By Ramona Sav Nolan
October 1, 2010
Christian Perring is a Professor of Philosophy at Dowling College. The following interview will give its readers an insight into Dr. Perring’s interests and life experiences.
Favorite quote: “Only the shallow know themselves.” Oscar Wilde
1. What was your original major in college?
I started out with Mathematics, but then I changed to Physics and Philosophy.
2. Why did you choose to become a professor?
I love thinking about philosophy and trying to understand the deep questions about the world that science cannot answer. I also find teaching very rewarding. Plus, it’s a job that gives you a lot of independence and freedom, and that’s very attractive.
3. What should students look forward to when signing up for one of your classes?
They should look forward to all the great discussion, intellectual stimulation, personal growth, and learning. They can expect philosophy to be a struggle: there is no avoiding the fact that philosophy is often hard work, but I make sure in my classes to show how the material is relevant to the modern world — I’ll show some documentaries and movies, and I always give students the chance to relate the abstract ideas to their own lives.
4. What is the most rewarding part about your profession?
Getting students to start thinking philosophically about important issues is great. Getting to form long term friendships with other professors both at Dowling and at other schools, meaning I’m part of a scholarly community, is also very important to me.
5. Do you have any suggestions to improve Dowling College?
I have many, but I’ll mention the ones affecting students. We need to do more to support students who are struggling with their work, and we need to provide more opportunities for students who are looking for a rich college experience: more student clubs, more student activities, more interaction with faculty. But for that to succeed, we also have to get more students to understand that college is not just about taking classes: it is about transforming your life, including making new friends, finding new interests, and discovering more about yourself.
6. Do you have any advice for freshman students?
First year students should grab hold of the opportunities available to them. Here’s one idea. They should go to the office hours of their full-time professors and talk about their classes: get to know something about their professors and make sure their professors know who they are. Take more classes with the professors they find they learn best with. After a few classes, their professors will be able to write them great letters of recommendation that will help them get jobs or positions in good graduate schools.
7. What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the work I put into teaching, and the results I get from being open to new ways of getting students to learn. My classes have to be interesting for me and my students, and there’s always something that will make students perk up and pay attention: so teaching is often a quest to find what the secret is for that group of people.
8. Do you have any guilty pleasure(s) or hobbies?
I love food from all over Asia: Indian (North and South), Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Chinese. I’ll go a long way to find a good restaurant. That’s just pleasure though, with no guilt involved there. I should probably feel guilty that this summer I watched America’s Got Talent on hulu.com
9. Who is your favorite musician or artist?
I listen to a lot of music, of all sorts, some of it rather obscure. Recently, I’ve been listening to the new Arcade Fire album a lot. I don’t go spend much time going back to old albums, but Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey are close to my heart. On the classical side, I will always go back to Bach and Bartok.
10. What is your favorite book?
I don’t have a favorite, and I don’t return to books much once I have read them. But of recent novels I’ve read, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates sticks out for its wonderful writing.
11. What is your favorite movie or television show?
The TV show would be Freaks and Geeks. No question. For movies, Ingmar Bergman’s classic Wild Strawberries.
12. What are your thoughts about the afterlife?
I really hope there isn’t one. (For a discussion of the possibility that there is, take PHL 1003 with me.)
13. How long have you been teaching at Dowling?
Since Fall 1998.
14. What decision do you most regret? (asked by Dr. Rosenstreich)
Non, je ne regret rein.
15. Where would you next like to visit? (asked by Dr. Wilkens) I went to Mumbai, India this January, and I’d like to go back to India. But the next new country for me, in 2011, will probably be Sweden, and that will be great.
16. If you were not an educator, what do you think you would be doing for a living instead? (asked by Dr. McDonnell)
Who knows—it could be just about anything. I might have been a cosmologist, a film-director, or a psychiatrist. But these days I can more easily imagine myself as a journalist.
17. What is your feeling about answering all these questions? (asked by Prof. Tholl)
I’m honored to be able to be so self-indulgent, but I doubt many people will make it to the end of my answers!
18. What is your favorite city? (asked by Dr. Lamia)
New York City, with Seattle a close second.
19. What is your current research project or creative work about? (asked by Dr. Perring).
I’m working on what difference it makes if a person is mentally ill to their moral responsibility to people close to them. If someone is an addict, depressed, a hoarder, agoraphobic, or has a personality disorder, and this results in their harming their family, or failing to live up to their responsibilities, should the rest of the family hold it against them? Should the person with the mental illness feel guilty and apologize? Of course, it is going to depend on the illness and what they have done or failed to do. So working out the best way to approach the issue is complicated. But it’s a project I find fascinating, and I’m enjoying the work.