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Junji Kanda, Professor, Faculty of Letters

Between times and ideas ---seeking sources and meanings of the contemporary era through ideas of modernity---

Seminar class that explores German history of ideas and theory of history

Prof. Junji Kanda and students

Despite the popular idea of postmodernism, we still live in the extension of the modern era. Modern Europe with its rapidly changing history brought many ideas such as liberalism, nationalism and socialism. These ideas, although having changed through time, still governs our society and politics, even more our way of thinking and behavior. Modern history of European ideas is a study to understand these modern ideas in light of history in which they were born.

Our seminar class covers modern history of European ideas, more specifically history of German ideas, and so far we have chosen themes such as political ideas in Germany at the time of the French Revolution, the Jewish question and early socialism, and have studied them in relation with the society and politics of the same era. Having studied these themes, we have been working on the ideas of Marx for the last few years.

Marxism was at a time an idea that changed history. Even in our country, it had a strong effect on politics, labor movements and student movements. However, after the collapse of socialism, Marxism has declined rapidly, and today it is almost forgotten. Why did the socialist system of countries such as the Soviet Union and East Germany that followed Marxism fail? Was the authoritarian iron-fisted rule a deviation from Marxism, or was it the true form of Marxism? On the other hand, neoliberalism, which seeks to extend its life by increasing competition and omitting weak people, has seen its own limits. What kind of countermeasures can we take for the future? Based on these points, in our seminar class, we are now studying “What was Marxism?”.

Through specific studies of the history of ideas such as to position Marx’s ideas in history, I want students to acquire a historical mind and the ability to think logically. There are 14 students, and they work on the common theme of the seminar class as well as pursue their individual themes for their graduation thesis.

Student's Voice
Maiko Tanifuji, Fourth-year Student,
Faculty of Letters

Visiting the past, questioning the future

Centered on reading English textbooks on German history of ideas such as ideas of Marx, we also study various issues of the contemporary society. For example, at the summer camp, students debate on themes such as the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and Japan’s responsibility for the war. As for the graduation thesis, students choose to study history of ideas or German history, which are the fields of expertise of Prof. Kanda, but some students choose to study American history or modern and contemporary history of Japan. The seminar class may look wide-ranging, but by reaffirming the meaning and importance of historiography and by focusing on a specific region or era, we can understand the structure of the society as a whole. By overlapping these studies, I feel that in this seminar class, we can gain perspective for issues of today’s society.

*This article appeared in the 2011 summer edition (No.271) of “Juku.”
*Position titles, etc., are those at the time of publishing.