Study Abroad Courses in Philosophy

Have you taught a “study abroad” or “destination” course in philosophy? Do you have any ideas for a good one?

[Ed Fairburn, “Bristol Envelope”]

Many undergraduate majors offer courses that involve travel—a course on German literature that takes students to Germany, for example, or a course on rainforest ecology that takes students to the Amazon. But what about philosophy courses?

Readers offered a few suggestions in a post on this topic previously, but that was nearly seven years ago, so (despite COVID taking place in the intervening years) I thought I’d see if there are some more ideas out there.

One reason for such courses, apart from whatever distinctive pedagogical benefits they might have, is to help philosophy departments remain competitive for majors. Sure, but itself, a travel abroad option is not what is going to be what makes or breaks a philosophy department, but at the margins it could, along with other details, make a difference.

Those who have taught these kinds of courses, please tell us about them. For the rest of us, let’s consider it a brainstorming session for coming up with such courses that we think would be interesting to students and educationally worthwhile.

Related: Philosophy Travel & Tourism, Destination Courses in Philosophy

Thinker Analytix

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1 year ago

Some obvious ones :

  1. Plato and Aristotle in Athens, with side trips to the islands.
  2. Plato in Sicily. Start in Athens, then sail to Sicily. Stop in Crotone to see where Alcibiades switched sides. Continue to Siracusa. Read Homer along the way.
  3. The Enlightenment and Revolutionary Thought in France : Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot etc.
  4. Renaissance Humanism in Florence. Or just focus on Machiavelli. Visit his house in the Tuscan countryside, his office at the Signoria, his grave at Santa Croce …
  5. The Dutch Golden Age in Amsterdam (Descartes, Spinoza, et. al.). Or if you want a more contemporary focus in Amsterdam, try a sex and gender course, with a focus on how the Dutch have attempted to “regulate eros”
  6. Stoicism in Rome. But start in Pompeii and Ercolano to get a sense of why The Brevity of Life was an ancient best-seller.
  7. Cosmopolitainism from Antiquity to the Present : pick two of three cities, one of which should be Palermo (for antiquity) and London (for the present), to discuss different models of cosmpolitanism, imperialism, resistance, etc.
  8. Anything having to do with food, fashion or sport is always a best-seller in study abroad, and you can do it anywhere as long as your course is “localized” Philosophy of Food can involve a wide range of subjects, from health and wellness to sustainability. Philosophy of Sport can likewise be a catch-all for lots of different philosophical issues, including race and gender.
  9. A course about memorials and monuments could take you to Auschwitz and Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. You could also discuss topics of forgiveness and reckoning with the past.
  10. For Eastern Philosophy, it’s quite difficult to penetrate the Chinese market right now (except for Shanghai) but Seoul is rapidly becoming a major hub for study abroad. Kyoto is also a great destination for Environmental Philosophy

Short-term study abroad programs are very desirable, and could be anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on the home institution, and even more desirable is a focus on themes or problems rather than figures and texts. These programs might take place during winter break, spring break, or summer term. But it usually takes more than a year to propose, develop, approve and execute such a program, so plan well in advance. Your school may want to develop something in-house, or it may want to work with a study abroad provider (e.g. CIEE, IES, CEA, etc). And often, the onus of recruitment of students is placed on you and/or your department. Finally, a word of warning : study abroad is no longer what it used to be, so don’t romanticize it; the students are pampered and expect a first-class trip, and a lot of time will be spent managing expectations, dealing with complaints, and coping with logistical snafus. Disclaimer : I’ve been working in study abroad for the last ten years.

Reply to  Bob
1 year ago

one more quick thing : especially desirable is some sort of hands-on experiential learning component that can be expressed in a concrete learning objective. the mere fact of going abroad is not enough, nor is looking at inanimate objects in a museum with a lecture-based voice-over. The students have to DO something that cannot be done within the four walls of the classroom and that only *this* experience can offer. Mediocre example : if Athens is the destination to read Ancient texts, perhaps you can find someone there who does the work of preserving ancient scrolls and fragments–or knows how to make papyrus–and can conduct a workshops where students handle the materials (albeit not the originals). This element is a bit more difficult to think about when it comes to a philosophy course, but if you can find a way to include it, your study abroad office will be excited. I once approved a course on sustainability that involved students mushing huskies on a dogsled in the arctic circle.

1 year ago

I teach Philosophy of Place in Rome during our January term every other year. We cover themes like home and exile, street art and monuments, religion and secularity, cosmopolitanism, etc. My students, many of whom have never been on public transportation, let alone traveled outside our state, appreciate the lived experience component.

My institution has also worked it out so J-term applies to spring load, which is nice for my teaching load, and students can use their financial aid to cover that tuition. It also allows students to apply for scholarships, like Gilman, to cover other costs. Most of the students would not be able to study abroad otherwise. The course also fulfills a Core requirement, so it’s a draw to non-majors, too.

Of course, as Bob mentions, there are very different expectations among the students for what the experience entails. I had not anticipated how much I had to also be like an RA and not just an instructor. Still, it’s been well worth it for me.

Margaret Flynn
Margaret Flynn
Reply to  Katie
1 year ago

Can you supply university and course details please Katie?

Reply to  Margaret Flynn
11 months ago

Sure! I’m at Mount Mary University. I can email you my syllabus.

1 year ago

This is a very brand new idea but I was thinking about a course addressing issues of coloniality, neoliberalism, and sustainability in Chile by critically engaging in ecotourism, endotourism, and ethnotourism.

1 year ago

One thought that I have had recently, but haven’t actually looked into the details of, is doing a study abroad on classical Indian philosophy in Bihar. It was the seat of the Sramana movement, so you can cover Charvaka, Ajnana, Ajivika, Jainism, and Buddhism, but you can also still have sites for Vedic philosophy as well. You’ve got the Mahabodhi Temple and/or Nalanda Mahavihara when discussing Buddhism, Vaishali when discussing Jainism, the Nagarjuni Caves when discussing Ajivika, and you can visit the Mundeshwari Temple when discussing the Vedic schools.

Reply to  Evan
1 year ago

I should add that Bihar is generally considered not currently very safe for travelers, which is why I haven’t looked into the details. Hopefully the situation changes and this becomes possible.

11 months ago

Hi, I’ve taught philosophy study abroad courses in Athens for years. Let me know what in particular you’d like to know and I’ll try to answer your questions.

Stephen Bloch-Schulman
11 months ago

I taught a winter term (3 week) class in Buenos Aires called Latin American Social Movements. I co-taught with an anthropologist who had done work with a trans and feminist anti-Carceral collective that works with current and formerly incarcerated folx [much of their work is done in poetry workshops, so we had students do a lot of their writing in poetry.] We also visited the offices of Madres and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and Greenpeace and a people’s radio station. Lots of discussion of capitalism, neoliberalism and colonialism and Latina feminism (students were particularly moved by work on femicides by Rita Segato) and some about the Movement of Third World Priests (and liberation theology). I was thrilled to be someplace where Che and Marx are thought worth taking seriously, their images (especially Che) all over the city (and the Madres we got to talk to spoke about why Che’s image is so promenent through their space). We wanted to visit a social and solidarity economy-based hotel, but it had closed during the pandemic.