Kagan’s ‘Death’ class has made him a ‘star’ in China

According to recent media reports in China, Professor Shelly Kagan of Yale is now the most popular foreign teacher in that nation.

A course titled “Death” by Kagan, the Clark Professor of Philosophy, has been one of the offerings in the Open Yale Courses program since the series debuted in 2007.

Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn and to underscore the values of a liberal arts education, which goes beyond the acquisition of facts and aims to cultivate independent thought.

The description of Kagan’s “Death” course reads, in part: “There is one thing I can be sure of: I am going to die. But what am I to make of that fact? This course will examine a number of issues that arise once we begin to reflect on our mortality. The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? …”

China National Radio in September noted: “Kagan lectures the students while sitting on the podium with legs crossed and wearing jeans and sneakers. His image, resembling that of an ‘immortal’ in Chinese mythology, has made him a ‘star’ closely followed by the youth in China. Ever since Kagan’s philosophy class ‘Death’ appeared on the internet through Open Yale Courses, many young people in China scramble for the lectures given by this unconventional professor who could have been considered ‘out of line’ according to the traditional Chinese standard of teaching style and manner.

“To teach and inspire the students, one doesn’t need to read off a textbook and follow all the doctrines,” added China National Radio. “Kagan’s way and philosophy of teaching should be learned and drawn lessons from by many college professors in our country.”

There are currently 25 Open Yale Courses offerings, on topics ranging from science to literature, music, political science, religious studies and more. To learn more about the program or to download the courses, click here.