The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics seeks to strengthen teaching and research about pressing ethical issues; to foster sound norms of ethical reasoning and civic discussion; and to share the work of our community in the public interest.
Our new “Community Profiles” interview series highlights the longstanding members of our community at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.
An Interview with Meira Levinson
Meira Levinson, Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society at Harvard and Co-director of our Graduate Fellowship program, is a normative political philosopher who works at the intersection of civic education, youth empowerment, racial justice, and educational ethics. She draws upon scholarship from multiple disciplines as well as her eight years of experience teaching in the Atlanta and Boston Public Schools in her work. She is currently working to start a global field of educational ethics, modeled in some ways after bioethics, that is philosophically rigorous, disciplinarily and experientially inclusive, and both relevant to and informed by educational policy and practice.
This conversation happened on October 21, 2021. The transcript of the interview has been edited for clarity.
Alexis Jimenez Maldonado: You have been a part of the Center since 2015. Your roles have included being a part of the faculty committee, co-directing the Graduate Fellowship Program, and now directing the Design Studio for our ethics and civics education work. Can you talk about the evolution of your time and roles here at the Center?
Meira Levinson: I basically became associated with the Center when Danielle [Allen] came on board as director. It's been a joy to come to understand the Center and its different forms. As a member of the faculty advisory board, I've learned a lot about the different ways in which people think about what the roles, responsibilities, and capacities for impact the Center for Ethics has at Harvard in particular, but then also nationwide and globally. I’ve learned a ton, and been inspired to think more carefully about the relationships among ethical scholarship, ethical behavior, and ethical teaching across multiple disciplines.
Relating to my role as the co-convener of the graduate fellowship, it is fun every year to see students grapple with the normative dimensions of their work, particularly if they are coming from disciplines or departments where normative considerations may be more implicit rather than explicit. Our graduate fellows apply to us in part because they want to have the opportunity to think in above-ground ways about the ethical dimensions of their work and it is exciting to see that happen. I also get to learn a ton from our graduate fellows: how people used “disaster astrology” in early modern Europe to claim epistemic, normative, and political authority; the ethics of metropolitan climate change planning; theories of punishment in ancient Greece; how surgeons are taught to think about mistakes – the list could keep going! The graduate students are phenomenal, and they have a wide range of interests, so that keeps it really fun for me, too. I've especially appreciated learning more about science and technology studies and about design since these are far outside my expertise.
The Design Studio gives me the opportunity to pull all of those things together. It is new, so I don't know yet what my experiences in the Design Studio are going to be exactly, but the Design Studio brings together research initiatives, faculty, students, and staff who are thinking really hard about the intersections between ethics and civics research, learning, and practice. We are doing this work in a way that's not like, “we here from on high at Harvard are going to come tell you what to think and do,” but instead is really iterative and collaborative, in which we have mutual learning, mutual exchange of ideas, a system of trying things out and modifying as we go. That's a model I've always believed in my own practice, and it's really exciting to see this model also be one that we're trying to flesh out and build at the Design Studio.
Archive Series: In a 2015 blog former network fellows Marianna Fotaki, Saleema Kauser, and Faisal Alshehri discuss the general agreement that religion and ethics are closely linked. Read more here t.co/CqAmlhtflA t.co/gbT9CyXGS5
- You should also read last month's related @wired article from @glenweyl @DrDaronAcemoglu and Michael I. Jordan t.co/69sjoM8eYl