Sometimes there is nothing like a good discussion – peeling away the layers of ideas and learning something new. The Philosophers’ Cafe series does just that about once a month at the Lynn Valley branch of the North Vancouver District Library. Next up Feb. 10.
A new discourse tradition
The idea of a public philosophical discussion was the brainchild of French philosopher Marc Sautet. In 1992 he wanted to offer deeper engagement and idea exchange. The goal was to have a place where people can have meaningful discussions on a range of topics – some they may have never considered before. Sautet decided Paris’ quintessential cafes were the perfect place to make the events inviting and relaxed.
Simon Fraser University started spreading the concept across the Lower Mainland in 1998. Since then students, faculty, seniors, parents, philosophers and mostly non-philosophers have been gathering for stimulating dialogue and valuable idea exchange in communities throughout the area.
There have been a couple of phases of the Lynn Valley Philosophers’ Cafe, the current version is led by Reem Faris, a Ph.d student from Simon Fraser University.
“I believe it is important to build bridges between the university and the research we do, although we don’t do it for research purposes,” said Faris. “For a lack of a better term, it allows us to be ambassadors for knowledge.”
What to expect
The Lynn Valley Philosophers’ Cafe takes place about once a month at the library. Participants are welcomed by Faris, typically asked for a brief introduction and then the discussion begins.
“It’s sort of an intellectual, philosophical, curiosity combo that brings people in. There are some returning faces but there are always new faces,” she said. “Sometimes people are brought in because the topic caught their eye, some do it because of the social thing.”
The evenings draw a range of all demographics – gender, age, profession, education, said Faris.
“The age range can vary quite a bit,” she explained. “We have a couple that are semi-regulars who are in their 90s and that just blows me away – I am so flattered they take the time to join us. In the last one, we had a grade 11 student who saw the description and decided to come out. It’s great.”
The hope is a conversational exchange of ideas, with minimal gentle guidance from Faris.
“As moderators we facilitate the discussion – not intrude. It’s not a lecture, it’s a discussion.”
Participants are welcome to get in the thick of the discussions or be more observational.
“We have people who say ‘I am here to observe – I might not contribute much and I am okay with that.’ As a moderator, it becomes a matter of watching body language and cues. I might see someone who is almost speaking and in a pause take a moment to draw them in.”
Each session is planned by Faris in partnership with the SFU organizers. As she was exploring ideas for the winter she randomly stumbled upon the book On Identity by Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-French writer.
“What I try to do is try to make sure that each season that each topic stands alone but has a common thread to them,” she explained. “Something will inspire me – in my research, in the news, whatever. This series I came across a book. There were a lot of ideas on identity and the challenges especially in larger cultural political environments.”
The upcoming discussions take place Monday nights from 7-8:30 p.m.
- Monday, February 10
Is identity merely a collection of symbols? How is the concept of identity used to create the notion of the Other?
- Monday, March 9
If language is a key component of identity, how do we negotiate the tension between a global language of communication such as English and one’s own language of origin if it differs?
- Monday, April 6
Identity is often viewed as integral to a sense of belonging. It is also a source of conflict. In today’s modern world, what can societies do to honour separate identities and build a sense of citizenship?