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Faculty member brings new specialties to W&M philosophy department

  • Laura Guerrero
    New perspectives:  Assistant Professor Laura Guerrero joined the philosophy faculty at William & Mary last year. She specializes in Buddhist and comparative philosophies.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Joining the philosophy faculty at William & Mary last year, Laura Guerrero brought new areas of expertise and enthusiasm for sharing them.

Guerrero, an assistant professor, specializes in Buddhist and comparative philosophies. She is looking to broaden the department’s course offerings not only with the addition of new courses, but by teaching a broader range of perspectives within existing ones.

“I’m just really excited to be here and to be involved in the project of diversifying philosophy at William & Mary, and working towards making our field and our department and the university in general more inclusive in the perspectives and voices that we think about and include,” Guerrero said.

Adding new courses takes time, she said, but she has made a start. Guerrero is also planning to work with the Asian and Middle Eastern studies and Asian & Pacific Islander American studies programs to foster interdisciplinary connections.

Guerrero taught the new course Philosophy Across Cultures as a COLL 300 and COLL 200 in the fall, with the possibility that it will become a regularly offered course. It’s specifically about studying cross-cultural philosophy and various methodological issues that go into that.

“In addition to the cross-cultural philosophy course, I also taught a course on Buddhist metaphysics,” Guerrero said. “But even the courses that I’m teaching that are courses that were already in the books, I’m teaching them in ways that incorporate diverse philosophical traditions.

“The course that I’m teaching on the human self, I draw on Buddhist and Daoist and Confucian and various other traditions when we’re talking about selfhood. So the diversity of the offerings isn’t just in terms of courses, but also in the way that I teach more traditional topic courses. I’m able to bring my expertise to those topics and draw on other traditions when I’m talking about them.”

As W&M celebrates its Asian Centennial, Guerrero has focused on Asian traditions in both of her courses this year. In the future, she would like to expand on that and add Native American and Indigenous philosophies as well as Africana philosophies.

As part of the Philosophy of Cross Cultures, she invited two COLL 300 speakers to give virtual talks to students. The appearances by Anand Vaidya, professor of philosophy at San Jose State University, and Jin Park, professor and chair of Department of Philosophy & Religion at American University, were open to the entire university community.

Vaidya is of Indian descent, and Park is of Korean descent

“It was promoted through the Asian Centennial, so that was really nice,” Guerrero said. “We had a lot of people come not just from my class, but from the university generally to come. And both of the speakers I invited are philosophers of Asian descent, and they contributed essays to a special issue of The American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Asian and Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies.

“I invited them not only to give proper or traditional philosophy talks, but I also invited them to share their experiences with my students to get my students to think about diversity in our field, representation in our field and what the experiences are of people who are underrepresented.”

Guerrero’s most recent publications are “Don’t Stop Believing: An Argument Against Buddhist Skepticism” in Comparative Philosophy and “Free To Be You and Me: Cosmopolitanism, Pluralism, and Buddhist Modernism” in APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophies. She has a forthcoming paper “Buddhist Reductionism, Fictionalism, and Expressibility” in the edited volume “Reasons and Empty Persons: Mind, Metaphysics, and Morality,” as well as articles about early Buddhist metaphysics in progress.

Buddhists have this really interesting division that they make between things that are ultimately real and things that are conventionally real,” Guerrero said. “And there isn’t really in Western philosophical traditions quite the same emphasis on this kind of division.”

Throughout Buddhist traditions, there is discussion about what exists and what is real, she said.

“The research that I’m working on now is trying to explain that discussion in a way that brings it into conversation with Western philosophical discussions about what exists,” Guerrero said. “To bring the Buddhist point of view into those conversations to see if some new ideas might emerge about how we can think about what’s real and why that matters.”

For Buddhists, getting a clear sense about what is real and how we fit into our world really shapes how we live in it, according to Guerrero. So getting an accurate perspective on that matters.

“And you see that in Western philosophical traditions, too,” Guerrero said. “Why we care about what’s real is because we want to align our lives in a way that fits with the way the world really is. Because we think it will bring us success, happiness, peace, salvation. The Buddhists are interested in those projects, too.

“So for me it’s interesting to try to see this as a shared human project to see how different traditions approach that. And how their visions of the world shape how we live in it.”