Dr. Stephen Rowe is a contemporary American philosopher and educator with an international reputation, highly conversant with philosophy of religion, comparative philosophy, ethics, liberal education, US-China dialogue, philosophy of democracy, feminism, pragmatism, and Zen. Rowe is the author or editor of 14 books, including Two Americas: Liberal Education and the Crisis of Democracy (2018), Educating for an Ecological Civilization (2018), Overcoming America / America Overcoming: Can We Survive Modernity? (2012), Rediscovering the West: An Inquiry into Nothingness and Relatedness (1994), and Leaving and Returning: On America’s Contribution to a World Ethic (1989).

Legacy in Education: Dr. Rowe joined Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in 1972 and was the founding Coordinator of the Synoptic Program at William James College (WJC) as well as the Founding Coordinator of GVSU’s Liberal Studies Program beginning in 1982. Dr. Rowe served as the Chair for the Department of Philosophy from 1989 through 2002, and continued as Professor of Philosophy and Liberal Studies at GVSU through his retirement in 2019.

Learn more through Dr. Rowe’s Amazon Author Page, Curriculum Vitae (also included below) and Published Works.



University of Chicago, Divinity School, Philosophy Department, Committee on Social Thought, 1967‑1972:

M.Th., 1969, A.M. 1972,  Ph.D., 1974 | Major Field:  Ethics and Society | Cognate Fields: History of Religions, Political Philosophy

Instruction in Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Meditation, 1964-1967

Colgate University, 1963‑67:

B.A. (Honors), 1967: Major: Philosophy and Religion

   Areas of Study and Teaching: Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Education, Comparative Philosophy, History of Philosophy, U.S.-China Dialogue, Philosophy of Democracy, Pragmatism.


9/01-present Professor of Philosophy and Liberal Studies

7/89‑9/02      Chair, Department of Philosophy.

9/82-6/91      Founding Coordinator, Liberal Studies Program.

1/83‑present Professor of Philosophy

9/76‑ 9/77     Minister, Fountain Street Church, Grand Rapids, MI.  (2/3 leave from WJC/GVSU).

72‑ 1/83     Member of the Faculty, William James College/GVSU.

9/73‑ 9/74     Coordinator, Social Relations Program, WJC.

 9/72‑ 9/73      Assistant Professor, founding Coordinator of the Synoptic Program, William James College (WJC), Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Allendale, MI.

1967-1972   Various staff and contract positions oriented to the Chicago Freedom Movement, most notably in the Research Department of the Church Federation of Greater Chicago, The Urban Training Center, and The Commons: An Institute of the Independent Sector.  In this same period I did adjunct teaching at the YMCA College of Chicago, and at the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing, Liberal, and Professional Studies.

AWARDS (selected)

University Fellow, University of Chicago, 1971-1972.

Outstanding Faculty Award, Michigan Association of Governing Boards, 1980.

Outstanding Educator Award, GVSU Alumni Association, 1986.

Outstanding Contribution in a Discipline Award, GVSU, 1997.



Two Americas: Liberal Education and the Crisis of Democracy (Process Century Press, 2018).

Educating for an Ecological Civilization, Co-Edited with Marcus Peter Ford (Process Century Press, 2018).

Overcoming America / America Overcoming: Can We Survive Modernity? (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).  Chinese publication and translation forthcoming in 2019. 

Old Hopes for a New Place: The Legacy of Arend D. Lubbers, ed. (Michigan State University Press, 2006).

Living Philosophy: Remaining Awake and Moving Toward Maturity in Complicated Times (Paragon House, 2002).

Wandering: Brush and Pen in Philosophical Reflection, with Peimin Ni(published simultaneously in China and the U.S. by Dong Fang (Shanghai) and Art Media Resources (Chicago), 2002).

In Japanese, The Vision of William James (Nippon Kyobun-Sha Co. Limited, 1999).

Abiding: Landscape of the Soul, with photographer, David Lubbers (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998).      

In Chinese, Rediscovering the West (Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 1998).

The Vision of William James (Element Books/Penguin, 1996). 

Rediscovering the West:  An Inquiry into Nothingness and Relatedness (SUNY Press, 1994).

Claiming a Liberal Education:  Resources for Realizing the College Experience (Ginn Press, 1990).

Leaving and Returning:  On America’s Contribution to a World Ethic (Bucknell University Press, 1989). 

Living Beyond Crisis:  Essays on Discovery and Being in the World, ed. (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1980).

Selected Essays:                

“Toward a Postliberal Liberalism: James Luther Adams and the Need for a Theory of Relational Meaning,” in American Journal of Theology & Philosophy (Vol. 17, No. 1), January 1996.

“A Zen Presence In America: Dialogue as Religious Practice,” in Donald W. Mitchell, ed., Masao Abe: Zen Life in Dialogue (NY: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1998).

