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University of Dayton associate professor awarded Marc Sanders Foundation media fellowship for op-ed writing

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

The Marc Sanders Foundation named University of Dayton associate professor of philosophy Aili Bresnahan an inaugural Philosophy in the Media Fellow for op-ed writing.

Bresnahan, who specializes in aesthetics and the philosophy of dance, was one of 30 philosophers selected by a committee of academic philosophers and media industry professionals from a pool of 264 applicants. She will receive professional connections, workshop training and a $1,500 stipend.

The fellowship is funded in large part by a public engagement grant from the Templeton Foundation, and focuses on increasing the presence of philosophy in the public sphere through various media outlets.

“When I saw that they were going to have opportunities for people interested in doing public philosophy to apply for a fellowship to do podcasting, op-ed writing or longform magazine writing, it just seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Bresnahan said.

The aim of public philosophy is to shape philosophical concepts so they are easily understood and can be applied to societal issues. Bresnahan sees public-facing philosophy as a way to demonstrate the importance of the field and generate interest among a variety of individuals.

“It has to be relevant to young people, and it has to be relevant to all kinds of other people who are interested in philosophy in a general way, but who don’t want to make it their life’s work,” Bresnahan said.

Short for “opposite the editorial page,” op-ed columns provide opportunities for authors to gain the interest of a general public audience through expressions of personal opinion as well as political and scholarly views. An op-ed column in The New York Times written by philosopher Martha Nussbaum was one of the things that drew Bresnahan back into philosophy for graduate school after a two-year career as an attorney.

Now, with the help of the Marc Sanders Foundation fellowship, Bresnahan hopes to be able to inspire others to pursue philosophy through her own writing.

“It would be my dream to have a little column somewhere as a philosopher,” Bresnahan said. “I feel like I’m speaking in my most real voice when I’m writing popularly, rather than academically.”

Bresnahan will participate in an op-ed writing workshop run by James Ryerson of The New York Times, April 15-16, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to develop an op-ed piece of her own.

In her piece, Bresnahan plans to draw upon her research on dance and ethics to examine the ways that bodily movement, expression and awareness can shape how individuals respond to and treat one another.

Bresnahan said public philosophy is applicable beyond its use in media. She hopes to bring lessons back from Vancouver that will translate into her philosophy classes at UD as useful educational tools.

“I think it’ll help me be a better teacher, because I’ll really learn how to make philosophy more accessible to a non-specialist audience,” Bresnahan said.

Rebecca Whisnant, professor and Department of Philosophy chair, sees Bresnahan’s fellowship as a beneficial opportunity for the department as a whole.

"Dr. Bresnahan has been a leader in our department in embracing the practice of public philosophy,” Whisnant said. “This prestigious fellowship will help her advance still further in bringing philosophy to the general public through op-ed columns. We are proud of her selection and look forward to the knowledge she will bring back to share with her departmental colleagues."

The fellowship is Bresnahan’s second major award in recent years. In 2020, she received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award for the 2020-21 academic year to research connections between dance and ethics at the Centre for Dance Research at Roehampton University in London.

Bresnahan’s Marc Sanders Foundation fellowship will allow her to build on the research opportunities she received through the Fulbright award, furthering her professional development as a philosopher, writer and professor.  

Bresnahan hopes the foundation’s efforts to support public philosophy will ensure the discipline’s continued relevance going forward.

“Philosophy is one of those fields that really seems to people like it’s out there in the ivory tower, and not something that normal people can understand,” Bresnahan said. “I think that if philosophy remains in the ivory tower alone, it’s going to die. I just want philosophy to be a part of public thought.”

For more information, visit the Department of Philosophy and the Marc Sanders Foundation websites.

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