Academia’s Dialectical Dharma: How a Key Strategy from India’s Cultural History Inspires Stronger Classroom Thinking

By Lars Erik Larson.

Published by The International Journal of Humanities Education

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: May 3, 2016 $US5.00

This article argues for the need to cultivate in students the habits of dialectical thinking. While centuries of thinkers worldwide have developed this humanist strategy, the present century reveals a fresh urgency for the skill of the dialectical process. Newly digitized platforms of discourse and expanded archives of information, recent geographical self-sorting along political lines, and increased needs to engage cooperatively with difference at expanding scales (including the planetary) all point to the need for dialectical habits of mind for more effective discourse and social cooperation. The university setting, within every one of its disciplines, is an ideal place to cultivate in generations of students the lifelong impulse to counter every conviction with time spent pondering its antithesis, in order to reach a synthesis that is truer, fairer, and broader-minded than the original conviction. My article seeks to illustrate this need through ideas I gathered during a Fulbright grant while teaching and researching in South India at the University of Mysore. I became aware of the salience of the dialectical model during a decade of teaching literature at the University of Portland and reading the work of thinkers such as Gerald Graff and Jonathan Haidt. But the experience of learning about India’s cultural methods from across thousands of years gave even greater evidence of its long-term value. I synthesize these insights around the notion that academia (worldwide) has what my Indian colleagues might call a dharma—a duty—to teach the skill of challenging one’s private orthodoxies, of cultivating one’s ability to stage internalized debates, so as to more honestly and successfully interact with the diverse publics of our twenty-first-century future, both at home and across the planet.

Keywords: Pedagogy, Dialectical Thinking, Non-Western Contexts

The International Journal of Humanities Education, Volume 14, Issue 2, June 2016, pp.29-34. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: May 3, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 523.562KB)).

Dr. Lars Erik Larson

Associate Professor of English, University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, USA