I hope my New England friends have been enjoying a summer full of beach days and Del’s lemonade, and my pals back home are beating the heat with some Ted Drewes. My summer so far has been lacking in travel and outdoor activities compared to past years but has nevertheless been exciting … in a less ‘summery,’ more educational way. Reading and writing lots of philosophy may sound like an actual nightmare to some, but that is what most of my summer so far has consisted of, and I am happy as a clam about it.
About a month and a half after settling into my research here at PC, I spent two weeks in July attending an intensive summer philosophy program at Brown University, joined by eight other students from around the country. Specifically, this was a program to promote diversity and inclusivity in philosophy, which has been historically dominated by Western males. Being surrounded by peers whose identities have been traditionally underrepresented in the discipline was extremely rewarding, and hearing about their unique experiences within philosophy opened my eyes to new perspectives.
For the duration of the program, we attended two daily seminars, “Philosophy of Time” and “Global Justice” taught by two different professors. Some highlights from the first, a metaphysics course, was being able to talk physics … without actually talking physics. While I had studied Einstein’s Laws of Special Relativity before, aside from the analytical calculations, I had not approached the topic from a philosophical perspective. In simple terms, this theory states that we have evidence to believe that time is relative! (Specifically, the duration of time between two events depends on the frame of reference from which it is being observed.) Basically, in this seminar we got to ditch all the formulas and numbers while talking about how this theory conflicts with our norms about time being an objectively measurable entity, and how we should make sense of a notion that seems so counter intuitive.
What really got me thinking, though, was the question about which times exist; for most of us, the default is that the present is special (compared to past and future) in some way, and that the past no longer exists. But what about the past makes it “past?” You can see how this question could go in circles. We could say that we know past events are in the past because they already happened. But this would mean that we already assume that time is a dynamic, and such a thing as “now” and “then” exist. And how do we know this for sure? Also, can we locate “in the past” spatially? These kinds of discussions had me confused and intrigued for hours on end, and almost always ended in further questions regarding the ontology of time. I even started to question the ability of linguistics, particularly our use of past and future tenses, to accurately capture our experiences of time. This course was like a combination of philosophy + physics on steroids, and I loved every minute of it.
As for my Global Justice seminar, we covered topics ranging from inequality, distribution issues, individual moral obligations in preventing suffering, and war. All are clearly very relevant to real world application, which made the content even more enriching. But the highlight of this seminar was, hands down, Skyping with Jeff McMahan, the mastermind behind the revisionist version of Just War Theory. He gave us an MTV Cribs-style tour of his office at Oxford, and we had the opportunity to ask questions about his theory, only to be blown away by his well-articulated and brilliant responses to even the most theoretically insane “What ifs?” that we threw at him.
All in all, my two weeks up on College Hill were extremely rewarding, and I learned more about philosophy than I could’ve ever hoped to. Although the program sadly came to an end, I was able to dive into my personal research project with some added inspiration, mostly due to the experiences of cultural relativism that I heard from my peers.
Quick recap: My research, overseen by Dr. Arroyo, is based on a cross-cultural examination of Japan and America. My interest lies in the sphere of early education and childrearing, analyzing how each society’s values and ethos inform how parents and teachers educate and nurture children. One of the most interesting things I have been writing about recently is the fact that Japan’s educational system was democratized to mirror that of the United States’, after WW2 under the occupation of General MacArthur. Ever since these reforms, the basic structure of the elementary school system has been essentially the same in each country. Yet, despite this similarity, the methods and teaching philosophies utilized in each are wildly different. Dr. Merry White, anthropologist at Boston University, says it best: “in borrowing European and American models of schooling, Japan did not borrow Western conceptions of learning and childhood.”
These conceptions refer to a range of things. Like, for example, the purpose that education is believed to serve in each society. You may be wondering, “Isn’t the purpose of education pretty … universal?” That’s what I thought, too. But it turns out, this concept holds distinct cultural meaning in each society. In Japan, learning in school is regarded as a holistic development, encompassing mind, body, and soul. There is equal emphasis on physical activity, moral development, as well as academics within the curriculum. And in the moral sphere, cooperation, empathy and loyalty to the group are emphasized, and so large class sizes are preferred to allow students to practice these skills. All of these philosophies are quite foreign to our elementary schools. So, you can see how diverging beliefs about learning and childhood can greatly change how the elementary school system functions, despite a similar structure.
