Research takes professor to destinations abroad

While most of us will spend our summers lounging at the lake or working summer jobs, Humanities Professor Dr. Robert King will spend the summer furthering his research at a number of workshops and institutions.

King has been selected as a visiting fellow for the World Congress Summer School workshop for Social Economics June 19-20 in Glasgow, Scotland. The World Congress Summer School is hosted by the Association for Social Economics. It brings together a small group of fellows to examine “questions of social, cultural and ethical values in economic life and the study of these questions at philosophical, theoretical, empirical and policy-related levels,” according to the Association for Social Economics website.

King has also been chosen to participate in National Humanities Center Summer Institute in Literary Studies June 24-29 at Research Park in Durham, N.C. where King will join a small group of scholars to explore the writings of author, J.M. Coetzee.

Additionally, King was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to attend the Summer Institute for Experimental Philosophy, July 2-27 at the University of Arizona. Experimental philosophy is a movement that explores judgments about philosophical concepts by conducting scientific and psychological experiments to test the validity of our intuitions, said King.

“I’m having a lot of fun with research lately,” said King. Sierra Nevada College and its innovative curriculum have helped shape some of King’s research ideas and directions, he said.

King’s research focuses on structural and conceptual systems. For example, history is traditionally taught through the telling of stories, but King notes that these narratives are notoriously inaccurate and subject to interpretation. This is why King prefers to focus on the past’s structure.

“Take my World Civilizations class, for example. There, I point out that we can tell hundreds of stories about the collapse of Rome, for instance, but it is difficult to determine which story is most valid, which set of causes had the most impact,” said King. “In my view we can be much clearer about the structural make-up of Rome.  Which basic structures, economically, politically, etc., had to be in place for Rome to reproduce itself systemically?”

King explains that Rome was supported by structures of slave labor and pillaging; it reproduced this structure systemically until it could no longer sustain them, at which point Rome collapsed. There is a lesson to be learned from Rome.  While there are some structures from the past that we can reproduce today, we must develop new structures in order to continue to thrive in a world that is facing highly complex environmental challenges, not just in ecology but in politics and the economy, said King.

“I believe we live in a time of revolutionary upheavals, a time too complex to apply the same structures in our lifestyles, methods of research and forms of understanding,” said King. “We need to develop systems that are sustainable not just in the wealthiest enclaves of society, but in the global system as a whole.

“What happens in one corner of the globe eventually ripples throughout.  If we face global problems do we not then require global solutions, solutions that in principle must be geared toward a vision of universal social justice?” said King.

King has published much of his research. He co-edited a book of essays by the world’s leading systems theorists, which is currently under review at Routledge. He wrote a book chapter on big history coming out with the University of California Press as well as numerous articles and reviews.

This spring at SNC, King is teaching World Civilizations; Renaissance and Reformation; Literary Criticism; and Language, Thought and Culture. In addition to teaching, King is working to re-energize the Honor Program. He aims to create something in which many students will want to be involved.

King loves teaching and strives to make a difference in each of his classes.

“I’m always amazed by the sometimes hidden, crazy talents that so many students have,” said King.

On Thursday nights, King invites students to meet in the library to watch what he calls “pretty films.” That is, movies that show what film can do as an art. The finale this semester will be Satantango, a 1994 Hungarian film directed by Bela Tarr.