Professor Jay Garfield, the inaugural Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor of Humanities at Yale-NUS College and a leading scholar of philosophy, found his academic calling half by chance and half by circumstance.
Trained in Western philosophical thought, Professor Jay Garfield admits having had little awareness of non-Western philosophy when he was a student. All of that changed when he became an Assistant Professor at Hampshire College, a liberal arts college in the US. On day one at work, his very first student walked into his office and wanted him to chair his senior thesis on ‘Indo-Tibetan Madhyamaka and the Social Contract Tradition.’ Seven years later, the College introduced a strong multi-cultural requirement that demanded that all teachers introduce a non-Western element to their disciplines.
Prof Garfield has not looked back since then, having devoted his career to advancing the idea that philosophy is a cross-cultural enterprise, and that it is morally and intellectually imperative to read and to work across cultural boundaries. He says, “It is a real honour to be associated with a major Buddhist temple dedicated to care and benevolence. I am thrilled to join Yale-NUS, and am excited by the opportunity to help to build a college and a curriculum committed to academic excellence, genuine interdisciplinarity and to a truly global academic vision.”
Having both studied and worked in a liberal arts environment for most of his academic career, Prof Garfield has had the privilege of learning and teaching in an interdisciplinary environment and alongside psychologists, computer scientists, linguists, legal theorists, mathematicians, physicists, media studies scholars and others. This increased his commitment to interdisciplinary studies, to collaborative teaching and learning and to the importance of a hands-on approach to undergraduate education.
He says, “Liberal arts is essentially an education for a free person, both in the sense of personal freedom and one living in a free society. It is an education that one should know in order to take an active part in civic life and to lead a fulfilling life, eventually passing on this knowledge to future generations. This Professorship has given me the opportunity of a lifetime – working with motivated, creative and talented students and colleagues and working in a community committed to building something entirely new, an Asian liberal arts college with a truly global curriculum.”
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