Cal State Long Beach is home to renowned faculty and accomplished professors, one of whom is philosophy professor Alexander Klein, who was recently was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research for the next nine months at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.
Klein was in the Andrew Mellon fellowship in humanistic studies at Cornell University, has been published in the journal of the history of philosophy and has spoken at NYU and Harvard, as well as many international venues. Now he can class himself as a recipient of this prestigious scholarship from Fulbright, a program that has aided in academic growth of students and scholars alike since 1946.
The grant will enable him to do research for his book on William James, a famous 19th century philosopher popular for his contribution to Pragmatism, a philosophical tradition began in the United States around 1870
“University of Sheffield is important to me,” Klein said. “They have one of the best departments in the world for studying 19th century philosophy and pragmatism in particular.”
Out of the thousands of applicants, only 36 Fulbrights were awarded for projects based in the U.K. last year.
“I must have pulled the wool over somebody’s eyes, I’m still kind of surprised that I got it.” Klein said. “What my book is doing is trying to understand James in the context of his conversations with his British peers, so it’s kind of an American in England kind of story and I think that’s something that fits in with the theme of the Fulbright.”
Klein believes his book appealed to the Fulbright commision because it highlights how James didn’t become a “superstar” in philosophy by impressing people in the U.S..
“The U.S. was still pretty provincial in the late 19th century,” Klein said. “What made him so famous is the way he engaged with people internationally.”
Now Klein will have the same opportunities that James had, engaging in conversation with British philosophers, and will have access to archives of James’ work there.
“People think of philosophy by sort of a solo pursuit — like you just kind of sit inside of a windowless room and think really hard, but that’s not really how it works,” Klein said. “The best philosophy, I think, usually grows out of conversation where you engage with other people, and to me that’s the most valuable thing about this fellowship… I get to go to a department where there’s a whole bunch of people thinking about the stuff I’m working on and just getting to talk to people and bounce ideas off them and hopefully get some criticism. That’s kind of like a dream for me.”
Klein has been a professor for ten years and spent the last seven at CSULB. The book is a continuation of his dissertation written in 2004.
“In some way you could say I’ve been working on the project for 12 years,” Klein said. “But I haven’t just been sitting here working on manuscript for 12 years.”
Klein will be leaving in a month to research a man he says has always had influenced him as a professor.
“I think he had a conviction that philosophy is something that everybody should have access to and be able to understand,” Klein said. “I’m no William James, but I try to keep that same goal too when I teach philosophy. I try to do it in a way that’s accessible and interesting to people who aren’t in the academic profession.”
Klein says his book is more scholarly, but that professional writing should still be clear and engaging.
“It’s definitely aimed more at of an academic audience while certainly trying to do that in a way that’s fairly accessible,” Klein said. “One thing that I really admire about James is that he had an attitude that philosophy is this sort of thing that should be accessible to everybody.”
The CSULB Philosophy Department will be losing a prominent member for the 2016-17 school year, but will receive him back and wiser than ever as a published author at the end of his study.