We are very proud of the great things being done by Furman philosophy alumni. If you are an alumnus of the Furman philosophy department, please let us know what you are up to. We are in the process of establishing a Facebook group for Furman philosophy alumni, but for now, email Aaron Simmons
with your updates, pictures, and announcements so that we can put them in our departmental newsletter. Also, please be sure to stop by the Departmental drop-in during Homecoming, October 22, 10:00-12:00. We look forward to seeing you all there.
As part of the new features of the Furman philosophy website, we are starting a series of "Alumni Spotlights." We plan on having a new spotlight each month during the academic year and keeping an archive of all the previous ones.
The first alumni spotlight features James McRae, who graduated from Furman in 1998. He is now an Assistant Professor of Asian Philosophy and Religion, and the Coordinator for Asian Studies, at Westminster College in Missouri.
James McRae, Ph.D. (Furman c/o 1998)
Assistant Professor of Asian Philosophy and Religion
Coordinator for Asian Studies
What have you been doing since you graduated from Furman?
After graduating from Furman, I moved to Honolulu to pursue graduate study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I earned my MA in 2001 and my PhD in 2006, specializing in Japanese philosophy and ethics. I joined the faculty at Westminster College in 2006 as a dual-appointment in philosophy and religious studies, and I'm coming up for tenure this fall. While at Furman, I started training in the martial arts under Dr. Shaner, and I continued to study various systems throughout graduate school (including Aikido, Jeet Kune Do, Jiu-Jitsu, and Kali). I'm currently an instructor in Jeet Kune Do and Jiu-Jitsu under Burton Richardson, and I teach these arts at Westminster College. In 2000, I married another Furman graduate, Heather Thornton McRae, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in medieval history at the University of Missouri. We have a 2 year old son, Jack, whom we suspect is an adorable incarnation of Shiva the Destroyer.
What are your philosophical specialties and research/teaching interests?
My current research interests include ethics (normative and environmental), Japanese philosophy (especially Zen, the Kyoto school, and bushido), and philosophy of film. I'm working on two books that should hopefully be released in 2012. The first is an environmental ethics anthology entitled Environmental Philosophy in the Asian Traditions of Thought
, which I am co-editing with J. Baird Callicott. This book will be a follow-up to Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought
(SUNY Press, 1989), which Prof. Callicott co-edited with my teacher and mentor, Roger T. Ames. One chapter features an article by Furman's own David Shaner and R. Shannon Duval. I'm also a co-editor with Robert Arp and Adam Barkman for the book, The Philosophy of Ang Lee
(forthcoming from University Press of Kentucky). This anthology is a study of philosophical themes in the works of Ang Lee (the Oscar-winning director of such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm
, and Brokeback Mountain
). I have various other projects in the works, including a chapter for a forthcoming book on the ethics of nonhuman animals and an article on bushido ethics. As a teacher, I'm somewhat of a Swiss Army knife. I regularly teach courses like Intro, Modern Philosophy, and Formal Logic, but my favorite courses are Asian philosophy, environmental ethics, and biomedical ethics. Right now, I'm teaching a freshman seminar entitled "Philosophy and the Martial Arts," which is particularly enjoyable. Westminster College has given me a great deal of freedom to design my own upper-level courses, which lets me tailor course offering to the interests of our majors.
What is your best memory of your time at Furman?
One of my best experiences at Furman was traveling to Japan with Dr. Shaner during the summer of 2006 to study Aikido with Koichi Tohei Sensei. I learned invaluable lessons about Japanese language, culture, and philosophy while I was there, all of which helped me immensely in graduate school. Dr. Shaner was a great teacher and mentor to me while I was at Furman and has continued to be so in the years since I graduated. The Aikido club on campus was very important to my extra-curricular studies: Dr. Shaner, Dr. Stone, Ileana Shaner, and Eric Harrell taught me a great deal about how to apply Japanese philosophy to my life outside the classroom. Some of my other best Furman memories involve all the classes I took with Prof. Edwards. He is one of the best teachers I've ever known and I still try to follow his example when I teach my own classes.
What advice would you give to current Furman philosophy majors (especially those interested in going on to graduate school)?
When you first declare your philosophy major, try to take a wide variety of courses with different professors so that you can find the areas of philosophy that interest you the most. Talk to your professors about graduate school early so you can get an idea of which programs might be right for you and what coursework they require. To be highly competitive in today's market, you need to do things as an undergraduate that will set you apart from other applicants. Join Phi Sigma Tau (the philosophy honor society) and try to revise one of your class papers for presentation at an undergraduate conference or for publication in an undergraduate journal (such as PST's Dialogue). Actively participate in any on-campus clubs that are related to philosophy and try to serve in leadership positions in these organizations. Professors are happy to take dedicated students under their wings and help them through the application process, so don't be shy about asking them for advice. The most important thing is to try to apply the philosophy you learn to your daily life to cultivate yourself, improve your interpersonal relationships, and positively change your socio-political environment. If you are living the examined life, it will show in your cover letter, statement of purpose, and recommendations. Unless, of course, you've been studying Diogenes; I wouldn't try to emulate that