SUNY Oneonta

Today is:

Department of Philosophy
10 Denison Hall
SUNY Oneonta
Oneonta, NY 13820-4015

Phone: (607) 436-2456
Fax: (607) 436-2653

 
 

The Fractal Self Preface

 
 
The present volume grew from an undergraduate conference in philosophy, held on the campus of SUNY Oneonta, April 16-17, 1999. It was the fourth such conference we had hosted in as many years. If you had told me back in October of 1995—when I first invited a few students to tag along with me to a conference on Greek and Islamic Philosophy—that I was setting in motion a series of events that includes organizing an annual undergraduate conference and publishing papers from those conferences in volumes such as this, I would have looked at you with more than a little incredulity.

So much for the siddhi of precognition. The effects of our actions are notoriously wide-ranging and difficult to predict, and that weekend nearly five years ago proved exceptional in many ways. My students came back with a dream about holding a conference of their own, not for professors such as they had seen, but for undergraduates such as themselves. With some simple encouragement and a lot of hard work, we hosted our first conference during March of 1996. Even now, in retrospect, I am amazed by the response we received, the quality of the papers, and the dedication of our own students. Perhaps the distance from there to here is not as great as it sometimes seems.

Our 1999 conference was opened by Shen Pingde, an exchange scholar from Xian, China, with a special presentation titled Chinese Calligraphy: A Philosophical Demonstration. Professor Shen enjoyed rapt attention as he

  1. provided an introduction to the art and development of Chinese calligraphy, including philosophical and religious ideas, materials, styles, and development over time, and
  2. demonstrated the art of calligraphy in two pieces: a poem from the book of the three kingdoms and a short poem of his own written for world peace in the next century.
That evening, David Jones of Kennesaw State University challenged professors and students alike with a keynote address titled The Fractal Self and the Organization of Nature: The Daoist Sage and Chaos Theory. The presentation, based on a paper that he and John Culliney of the University of Hawaii had written for Zygon, employed the perspective of chaos theory to explore interconnections between self and surroundings in Daoist thought, and more specifically, to examine the role of the self in creating emergent form and dynamism in nature and society.

On Saturday, Jennifer Manlowe of Long Island University provided the final presentation of the conference in a key-note address titled Buddhism, Race, Class, Sexuality, and Gender in the Modern World. Professor Manlowe explored the role the Dalai Lama has played in the Human Rights movement as an “Engaged Buddhist,” explained why this movement (over and above others) has become so urgent for so many Americans in the latter half of the 20th century, and offered her views as to whether his kind of philosophical thought and religious practice offers a viable approach to living peacefully in a war-torn world.

I think both Professors Jones and Manlowe were surprised by how quickly our students took to them. I was not. It was exactly the sort of reaction I had hoped for, and the sort of reception I had seen our students give other keynotes in previous years.

I had first met David during the summer of 1995, at an NEH Summer Institute on Japanese Culture and Civilization directed by Thomas Kasulis of Ohio State University. David instantly impressed me as a pleasant, intelligent, and potentially valuable colleague. When we began hosting undergraduate conferences, I knew it would only be a matter of time before we tapped into his unique talents.

David and I stayed in touch via email, but I did not see him again until the summer of 1998 when our paths crossed at another NEH Summer Institute, this time on Chinese Philosophy and Religion, directed by Henry Rosemont, Jr. of Saint Mary’s College. It was not only an occasion to renew my relationship with David, but an opportunity to form new alliances as well. One scholar who quickly caught my attention was Jennifer Manlowe. Jenn was clearly bright, well versed, and articulate. She had an inquisitive and open mind. It was also clear to me that she was a dynamic, caring, and charismatic teacher—just the sort of person I was looking to invite to our conference.

Of course, no matter how wonderful our keynotes may be, the true stars of the conference are always the students. The conference was a dynamic interplay of personal commit-ment, intellectual energy, and youthful exuberance. Stu-dents from twenty institutions made twenty-six philosophically sophisticated and challenging presentations. Each year, we receive submissions from students at an impres-sive array of geographically and pedagogically diverse in-stitutions. For 1999, students represented the following schools: Amherst College, Boston College, Canisius College, Clark University, Fairfield University, Haverford College, George Washington University, Hunter College, Mary Washington College, Oakland University, Rockland Community College, Saint John's University, Saint Mary's College of Maryland, Saint Vincent College, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Oneonta, Syracuse University, University of Buffalo, University of Massachusetts, and Wheaton College.

