Chad Loewen-Schmidt, assistant professor of English, was the latest participant in Shepherd University’s Faculty Research Forum, presenting a program titled “The Politics of Pity in Eighteenth-Century Fiction.”
Loewen-Schmidt chronicled the evolution of the word and theory of pity beginning with Aristotle and continuing through the late-19th century. He contends Aristotle viewed the emotion as one that “can trick” the individual and one that can “keep people from being good citizens.” Loewen-Schmidt said, “Christianity historically squelch[ed] pity,” due to its ability to raise up the non-aristocrat or indeed anyone who wasn’t in a position of power.
Pity also plays an outsized role in American politics, Loewen-Schmidt said. George W. Bush frequently referred to himself as a compassionate conservative, compassion being closely related to pity. Although the Democratic party has traditionally been seen in the 20th century as the party of the compassionate, Bush attempted to co-opt it for his own political purposes. Loewen-Schmidt quickly added that it wasn’t necessarily evident in his policies as he “also bombed countries” quite frequently.
In his presentation and work, Loewen-Schmidt argued the word “empathy” was coined approximately 120 years ago because both “pity” and “sympathy” had become too tainted to effectively express the user’s meaning. He shifted to an historical context briefly and suggested the word “justice” was often used by opponents of the slave trade as a substitute for pity. Today, “social justice” is commonly used as a blanket term for issues which may evoke pity such as homelessness, hunger, et al.
Loewen-Schmidt said he first developed an interest in the shifting meaning of words during one of his first classes in the PhD program at Rutgers. He wrote a paper about the “tension between feeling (sympathy) and money, or emotional versus economic modes of value.”
Loewen-Schmidt is expanding his work into a book-length manuscript. Works to be discussed include “Justine” by The Marquis de Sade, “Romance of the Forest” by Ann Radcliffe, and “Clarissa” by Samuel Richardson, among others.
When asked what students can take away from his work, Loewen-Schmidt zeroed in on the fact that the meaning of words is not static. He believes “students should consider all words as having only current meanings.” A clear understanding of the different meanings of words over time enables the individual to better understand history as well as his own language.
Aja Bailey, a senior English major, was in attendance for the presentation which she found to be “very intriguing.” She highly recommends other students attend similar faculty presentations as a process through which they can prepare for their capstone presentations.
Jacob Stump, assistant professor of political science and coordinator of the Faculty Research Forum, encourages students to consider attending future forums. He believes students will be able to “contribute to the very life-breath of a liberal arts university, a cultural practice of learning, questioning, engaging and creative thinking.” He also highlighted the presence of free cookies.
Next week’s edition of The Picket will include coverage of Julia Sandy-Bailey‘s forum. Sandy-Bailey is an assistant professor of history.
On April 2 at noon, Aart Holtslag, assistant professor of political science, will present his research.