“Cultivating Mutual Growth: A Socratic Approach for the Post-9/11 World,” in SDX and Harvard-Yenching Series (Beijing: JPC Press, 2003).

“The Vocation of Dialogue,” in Unity and Diversity in Religion and Culture (St. Petersburg, Russia: Russian Institute for Cultural Research, UNESCO, 2006).

“Dialogue as Hope and Vocation,” in Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal (Vol. LXXXIX, no. 1-2, Spring-Summer 2006).

“A Humanities Response to Managerialism: Diversity, Democracy, and Liberal Education in the Shade,” in International Journal of the Humanities (Vol. 5, 2007).

“Masao Abe and the Dialogue Breakthrough,” in Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 28, 2008.

“Rediscovering Liberal Education in China: On the Benefits of Dialogue and Inquiry,” in Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal (vol. 96, no. 2,, Summer 2013).

“The Adulthood We Need: Education and Developmental Challenge in the U.S. and China,” in Judy Whipps, ed., Reflect, Connect, Engage: Liberal Education at GVSU (Acton, MA: Xanedu Press, 2013).       

“Liberal Education as Adulthood: A View from U.S.- China Dialogue.” in Philosophical Analysis (《哲学分析》) (vol. 23, no. 1, 2014).  In English, Journal of General Education, vol. 64, no. 1, 2015.

“Standing Up to Managerialism,” in Liberal Education, vol. 100, no. 3, Summer 2014.

“Toward a Relational World from a Western Perspective,” in China Media Research, vol. 11, no. 2, April 2015.

“Ethics, Transformation, and Practice: A Perspective on Liberal Education in the Global Age.” In Teaching Ethics, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 2015.

“Pragmatism, Possibility, and Human Development,” in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, vol. 23.2, December 2015.

“Liberal Education: Cornerstone of Democracy,” in American Journal of Economics and Sociology, May 2017.

“Liberal Education as Vital Interdependence,” in Social Justice, Inner Work & Contemplative Practice (Special Issue of Center for Contemplative Mind in Society), July 2017, pp. 111-118.

“Answering the Summons: Contemporary Prospects for Global Dialogue,” in Peter Burdon, Ed., The Earth Charter and Global Ethics: Challenges for the 21st Century (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elger Publishing, October 2019).

“Liberating Education: Learning to Live the Paradox of Universality and Particularity,” completed essay, publication under discussion.

Selected Presentations:

“Discovering Kyoto Zen, Discovering Democratic Personality,” at Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, Nagoya, Japan, 6/94.

“Toward Dialogue: Reflections on U.S.-China Relations,” at Fudan University Philosophy Department, Shanghai, China, 5/99. 

“The Meaning and Significance of Religion and Practice for Philosophy,” at East China Normal University Philosophy Department, Shanghai, China, 6/01.

“Intercultural Dialogue: Some Notes on U.S. China Relations,” at Association of Chinese Philosophers in America and American Philosophical Association, 12/01.

“Coming to China with Whitehead,” at International Conference on Whitehead and China in the New Millennium, co-sponsored by The Center for Process Studies, Claremont University and

Center for the Study of Values and Culture, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, 6/02.

“Dialogue as Hope and Practice,” at Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy, 6/04.

“Dialogue and Reappropriation: What We Can Learn From/With China.”  Lecture delivered at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, 7/05.

“William James and ‘Making the Way Great.’”  Lecture delivered at Fudan University, Shanghai, 10/05.

“An American Perspective on Chinese Philosophy.”  Presentation at invited Conference on Chinese and Western Philosophical Narratives, Shaoxing, 10/05.

“Progressive Education Today,” keynote address at Goddard Conference on Progressive Education, 10/07.

“Ambiguities of the Modern,” invited lecture at Institute of Philosophy, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, 7/10.

“General Education and the Value of Dialogue/Exchange,” invited lecture at Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, 8/10.

“General Education and Our Pluralistic Common Humanity,” invited lecture at Jiao Tong University, 9/11.

“Overcoming Modernity: Moving Beyond Technological/Financial Rationality,” invited lecture at Peking University, Beijing, 9/11.

“The Adulthood We Need: Education and the Developmental Challenge in the U.S. and China,” at “Modernization: China and the World,” conference co-sponsored by Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (CCTB), Beijing and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, 12/12.

“Overcoming in the U.S. and China,” Annual Wenzhi Forum Lecture, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 12/12.

Invited participation in “Sino-American Dialogue on Core Values,” co-sponsored by World Ethics Center at Peking University, Stanford University Confucius Center, Cultural China Foundation, and Beijing Forum at Peking University, Berkeley, CA, 12/12.

“Emerging Post-Modern Worldview,” invited presentation at Center for Process Studies, Lincoln University, Claremont, 1/13.