I’m still working on getting the findings of my research down on paper, so how my project will turn out is one big question mark for now. But I am excited to continue putting bits and pieces of my work together, and discovering more about two major elements of my identity along the way.
Thanks for reading!
Hello All! I hope my New England friends have been enjoying a summer full of beach days and Del’s lemonade, and my pals back home are beating the heat with some Ted Drewes. My summer so far has been lacking in travel and outdoor activities compared to past years but has nevertheless been exciting … […]MORE
I am Risa Takenaka, a senior here at PC, and I will be blogging about my research experience this summer. Between my unique sense of humor and lighthearted writing style, I hope my posts can emulate that of a professional blogger – an unlikely goal considering the two sentences above took me a few hours to formulate, but I will keep my spirits high for the time-being.
Before I tell you about the nuts and bolts of my research in philosophy with Dr. Arroyo, here are some things you should know about me. I’d call them fun facts, but they’re truly not that fun:
- I was born in Japan, raised in Missouri, and, somehow, ended up here in Providence, Rhode Island. I visited Tokyo this winter break where my entire extended family still lives and had the time of my life.
- I am majoring in applied physics and minoring in philosophy and math. I know, this screams “I am really indecisive and couldn’t fully commit to one thing.” Not surprisingly, this seems to be a recurring theme in other areas of my life.
- My sister is a Friar, too! She claimed all throughout high school that she would not even consider going to college with me. Then she followed me here – all the way from Missouri.
- I was in Ghana last week. I went on the Maymester trip despite a rocky start – my passport and visa were MIA until 10 days before my departure, and I was also told my malaria medicine would come in on time – and made it there and back safely against all odds. It was amazing, and I could not have asked for a better beginning to my summer.
- I really love to eat. I am one hungry girl, and I somewhat pride myself in how much I eat, except when I am at dinner parties eating my eighth plate when everyone else has already moved on to dessert.
That’s probably enough for now. So now the real question: Philosophy research? What does that even mean?
I have an answer! Kind of. As I explained above, I am a Japanese citizen who has been living in America as a permanent resident for the past two decades. During my childhood spent in Missouri, I had a rich exposure to American ideologies and culture from my peers and community, and this has continued on with my college education here in the States. But, I have also had my fair share of a Japanese twist on my upbringing.
Growing up, I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between my parents’ teaching philosophies and those of my American counterparts. This fascination resurfaced when I visited Japan this winter and noticed the immense differences in early childhood education as well. What is the reason for this – why do America and Japan nurture and teach their young children so differently? My ongoing curiosity for this concept has prompted me to take on the challenge of answering this question this summer. Working closely with Dr. Arroyo from the Philosophy department, I will be researching how the collectivist and individualist tendencies of Japanese and American culture, respectively, inform values and normative standards regarding the “correct” way to raise children in each country.
With this research opportunity, I will analyze what specific values are at work in each ethical framework and how these translate to practical differences in raising and teaching young children. Additionally, I hope to write a piece that can bridge some of the gaps in knowledge of the ways in which culturally influenced value systems influence, simply put, “the way things are done” in different areas of the world.
Hello All! I am Risa Takenaka, a senior here at PC, and I will be blogging about my research experience this summer. Between my unique sense of humor and lighthearted writing style, I hope my posts can emulate that of a professional blogger – an unlikely goal considering the two sentences above took me a […]MORE
Two works comprising eight movements, 92 pages, and 785 measures. These compositions, Mass and Symphony of Psalms, are at the heart of what I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. Having received my scores from London, I made a preliminary sketch of the pieces, noting their overarching construction, marking cadences, and identifying the general forms used. I also studied the texts used in the works — where they come from, their purpose, and how often they have been set in the past. Basic sketches like this allow me to get a feel for the piece without getting too bogged down in chord function or voice leading — acting as an aural-big-picture, if you will.
With a basic understanding of the pieces in mind, I traveled to the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University, where I began to study the characteristics of early Russian polyphony and liturgical chant. This can be a difficult area of study because the neumatic system of notation used in the earliest transcriptions of Russian chant are still largely enigmatic to scholars. But fortunately, in 1772 the Holy Synod published a book of liturgical chants used by the Russian Orthodox Church in a modernized notational system, which gives us a glimpse of what the original chant notation may have indicated.
