Dr. Steven A. Burr is Director of Program Operations and Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Graduate Liberal Studies program at Loyola University Maryland, and Editor-in-Chief of Confluence–The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies. His first book, Finite Transcendence: Existential Exile and the Myth of Home (Lexington Books/Rowman and Littlefield, 2014), examines the human engagement, aesthetically and existentially, with the finitude and limits that define human existence. More recently, he has written on identity, marginalization, and liberal education for the journal Zeteo. He completed his doctoral work in liberal studies at Georgetown University, where he also developed and taught courses until 2012.
For submissions, queries, comments, etc.: Editor@confluence-aglsp.org.
'FROM THE EDITOR' ARCHIVE
publications and presentations
"Reading, Violence, Solidarity." Zeteo. December 5, 2016.
"Transitions and Transformations in the Halls of Academe and the Streets of Baltimore." Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, Oklahoma City, OK, October 2016. (with Randall Donaldson)
"Names & Naming: Identity, Self-Determination, Power." Zeteo. August 30, 2016.
Finite Transcendence: Existential Exile and the Myth of Home. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014.
"At Home in Exile." Paper presented at the annual East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Conference, Annapolis, MD, June 14, 2014.
"At Home in Exile." Paper presented at the DLS Graduate Circle of Georgetown University, Washington, DC, May 2, 2014.
"Myth and Theory as 'Practicing Death.'" Paper presented as part of The Georgetown Conversation, Washington, DC, December 2012.
"The First Man: Albert Camus' Myth of Exile." Paper presented at the annual East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Conference, Washington, DC, June 11, 2011.
Facing his own approaching execution, Socrates proclaimed (as recounted in the Phaedo) that "it seems to me natural that a man who has really devoted his life to philosophy should be cheerful in the face of death." For Socrates, the philosophical manner of existing, what he called "care of the soul," is properly practicing death. Much more than a morbid consideration driven by darkness and fear, the thoughtful examination of death is precisely an engagement with life.
This course examines the notion of "practicing death" as a uniquely philosophical way of approaching life, noting its historical philosophical foundations (focusing primarily on ancient Greek and contemporary existentialist philosophy) and locating its more immediate presence in specific examples from literature (including works by Borges, de Beauvoir, Bellow, Camus, Frankl, and Tolstoy) and film (including works by Aronofsky, Bergman, Kiarostami, and Wenders). Underlying this examination is the question of the creation of individual value and the determination of individual meaning in response to the inevitability that is one's death. While the philosophical groundwork provides specific tools for understanding and formulating the question, and while the more 'artistic' examples may further enhance an understanding of what is at stake in posing and attempting to answer the question, the main trajectory is directed at a responsible, individual understanding of the question and the formulation of a possible response, taking the form of a responsible account of the uniquely human act of engaging life through death.
Self and World: Fundamental Issues in Human Existence
What does it mean to be a human being in the world? Through an examination of the fundamental conditions and experiences of human existence, this course will undertake to define the human self, the world, and the manner in which the two relate. Themes to be considered may include faith, exile, solidarity, and death.
Philosophy of Faith: The Situation and Significance of Belief
Paul Tillich describes faith as "not a theoretical affirmation of something uncertain, [but as] the existential acceptance of something transcending ordinary experience." In this view, an individual's faith is determined in part by the conditions which define and situate individual human existence, while the development and maintenance of faith ultimately allows one to confront, and perhaps transcend, those conditions.
This course examines religious belief and its place in human existence, addressing factors that foster religious conviction(s) and their possible consequences for the individual believer. Using accounts drawn from ancient Greek, Enlightenment/modernist, pragmatist, existentialist, and postmodernist religious thought, philosophy of religion, and literature, an attempt will be made to clarify what is meant by 'faith,' while examining how belief may be reached and whether such belief can/should be justified. Further, the question of an inherent connection between religious belief and the possibility of 'value' or 'meaning' for individual human existence will be examined; that is, must belief in the possibility of a meaningful existence be subsequent to, or can it be reached independently of, belief in a religious 'Absolute'? Ultimately, we will attempt to determine what constitutes faith and what can stand as a legitimate object of faith, and why (or whether) faith is significant for [individual] human existence.
The Absurd in Life and Literature
What is the Absurd? Essentially, the sense of the absurdity of human existence arises form the desire for understanding and clarity, a sense of the meaning or purpose of things, and the simultaneous silence with which the world responds. The individual wants answers which the world, human existence itself, is unable to provide.
he course runs as a graduate seminar in which the main goal is to find a workable definition of the absurd in literature. The term “absurd” is often used derisively to describe something which ought to be dismissed, yet the absurd as a mode of thought has become one of the most influential elements of modern (and post-modern) literature. Collectively and individually the group undertakes a voyage of discovery to determine the philosophical roots of the concept of absurdity and its manifestation in contemporary literature and film. We work with the source material, looking first at the European thinkers and writers from which the ideal first sprang and following subsequent developments in the work of contemporary American writers. Students are challenged to examine a complex issue critically and express themselves effectively in written work, classroom discussion, and presentations.
Exile and [Re-]Union
This course is a graduate seminar centered around the notion of 'existential exile,' or the contention that although certain aspects and conditions which characterize human existence may be universal, the individual is ultimately left to engage that existence for oneself on one's own while trying to attain/regain a sense of being 'at home' in the world. Within the context of historical/thematic exile 'situations,' this course presents exile as an anthropological/cultural, religious, political, geographical, and existential condition, while highlighting aspects and implications which are common across this spectrum. Ultimately the goal of the course is to situate the notion of 'existential exile,' offering a possible explanation of the depth of the meaning of this condition, while searching for ways in which this condition may perhaps be transcended. This account will be attempted on two fronts, addressing the individual's solitary engagement with nature and existence, as well as the individual's engagement with similarly situated individuals.
The Wrong Side and the Right Side: The Human Condition through the Eyes of Camus and Sartre
This course is a graduate seminar examining the divergent philosophical paths that Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre chose to pursue in their individual attempts to address fundamental questions of human existence. While each thinker may be seen to have begun from a similar foundation in a particular understanding of what human existence in the world means, this course demonstrates how and why they arrived at different conclusions in their respective evaluations of such an existence.
The Problem of God
This course is an undergraduate course which undertakes an examination of the religious dimension of human experience and consciousness in relation to a number of problems and challenges: the problem of knowledge; the relation of faith and reason; various historical, social, and existential determinants of belief; the challenge of atheism and humanism; the impact of secularization on religion.