One center, many initiatives
The PPE Center isn’t just a new research hub, Skarbek said — it’s also the host of exciting public events, a home for dynamic courses and student conversations, and the base for a growing number of graduate and faculty fellows.
“The PPE Center seeks to both nurture undergraduate conversations and also support newly minted Ph.D. graduates who are trying to find their research legs and spring into future careers,” Skarbek said. “It’s not only facilitating the thoughtful, open exchange of ideas between faculty but also keeping its doors open to the broader Brown and Providence communities so they can engage with great thinkers. We have an ambitious mission to foster rigorous research and conversations in many different forms and venues. We hope people from across campus and from across the state will take part.”
Beginning in late Fall 2022, the center is hosting a robust lineup of public conversations with a focus on civil discourse — building on a tradition started by Brown’s prior Political Theory Project, which for years organized popular talks and student-centered research projects.
Skarbek said that PTP programs including the Janus Forum lecture series — which has brought prominent public figures of all political persuasions to College Hill to debate the merits of divesting from the coal industry and the drivers of gun violence, among other topics — will continue under the PPE Center’s umbrella.
On top of the Janus Forum series throughout the academic year, Skarbek said, the PPE Center also hosts an Odyssey Lecture series, where influential scholars from across the globe come to Brown to take audiences on an extended adventure over new and unexpected intellectual terrain. Previous Odyssey Lectures have tackled topics such as the “war on truth” and the Attica uprising of 1971. In addition, the PPE Workshop invites leading scholars to present their in-progress research to Brown faculty and graduate students for feedback, pushback and direction, advancing new insights and fostering the development of new research projects and partnerships.
Students at Brown will have a chance to take a growing number of PPE-affiliated courses that run the subject gamut, from the analysis of political behavior to the history of economic thought. Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Political Economy Ryan Doody’s course “Choice, Commerce and Conflict” provides an ideal introduction to PPE by inviting students to discuss how theoretical topics such as game theory and distributive justice apply to climate change, universal basic income and other contemporary topics. In the coming years, PPE courses may be taught jointly by faculty from disparate fields, giving students the chance to learn more than one academic perspective. And there’s potential, Skarbek said, for a future PPE concentration to be offered to students at Brown.
Students will also be able to engage with the PPE Center through a variety of student organizations — including the Brown Political Review, a student-run journal; the PPE Society, a student reading and discussion group committed to ideological pluralism; and the new Journal of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, an academic publication that will highlight undergraduate and graduate student scholarship internationally.
Much of that published research will come from the center’s growing ranks of postdoctoral and graduate fellows. Since 2003, a postdoctoral research fellowship program has hosted more than 40 scholars whose research has touched on national security, political psychology and other thought-provoking topics; moving forward, the PPE Center program will welcome recent Ph.D. graduates from a wider array of humanities and social sciences fields to diversify areas of expertise among cohorts. Similarly, Skarbek said, a planned graduate student fellowship program is expected to enrich the center’s research landscape; regular graduate seminars will allow students representing a wide variety of academic traditions to learn new principles and perspectives from one another.
Finally, the PPE Center’s body of affiliated faculty will grow over the next few years, Skarbek said, given plans to create two to three endowed chair positions and a faculty fellows program.
Ultimately, the PPE Center, like Brown more broadly, exists to cultivate creative thinking by encouraging collaboration between groups of people who see things differently — whether because they come from different academic backgrounds or because they’ve had different life experiences. Because when people with different perspectives work together, Skarbek said, they often generate unique solutions to society’s complex problems.
“Offering events that showcase a diverse range of perspectives, kickstarting research that challenges the status quo — I think that’s at the heart of higher education,” Skarbek said. “When people bring different values, perspectives and methods to the table for a conversation, they learn from each other.”