The Rock Ethics Institute’s 2011 Anna Julia Cooper Fellow is Desiree Melton, Associate Professor at College of Notre Dame of Maryland. On February 17th, we had the pleasure of hearing Desiree Melton present a new work in progress, “Kierkegaard’s Abraham: Understanding the Silent Other.”

Paper abstract: In Fear and Trembling, de Silentio says repeatedly that Abraham cannot speak about the awful sacrifice God demands of him. The challenge then falls to de Silentio to try to understand Abraham in his particularity without hearing from Abraham directly. In this paper, I claim that Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling is about more than faith. It also exemplifies a desire to understand the other when direct communication is not possible.

This paper is a part of Dr. Melton’s larger interest in the nature and causes of the major transformations some people undergo. How do people who once clung to views that support injustice or lived epistemologies of ignorance develop and act on a desire to understand Others whose lived experience diverge widely from their own? How should such people go about acting on that desire? In the paper, Melton suggests that Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling shows us that key to understanding an Other is the genuine imaginative attempt to appreciate what it is like to be the other, rather than simply trying to imagine oneself in the other’s shoes. In other words, we must try to understand the other in the other’s absolute particularity. As the paper develops, Melton is hoping to use this insight to analyze the failure of many members of the American public to understand and empathize with the choices and plight of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Melton is an also alumnus of College of Notre Dame of Maryland, where she completed a minor in philosophy before going on to receive her M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Binghamton University.┬áHer primary research interests include Critical Race Theory, Deliberative Democracy, Feminist Philosophy and Kierkegaard. She has published “Vulnerability: Preserving Dignity in the Face of Oppression,” in Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy, edited by Lisa Tessman (Springer, 2009) and “Making Disposition Matter in Iris Young’s Deliberative Democracy,” in Dancing with Iris: The Philosophy of Iris Marion Young, co-edited by Mechthild Nagel and Ann Ferguson (Oxford University Press, 2009).

The Anna Julia Cooper Fellowship offers junior professors from underrepresented groups an opportunity to present their work in a research environment, to be mentored on publishing toward receiving tenure, and in turn to mentor Penn State philosophy graduate students in preparation for the profession. They spend one week at Penn State and give one public presentation.

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