Each paper represented an exceptional student's best work. In most cases, it was the first time the student had presented a paper beyond the confines of a classroom. The inherent intimidation of presenting one's work in public, combined with the knowledge that it would be subject to critical blind review, resulted in a significant measure of self-selection. I know many capable students who elected not to submit. But for those who summoned the courage, the experience was remarkable. Presentations were clear, insightful, and informed. Discussion was spirited and robust.

By encouraging excellence, and by treating students with respect and professionalism, we have been rewarded in kind. Six of the eleven student papers published in this volume received special awards, described below. The others, as will be obvious to anyone who reads the essays, made decisions concerning those awards especially difficult.

President's Awards
President's Awards honor student presentations that most clearly exemplify the standards and ideals of the conference. For 1999, these awards were presented to (alphabetic order):

  • Brett Bisgrove (SUNY Oneonta)
  • Daniel Bristol (SUNY Oneonta)
  • Robert Erlewine (St. Mary's College)
  • Tara K. Hogan (Mary Washington College)


Ninash Foundation East-West Awards
East-West Awards honor student presentations that exhibit special expertise and insight in Asian and Comparative Philosophy. For 1999, these awards were presented to (alphabetic order):

  • Daniel Bristol (SUNY Oneonta)
  • Christopher P. Martin (Mary Washington College)
  • Priyadarshi Shukla (LeMoyne College)


Spirit of Conference Awards
Spirit of Conference Awards honor students who contribute to the conference in diverse, sometimes unexpected ways. Special consideration is given to contributions that enhance the academic, intellectual, and positive social atmosphere of the conference. For 1999, these awards were presented to (alphabetic order):

  • Daniel Bristol (SUNY Oneonta)
  • Cynthia Budka (SUNY Oneonta)
  • Gottlieb Jicha III (SUNY Oneonta)


In my preface to Children of Athena (proceedings of the 1998 conference), I wrote about one of my students who was busy in another office, creating the program for our fourth annual conference. That he was doing so on his spring break, I noted, only serves to reinforce my conviction that somewhere, somehow, we must have done something right. That student, Gotti Jicha, I am happy to report, is once again devoting his spring break to work on the conference program. It is sure to become a classic example of the sort of “beyond the call of duty” activity that merits a Spirit of Conference Award.

Kerri Lynn Nicholas Heart and Soul Awards
Named in honor of an alumna who helped found the conference, Kerri Lynn Nicholas Heart and Soul Awards provide special recognition to those who have made truly exceptional, lasting contributions to the conference. The inaugural award was presented to none other than Kerri herself. The second Kerri was presented to Amanda Joy Schwarz, the first student to chair the conference planning committee. On May 22, 1999 a third Kerri was awarded, this time to Daniel J. Bristol. As evidenced by the President’s and Ninash Foundation Awards he received, Dan is an extraordinarily bright student who does not hesitate to share his insights with others. The Kerri, however, honors a somewhat different side of Dan. He is willing to work selflessly behind the scenes and, if needed, to accept positions of responsibility and leadership. The plaque commemorating Dan’s award reads simply:

To honor exceptional contribution
to the planning and conduct
of the 1997, 1998, and 1999
UNDERGRADUATE PHILOSOPHY CONFERENCES





Proceedings
I have said it before and I will say it again: editing the con-ference proceedings is a true labor of love. On the one hand, the project demands far more time and attention to detail than I had originally intended. On the other hand, the students with whom I have worked—from other institutions as well as from SUNY Oneonta—have been sources of joy, inspiration, and delight.

A formal list of acknowledgments follows the student preface. Still, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to thank my family (Barbara, Callie, and Sterling) for their patience, encouragement, and support. I also owe a special note of appreciation to Shen Pingde, David Jones, and Jennifer Manlowe for gracing our conference with their presence, their insights, and their infectious enthusiasm. I am especially grateful to David and Jenn for allowing us the honor of including their presentations in the proceedings.

Without the assistance of faculty, staff, and administrators here at Oneonta, neither the conference nor this volume would be possible: thank you. Perhaps less obviously, without the editorial assistance of the 1999/2000 Undergraduate Conference Committee I would still be poring over manuscripts, searching for errant commas or misplaced computer codes: special thanks to Mark Ayotte, Morgan Brenner, Meghan Callahan, Gotti Jicha, Amanda Rasnick, and—especially—Cindy Budka, whose leadership role in the editing process earned the right to author the Student Preface.

Douglas W. Shrader
Oneonta, New York

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