This blog accompanies the special topics course “Literature and Philosophy: Barack Obama” at RIT (Spring quarter 2008-2009). The professors for this course are Babak Elahi (English) and John Capps (Philosophy). Our intention is to place Obama’s writings in a larger literary and philosophical context.
During the presidential campaign many people expressed concern that Obama had spent too little time in the public eye. We will look to Obama’s published writings to better understand the man, his history, and his principles.
For example, Obama had already published a well-reviewed memoir years before he entered public life. This memoir, Dreams From My Father, describes his attempt to forge a consistent identity as an African-American raised by his white maternal grandparents. We will examine this account, which ranges from Hawaii to Indonesia, New York, Chicago, and Kenya, in comparison with other memoirs that describe the African-American or immigrant experience.
Similarly, Obama’s political style has often been described as “pragmatic.” But pragmatism comes in a number of varieties ranging across the political spectrum. For this reason we will read a number of pragmatic political philosophers, thereby placing Obam’s pragmatism both within a historical tradition and along a political spectrum.
The goal of this course is to help us better understand an Obama presidency by better understanding both how Obama views himself and how he views the political process.