Published: March 19, 2021

Historian Alan S. Kahan and philosopher David McPherson to join CU Boulder for the 2021-22 academic year

The Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization at the University of Colorado Boulder has appointed Alan S. Kahan as the visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy for the 2021-22 academic year, and it has appointed David McPherson as its first-ever sabbatical scholar.

Kahan, a historian, political theorist and author, is professor of British Civilization at the Université de Paris-Saclay.

Kahan is the author of Aristocratic Liberalism: The Social and Political Thought of Jacob Burckhardt, John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville; Liberalism in Nineteenth-Century Europe: the Political Culture of Limited Suffrage; Alexis de Tocqueville; Mind vs. Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism; and Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion.

Alan Kahan

At the top of the page, Colleen Sheehan was the 2019-20 visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy. Above, Alan S. Kahan is the visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy for the 2021-22 academic year.

He is also the translator of Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution and Benjamin Constant’s Commentary on Filangieri's Works.

He is currently working on Liberalism – An Incomplete History, which will be published by Princeton University Press.

Kahan says that his current book project is “very much in line” with the Benson Center’s aims, characterizing the work as an effort to “reorient debate about liberalism through an analytical history of its development, from the proto-liberalisms of the 18th century to the libertarian and egalitarian liberalisms of the late 20th.”

Kahan has been living in France since 2007. Previously, he taught at Florida International University in Miami. He received his PhD in history from The University of Chicago in 1987.

McPherson is the Benson Center’s first sabbatical fellow and will serve as a visiting research professor during the next academic year.

McPherson is an associate professor of philosophy at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He received a PhD in philosophy in 2013 and an MA in philosophy from Marquette University, and a BA in philosophy summa cum laude from Bethel University.

Benson Center Director Daniel Jacobson said he is “delighted to welcome Professors Kahan and McPherson to the Benson Center and the CU Boulder campus. Kahan’s work on the liberal tradition is especially exciting because, like Tocqueville, he brings an outsider’s understanding to bear on his examination of American democracy and McPherson is an extremely energetic and original philosopher exploring central issues in virtue theory and the philosophy of religion.”

“They bring different perspectives and approaches, both of which will contribute to the community of scholars we aspire to build at the Benson Center.”

Jacobson noted that for several years, it has been fundamental to the center’s mission to bring a diversity of voices into the university by sponsoring annual fellowships, both for academics from other institutions and from CU Boulder, of diverse political, intellectual and philosophical thought from various academic fields. These scholars teach, research, present papers and provide outreach to the larger community.

Jacobson commented, “This new sabbatical program offers a further opportunity to expand the reach and national impact of the Benson Center’s model to other academic institutions by hosting visiting research scholars on the CU campus.”

David McPherson

David McPherson is the 2020-21 sabbatical scholar.

At the Benson Center, McPherson will work on a book project titled Spiritual Alienation and the Quest for God. This book articulates, explores and responds to the problem of spiritual alienation, which is the state of being “estranged from human fulfillment,” and which he argues is a perennial feature of the human condition but is exacerbated within the conditions of Western modernity, such as secularity.

This book project builds on his previous book monographs, Virtue and Meaning: A Neo-Aristotelian Perspective and The Virtues of Limits (forthcoming), as well as his edited volume, Spirituality and the Good Life: Philosophical Approaches.

His research specializations are in ethics (especially virtue ethics), political philosophy, meaning in life, and philosophy of religion.

McPherson said he is “excited to be a part of a scholarly community at the Benson Center, where intellectual and political diversity are genuinely valued, and where exchanges across different viewpoints are encouraged.”

He added: “Given that my book project is concerned with the spiritual condition of the modern West, it is also wonderful to be at a place that values and seeks to explores the riches of our Western tradition. My family is also excited to explore the beauties of Colorado!” 

Sabbatical fellowships, a longstanding tradition in academia, are an opportunity for faculty to focus intensely on scholarly research and production, usually after a period of successful teaching and accomplishment. Such work is vital to themselves, their students and their home institutions and also provides access to new knowledge that benefits to the scholar’s visiting institution.

Along with his scholarly pursuits, McPherson also intends to be fully immersed in family life while at CU Boulder. Outside of work, he loves spending time with his wife Kirstin and their four children, Clare (8 years old), John (5 years old), Peter (two and a half years old), and Andrew (four months old).

He said, “My wife and I both play folk music together (I play guitar, and she plays fiddle and guitar), and our daughter Clare is now joining us on piano, and she and I also like to sing John Prine songs together. With John and Peter, I like building and playing with Star Wars Legos.”