“Wonderful and groundbreaking work. A labour of love in the common search for knowledge and meaning. You’ve experienced one of the most incredible years of your life and still more to accomplish,to both express yourself and assist others. Your father would have been proud of you as we all are. All the best, Yosef”
These moving words come from Rabbi Yosef Wosk, PhD, the standout scholar, teacher, writer and philanthropist who supported my two journeys to Saudi Arabia this fall (more on that in a bit). Rabbi Wosk wrote me just yesterday to congratulate me and Cecilia all we have strived to accomplish in this, our 25th year with our nonprofit labor of love (and also 25 years together as a couple!), building on all we have achieved in the previous years to make ours a more equitable, inclusive, understanding and participatory world.
Even during the worst times of the pandemic, new groups (Socrates Cafes in particular) continued to be formed across the fruited plain of the U.S., especially by librarians (the plurality of our hundreds of ongoing Socrates Cafes convene at public libraries), and the world over, as they sought effective ways to connect their diverse patrons in these trying times that much too are conducive to silo-ing and polarization if we let down our guards.
I started out 2021 with a series of online Zoom demonstration dialogues to showcase our various initiatives. We also held ‘flash dialogues’ and offered another SocratesU course (this is an initiative that we expect to grow significantly in the coming years). In 2021, we also launched our new Cafe for Shakespeare initiative, and are delighted it has struck such a chord, and brought new participants to our gatherings.
Cecilia also has now completed, for all intents and purposes, a comprehensive curriculum/guide for educators, parents, and others that complements the first in our ever-growing series of philosophical children’s books (which you can locate at my Amazon author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Phillips/e/B001ITTUSK All philosophical kids’ books series are in both English and Spanish, and we also are so pleased that there are now editions in Mayan languages – Maya and Tseltal, for starters, translated by marvelous poets, with more to come. As many of you know, Cecilia and I have been engaged in philosophical inquiry with indigenous children and youth, in Chiapas, Mexico in particuarly, for nearly a quarter century now.
I also have continued with great commitment and passion our Socrates Cafe initiative with terminally ill patients at the UCLA Medical Center palliative care program. Since my initial visit there, we have continued, via Zoom, and the plan is for me to return in February 2022 for our first face to face gathering in quite a while, and at which time I will also give a facilitators training workshop to staff. There simply has been no more rewarding and insightful experience for me than these regular gatherings. Those of all ages with terminal illness have so much wisdom to share, and clearly Socratic inquiry of the sort we further has proven an exceptional means for this. It also, I believe, meshes with the abiding ethos of one of our dearest supporters that “everyone needs to look out for the interests of everyone.” The goal is to develop a ‘replicable model’ so that we establish these elsewhere.
What’s more, even during the height of the pandemic, when events could not be held in person, I presided over numerous experiential workships, via Zoom and similar platforms, to organizations and groups that wanted to learn how to practice the version of the Socratic method we have developed over the last quarter century – from Campus Compact’s North Carolina Chapter, to over 50 Miami Dade College educators, to the center for teaching excellence at Florida Gulf Coast University, to Western Colorado University groups – one of educators, another comprised of students and staff seeking tools to engage in civil civic inquiry in the public sphere — these workshops were acclaimed as highlyengaging, insightful and useful.
We also held, on our nation’s Constitution Day (September 17) via Zoom our 9th annual Conversation with the Constitution, with participants not only from throughout the U.S. but across the globe; even though we specifically examined U.S. voting rights and the Constitution, we’ve discussed that one of the boons of the virtual video platforms is that people everywhere want to be part of such engagements. This year will be our 10th gathering, and though we are confident that at long last it will once again be face to face (again at Texas A&M San Antonio campus), we’ll also open it up to people everywhere by having a ‘Zoom component’ so they can join in the festivities.
2021 also saw the release of my newest book, ‘Soul of Goodness: Transform Grievous Hurt, Betrayal, and Setback into Love, Joy and Compassion’ in Spanish, by the exquisite publishing house Planeta, via its Ariel imprint, and in Dutch by Witsand Uitgevers
– and this will soon be followed, on February 8, 2022, by its release in English by wonderful Prometheus. My book, which from the tragic death of my father (Rabbi Wosk alludes to this in his message to me) features a beautiful, stirring foreword by the towering intellectual Dr. Cornel West, author of the enduring classic ‘Race Matters.’ (It also soon will be out in Portuguese, and on audio via Tantor).
