​Professor Spotlight: Charles Webel

Today we continue our UNYP Professor Spotlight series by interviewing Charles Webel. Dr. Webel is a Distinguished University Scholar Emeritus, Ph.D. University of California at Berkeley, and a Professor of International Economic Relations at the University of New York in Prague. Dr. Webel first taught at the age of 19 as a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and has lectured at Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford. He has recently published two books, Peace and Conflict Studies and The World as Idea.

1. Dr. Webel, you have been teaching for more than 20 years all around the world—that’s amazing. Please could you introduce us a little bit to your academic career? How did it start? 

I started teaching at the University of California at Berkeley when I was 19 years young. I was myself a student at that time, but was authorized by the Berkeley faculty to teach a student-initiated course called: “Camus: The Politics of Rebellion”. Soon thereafter, I also taught courses on Jean-Paul Sartre, Existential Psychology, and Nonviolence. My first lecture course with a formal academic appointment was also at Berkeley, and was on “Social and Political Philosophy”. Subsequently, I taught many lecture courses and seminars at Berkeley, Saybrook University (aka The Humanistic Psychology Institute), Harvard, and Chapman University. So far, I believe I’ve taught 14 different courses at UNYP.

Regarding research and publications, after getting my doctorate in “Philosophy, Political and Social Thought” at Berkeley (my doctoral dissertation was later published by Routledge as The Politics of Rationality), I worked for several years in New York as an Executive Editor at Columbia University Press. I made many lifelong academic and publishing connections there, which led to my initial publications in such journals as the American Anthropologist and Telos. Later, I published in such other journals as Theory and Psychology, New Ideas in Psychology, World Futures, the Journal of International Relations Research, Peace Review, and Peace and Conflict: The Journal of Peace Psychology. I’ve also published 13 scholarly books.

2. Last year you published two books, Peace and Conflict Studies and The World as Idea. Are you planning to publish any more new books in the near future? 

Yes, in 2021, I published two major (and long—between them totaling well over 1000 printed pages!) books. Peace and Conflict Studies, with David Barash, is now in its fifth edition. It is the standard text in that field, used worldwide in many courses. The World as Idea is the first volume in a projected trilogy, modestly entitled The Fate of This World and the Future of Humanity. I’m now working on the second volume, The Reality of This World. The third volume will be a shorter book, more accessible to a generally educated public, with the working title of The World.

3. Could you give us an idea of what this new book will be about?

My current book project, The Reality of the World, explores the more “material and materialistic” dimensions of our world, in contrast with The World as Idea, which focuses mainly on the more philosophical, theological, and cosmological components of our world. These “materialistic” dimensions include economics, politics, sociology, biology, and contemporary neuroscience. I hope to finish it in 2023.

I also wish to mention a research project that I’m now conducting with two current UNYP Psychology students and one UNYP alumnus, who has recently completed his Ph.D. in Psychology. The project is a political-psychological investigation of the attitudes, perceptions and misperceptions of some Russians and Ukrainians toward each other, the world as a whole, the meaning(s) of life, fate and freedom, patriarchy, weapons of mass destruction, and the current conflict between their two countries. Obviously, this project is of the greatest contemporary relevance and importance.

4. Which course do you enjoy teaching the most? Why?

There’s no one course I most enjoy teaching. The key variable of enjoyment is active and informed student participation. When students are actively and knowledgeably engaged with the course material and the instructor, the course is enjoyable for me almost irrespective of its title, and I presume for students as well. I try to involve every student by asking provocative questions, and answering their questions with questions. I tend to put my lectures online before the class itself, and I am always happy to have an open discussion with my students.

5. I assume that you have read a lot of books throughout your career. What would you suggest to read? 

Interesting question, for which I don’t readily have a specific answer or suggestion. Yes, of course, I’ve read many books—thousands I assume, although I’ve never counted—in many fields. My own professional and personal inclinations tend to be highly theoretical, which inclines me to books in philosophy, social and political theory, theoretical astrophysics, and philosophical psychology. But I would suggest that readers who wish to get a good grounding should read or re-read the “classics” including the major works of such people as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hume, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Max Weber (not to be confused with Webel!), Keynes, Freud, Einstein, and Gandhi. Of course, there are numerous other significant works by writers outside the Western intellectual tradition. (I might immodestly also suggest four of my own books—Terror, Terrorism, and the Human ConditionPeace and Conflict Studies with D. Barash; The Politics of Rationality; and The World as Idea.)

6. What do you like about teaching at UNYP? 

The diversity of backgrounds, origins, narratives, and viewpoints of many UNYP students, as well as their active and knowledgeable participation in my courses. UNYP is the most diverse university that I have ever taught at.

7. How did you become a five-time Fulbright Scholar? 

My first Fulbright was awarded when I was a beginning doctoral student at Berkeley, preparing to study at the Philosophisches Seminar and Institut für Sozialforschung at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Subsequently, I’ve had a faculty research and lecturing Fulbright at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, as well as Fulbright specialist awards (in Peace and Conflict Resolution) at the Universities of Rome, Italy, and Otago, New Zealand, as well as the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon. My experience in Myanmar was by far the most challenging, since the English levels were quite variable among the students.

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