Researcher of the Month - Suma Rajiva

Dr. Suma Rajiva looks at the camera and smiles, with a green backgroundDr. Sumangali (Suma) Rajiva has the usual challenges of balancing her work as the current department head for the Department of Philosophy with teaching and academic research. However, she has also added another role to the mix: graduate student.

As a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy, Dr. Rajiva specializes in Kant and early modern philosophy. “Descartes to Kant, that’s my area,” she says.

Last semester, she taught a course on Kant’s critique of pure reason, a 3000-level course. She focuses on his third critique in particular, and his theory of aesthetics -- “how we perceive the beautiful and the sublime.” It’s the subject of her current seminar class, which is one that involves a lot of complex language for students to absorb. “The students really take charge of it and they do a great job, which is nice,” she says.

She’s also working on a book manuscript focused on that area of Kant’s work, specifically linking the German philosopher’s epistemology, aesthetics and philosophy of life with his Concept of Reflecting Judgement. But in general, Dr. Rajiva says that her dining preference for buffets is probably a clue to her approach as a researcher. She likes to move into other areas, dig into new research, try new things out, she says -- and that has value because it brings new work to her approach but there also comes a time to pull it all together.

Her academic background, and ongoing work, also reflects that wide-ranging and curious approach. “My first degree is actually in political science,” Dr. Rajiva says – she moved into philosophy at the MA level. And she is currently doing graduate academic work in the Department of Classics here at Memorial -- a line of study that began with her decision to study Latin by sitting in on a summer course.

That course wasn’t taken for credit, she says, but Dr. Tana Allen, the department head at the time, encouraged her to enroll in further language courses in Classics. “It turned out this was kind of a pivotal moment for me in my research life,” she says. Eventually she applied to the MA program in Classics, which she is currently doing as a part-time student.

“It’s been a huge difference to my research life,” Dr. Rajia says. Even as someone who has studied Plato since she was a teenager, she says, being able to understand his writing in Greek has been a revelation that has rejuvenated her work in new ways.

As she continues her students in Classics, she has found herself in the situation of presenting papers again as a new researcher to the field. She can also now count ancient philosophy as part of her area of specialization, along with the modern philosophy she has long studied and taught.

Dr. Rajiva, who prefers to refer to herself as multidisciplinary rather than interdisciplinary, is nearing the end of her graduate program but welcomes to balance of being an established scholar in one field and an emerging one in another. “I find myself at a relatively advanced age with a whole new research persona, which is extremely exciting,” she says.

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