Here is a ‘sneak peek’ of the first paragraph of Dr. West’s foreword:
“Christopher Phillips is the greatest living embodiment of the Socratic spirit in our catastrophic times. His global grassroots movement of Socrates Cafés and Democracy Cafés have transformed the lives of millions of people in every continent on the Earth. His brilliant and wise books have touched the minds and souls of so many of us. And his soulful style and genuine compassion have enriched the lives of we fortunate ones. When the historians write of the ugly and beautiful in our turbulent age, the Socratic words, works and deeds of my dearest brother Christopher Phillips should loom large. Yet how did Philip Christoforos Philipou come to be the humble and towering figure so loved and respected around the world? This powerful personal and profound philosophical book is a painful though joyful historical self-inventory of the makings of his exemplary life. This candid text lays bare the raw realities and refined visions of his courageous quest for Plato’s “healthy soul” and Shakespeare’s ‘soul of goodness.’ Like the great Percy Shelley’s recasting of Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound, Christopher Phillips takes us on his own philosophers’ path to “be good, great, joyous, beautiful and free.”
I also have contributed a chapter to a cool scholarly book that is accessible to lay readers called ‘Cafe Conversations: Democracy and Dialogue in Public Spaces,’ that will be published shortly by Anvil Press.
Here’s a link to it:https://www.anvilpress.com/books/cafe-conversations-democracy-dialogue-in-public-spaces
Now: Back to Saudi Arabia.
I first journeyed there in October of this year. My ‘Socrates Cafe’ had been translated into Arabic, finding a home with a marvelous prominent publishing house, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Dr. Hadi Alshaikhnasser. ‘Dr. Hadi’ discovered the joys and wonders of philosophical inquiry the Socrates Cafe way when he was on medical fellowship in New Jersey and regularly attended gatherings at the original Socrates Cafe I inaugurated in Montclair, New Jersey way back in the fall of 1996 and that still convenes weekly a quarter century later. When he returned to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Hadi launched a Socrates Cafe in his hometown. The gathering became immensely popular, and eventually word spread, inspiring diverse Saudi women and men to organize and establish Socrates Cafes far and wide, in places like cultural centers, libraries, community centers, universities and of course cafes. In October, after giving a keynote at the international book fair in Riyadh, I traveled much of the length and breadth of the country to be part of these special gatherings, and help inaugurate still more.
From there, I ventured to the tiny volcanic island of Nisyros, Greece, where my family on my father’s side is originally from (and in which the first part of my new book is set), where I held one of the most unforgettable Socrates Cafe inquiries I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of (more on that down the road). Then I returned home — only to receive soon afterwards, most unexpectedly, an invitation to return still again to Saudi Arabia, this time to be a keynote in Riyadh at its first-ever international philosophy conference, which brought together some of the most noted modern philosophers from around the world, and to facilitate Socrates Cafes.
I’ve already shared this with a number of you individually, but here I’ll share with one and all on this list a link to a feature about me and my work that was published in ArabNews after one of my presentations:
Like people everywhere, everyday Saudis are determined to etch in stone the freedom to question and to inquire without borders, and they believe Socrates Cafe is key to this over both the short and longer hauls.
Hopefully this year-end roundup is most compelling impetus for you to support our nonprofit in 2022, our 26th year. Our board chair Dennis Dienst has most kindly offered a matching fund challenge. If you are so moved, I hope you will donate via our nonprofit Paypal site at:
Thanks in advance for considering, and deepest thanks to our individual donors and hundreds of volunteers in far-flung places across the globe who have made our initiatives a community mainstay, and who believethat this makes concrete inroads in creating a more equitable, trust-based, giving world.
From DeclarationProject.org to Democracy Cafe, Socrates Cafe to Constitution Cafe, Philosophers’ Club to Cafe for Shakespeare, we bring together people in ways of inquiry that make it possible and probably for them to forge ‘uncommon common ground.’
all my best wishes for a fruitful 2022, in solidarity,