While at Yale, I studied some chant excerpts and listened to several recordings of monastery choirs performing liturgical chant. Much like Stravinsky, who was once quoted as having claimed to free music from the bar line, Russian liturgical chants are sung very freely — allowing the words and their meaning to take prominence over any sense of strong or weak beats. This same feeling is established in Stravinsky’s works, notably in the Gloria of Mass, where Stravinsky constantly changes the meter in which he is composing, while simultaneously utilizing sixteenth note triplets and quintuplets that break down the sense of rhythmic stability we generally associate with music.
Though by its nature this project is much more grounded in music theory than in musicology, I have also spent some time at Providence College’s own Phillips Memorial Library — studying Stravinsky himself and learning what he had to say about the composition of his Catholic liturgical works. Though he never specifically said he was looking back to Russian Liturgical Chant, Stravinsky did admit that he was composing these works with the intent of looking back into the past. We can also be certain that he did have exposure to early polyphonic chant, since he was not only a member of the Russian Orthodox Church himself, but also a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was instrumental in the resurgence of traditional Russian chant following a period of expansive Western influence. Additionally, Stravinsky was exposed to several examples of Georgian chant, which he studied and transcribed and which continued to fascinate him throughout his life.
Later this week, I will be continuing to delve into my research, traveling to Rochester, New York to visit the music library at the Eastman School of Music and to speak with a Russian hymnographer in Cooperstown, New York. I look forward to being able to flesh out my understanding of Russian chant and to use that knowledge to continue discovering the influence this tradition had on Stravinsky’s compositions.
Two works comprising eight movements, 92 pages, and 785 measures. These compositions, Mass and Symphony of Psalms, are at the heart of what I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. Having received my scores from London, I made a preliminary sketch of the pieces, noting their overarching construction, marking cadences, and identifying the […]MORE
My first personal experience with the music of Igor Stravinsky was in 2014 when I sang Symphony of Psalms with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Two years later, I’m still fascinated. In an amalgamation of styles and techniques, Stravinsky takes elements of music we’ve all grown up with and reinvents them to conform with his own unique conception of music. For an example, you need look no further than the double fugue in the second movement of Symphony of Psalms, which takes a technique perfected by Bach and puts a stylistic spin on it that is unmistakably Stravinsky.
But what is this personal style? From where did it emerge? Is it fed solely from the Western tradition, or are there other influences at play? An examination of the influences on Stravinsky’s style and music is the focus of my research this summer. More specifically, I will be looking at the influences of traditional Russian Orthodox liturgical chant on Stravinsky’s Catholic liturgical works, namely his Mass and Symphony of Psalms. As a member of the Russian Orthodox church, it is highly probable that elements of Orthodox liturgy would have worked their way into Stravinsky’s style and come across in some of his most spiritually powerful compositions.
To accomplish this project, I will be spending my summer traveling to various libraries and archives in southern New England and New York, where I will be studying the development and evolution of Stravinsky’s style and the characteristics of Russian Orthodox liturgical chant, in an attempt to discover the common ground between the two areas. To develop a better grasp of the nuances of Russian Orthodox chant, I will also be in touch with a Russian Orthodox hymnographer throughout my research. Once this portion of the research is completed, my next task will be to complete an analysis of both of Stravinsky’s works to determine the extent to which they were influenced by Russian Orthodox chant. If I’m correct, there will be substantial crossover in style, which will help to explain some of the anomalies in the traditional Western, tonal theory based interpretations of the scores that fail to fully account for the presence of certain chordal progressions and voice leading choices Stravinsky presents us with throughout both Catholic liturgical compositions.
And so begins my summer research project. Having been an avid admirer of Stravinsky’s music for some time now, I’m looking forward to taking a closer look at some of my favorite of his compositions, while simultaneously indulging my love for music theory and analysis — an opportunity made possible by my Veritas Research Grant. I couldn’t be more excited to begin.
Joan Miller, Class of 2018
My first personal experience with the music of Igor Stravinsky was in 2014 when I sang Symphony of Psalms with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Two years later, I’m still fascinated. In an amalgamation of styles and techniques, Stravinsky takes elements of music we’ve all grown up with and reinvents them to conform […]MORE