Department of  Political Science
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Professor Ariel Helfer Awarded NEH Fellowship

Date: 7/20/2018

 

Professor Ariel Helfer Awarded NEH Fellowship

 

Dr. Ariel Helfer, Assistant Professor of Political Science, has been awarded a highly prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. The award carries a stipend of $50,400 and will commence for one year beginning in the Winter semester of 2019.

Dr. Helfer joined the Department of Political Science faculty in the Fall of 2017 and teaches and conducts research in the field of Political Theory. He received his Ph.D. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin in the Spring of 2015. His research focuses on political ambition and statesmanship, especially as a theme in classical political thought and Greek history. Dr. Helfer is also trained in quantitative political methodology.

Dr. Helfer's recent book, entitled Socrates and Alcibiades: Plato's Drama of Political Ambition and Philosophy, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in April 2017. His major current project, supported by the NEH Fellowship, is a new book on Plato’s Letters. Plato is famous for advocating the political rule of philosophers as a utopian ideal. In his Letters, a collection of thirteen epistles addressed from Plato to various Greek political men of his day, he reveals that he was often called upon in his own lifetime to implement the political counsel he was known to espouse in books such as the Republic and Laws. But it appears from the Letters that Plato showed much less zeal and much greater circumspection than his devoted followers when it came to bringing political philosophy to bear on practical affairs. And even then, his greatest endeavor—an attempt to reform the powerful but decadent Sicilian city of Syracuse—was an utter failure. The conclusion toward which the Letters point, therefore, is that Plato was much less committed to the idea of philosophic utopia than is often supposed on the basis of his most famous political dialogues. In fact, a handful of scholars over the course of the last century have seen in these Letters, not the collection of scraps from Plato’s literary estate as they are usually presumed to be, but a coherent, unitary, and authentic literary-philosophic whole. By contending that that the Letters is in fact a brilliant, innovative, artfully composed, and only semi-autobiographical sort of epistolary novel, Dr. Helfer’s book will seek to reopen the debate concerning the authenticity and status of the Letters with a review of scholarly criticism, a new English translation, and an extensive interpretive essay.

 

Our congratulations to Professor Helfer on this major award and look forward to seeing his next book in print!