If someone is liberal and tolerant, does that mean that person should tolerate everything, or is a line drawn at some point?
Those are the kinds of questions George Mason University’s Socratic Society, under the direction of Charles “Chuck” Garrettson, assistant term professor of religion in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, has been tackling for the past two years.
The Socratic Method, named for the Greek philosopher Socrates, involves an instructor structuring a dialogue with students through a series of probing questions.
The Socratic Society is a way for students with diverse beliefs and backgrounds to connect on a deeper level through informative and often lengthy discussions outside of class.
“The thing I enjoy most is the fact that I get to connect with people on a deeper level, and learn about complex topics that I would rarely run into in my daily life or in my field,” said Kyle Dise, a senior art and visual technology major with a concentration in graphic design and a minor in information technology.
“I learned how to find the common ground between opposing arguments or try to reconcile between them,” added Dise.
Garrettson said participants explore philosophical questions, such as what does it mean to know, what does it mean to be a good person, and does God exist. All beliefs are respected and honored, he said.
“The point is not for me to change their beliefs, but it’s of immense value to get them to think carefully about their core beliefs and are those really their core beliefs,” said Garrettson.” “For me, it’s really teaching them how to think for themselves.”
The Socratic Society has met remotely for a lively dialogue every Friday at 4:30 p.m. for the past year. Students choose the topics, and the discussion sessions usually attract between six and 12 members. The society plans to continue their weekly discussions through the summer.
Dise recently brought up the topic of finding the balance between security and freedom, specifically, when governments have surveillance or extra security measures over citizens, when does it interfere with their freedom and privacy.
“The best part about it, for me specifically is intellectual stimulation, and the open-mindedness that stems for the discussions,” said Megan Merillat, a junior who is majoring in history and religious studies.
“To me the most memorable conversation I feel we have had, time and time again, is on morality and whether morality can be considered objective. It’s one that keeps coming back—because we don’t have the answer,” Merillat added.
Junior Benjamin White serves as president of the Socratic Society, managing the meetings and organizing the schedule of discussion topics.
“One of the greatest things about the society is to see perspectives you haven’t seen before,” said White, an undeclared major who intends to study philosophy.
Abner Gonzales-Santiago, a rising senior majoring in government and politics, with a minor in religious studies, said he enjoys Garrettson’s teaching style. “I have learned that we don’t know as much as we think we know,” said Gonzales-Santiago. “Students are able to speak their mind without judgment.”
Garrettson said by the end of one of his classes, most students have not said they changed their mind about their belief in God or not, for example, but they do say that they are much more open-minded, much more tolerant, and less judgmental than they were before.
“That’s exactly what education is supposed to do,” he said.
“I’ve never had a better professor,” said White. “It’s great the way he engages your own critical thinking.”