers. We have also taken club members to professional conferences in the area. In the past we have tried to help out with local under-served schools, elementary schools, to teach them philosophy. We usually start with Hegel. Then Heidegger. Anyone with an H. Frog and Toad is good too.Report

Alex Howe
4 years ago

Much useful advice here. Mine:

-regular meeting schedule & format
-mix (across or within meeting) of outside presentations & internal discussions

Joe Dewhurst
4 years ago

Edinburgh has a very successful philosophy society (club), who run events including not only the usual talks and reading groups, but also a film group and an academic support session:

They have a lot of support from the department, and are able to pull in some pretty high profile speakers once or twice a year (such as Dennett, whose come a couple of times).Report

4 years ago

My school has had a good philosophy club since it got new student leadership last spring.

What we usually do one of three things: have a grad student or professor give a talk, followed by questions and discussion; watch a movie with philosophical themes (e.g. Gattaca, Ex Machina, Memento) and then discuss it afterwards; or we have open discussion among the students. In my experience, the talks and movies usually draw more people and have more engaging discussion than the open discussions, though open discussions are fine from time to time.

As far as promoting it, the main way is to just have really nice looking fliers and then post as many of them around campus, particularly in buildings with more humanities/social science classes, as possible. It also helps to have free pizza, as we do.Report