“The Necessity of Transformative Education,” at 8th International Forum on Ecological Civilization, Claremont, 4/14.

“Is there a Human Nature?,” seminar presentation at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, June 2014.

“Modernity and the Worldview Problem,” invited lecture at Institute of Philosophy, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, June 2014.

“The Mystery of Chinese Vitality,” delivered as the Wenzhi Lecture, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, June 2014.

“From Polarization and Ideological Imbalance to the Maturity of Dialogue,” presentation at GVSU Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies Common Ground Conference, June 2014.

“Is there an Enduring Self?,” seminar presentation at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, June 2014.

“On Surviving Modernity Through Dialogue,” presentation at Society for Values in Higher Education Annual Summer Workshop for College Teachers in China, Shanghai, June 2014.

 (《光明日报》), April 16, 2014.

“Two Americas and the Drama of Education: Toward a Relational World,” presentation at “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization,” Pomona College, June 2015. 

“William James on the Religious Life,” lecture presented at Hope College, October 2015.

“Relatedness as Locus of Awakening,” presentation at First International Symposium on Interality, Grand Valley State University, June 2017.

“Democracy as Formative Experience,” presentation at GVSU Democracy 101 program, Oct, 11, 2018.

T.V. interview with Fan Meijung of Guangmei Daily《光明日报,》June 2018.

“Can We Survive Modernity?: Walking Toward a New Era With China,” Plenary Speech at 12th Annual Forum on Ecological Civilization, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA, April 28, 2018.

Co-author with Peimin Ni of “How Is a Human Future Possible?,” delivered by Ni at Songshan Forum, Sponsored by Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Peking University, Taipei, Sept 21, 2019.


American Academy of Religion, American Philosophical Association, Center for Process Studies, Chicago Social Ethics Seminar, Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, Society for Values in Higher Education, Association for Integrative Studies,  Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy, Interfaith Dialogue Association (a founder), West Shore Committee for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue (former board member), West Michigan Academic Consortium (a founder, board member), William James Association.


Liberal Education in a Public Context – GVSU and Beyond

My main vocation has been development of a new university devoted to “liberal education in a public context.”  Teaching has always been my first priority and root practice, to which many of GVSU’s most distinguished graduates will testify.  I have understood writing and publication as my own participation in an aspect of the same transformative practice I engage with students.

Here are the courses I have taught frequently, constituting the core of my teaching repertoire:  Ethics; Introduction to Philosophy; Introduction to Liberal Education; Dialogue, Integration, and Action; Contemporary Philosophy: William James and Hannah Arendt; Philosophy and Democracy; Philosophy of Religion; Religion and Modernity; Senior Seminar in Liberal Studies; Senior Seminar in Philosophy.

Highlights, apart from the day-to-day work of teaching, committees, and mentoring, include the following:

Early (possibly founding) CAT (Coordinator Ad Temporem) of William James College Social Relations and Synoptic Programs, 1972-74, 1974-1982.

Chair, U.S. Office of Education national conference to demonstrate William James College as model of integrating liberal and professional education: “Conference on Education and Vocation,” April 9-10, 1979.

Michigan Association of Governing Boards, Outstanding Educator Award, 1983 (became GVSU Niemeyer Award in 2000).

Founding Coordinator, Liberal Studies Program, 1982.

Professor of Philosophy and Liberal Studies, 1983-present.

First editor of the LIB anthology, Claiming a Liberal Education (Ginn Press, 1994).

GVSU Alumni Outstanding Educator Award, 1997.

First Martin Luther King Day speaker, 1998.

Early (possibly first) Student Senate “Last Lecture,” 2003.

First Honors Convocation address: “The Paradox of the Common Good,” 2/08.

GVSU Outstanding Contribution in a Discipline Award, 2008.

Designer of most of the Liberal Studies Core Curriculum courses: LIB 100, Introduction to Liberal Education; LIB 312, Dialogue, Integration, and Action; LIB 400, Visionary Thinkers; LIB 495, Senior Seminar.

Worked on three proposals over four decades for Religious Studies at GVSU. Also was long-time GVSU representative to West Shore Jewish-Christian Dialogue, co-founder and GVSU representative to Interfaith Dialogue Association and West Michigan Academic Consortium, later merged into Kaufman Institute.  Designer of Religious Studies core course, REL 300, Religion in the Modern World.

Worked on university task forces, including those in General Education, and multiculturalism in critical years, participated in national conversations on related issues such as equity, feminism, and mindfulness through many agencies, such as the Association of Colleges and Universities, the Society for Values in Higher Education, World Ethics Center at Peking University, the Aspen Institute, and the Center for Process Studies.

 Chair of Philosophy Department, 1989-2002.  Restructured the Philosophy Department in the post-cluster college era (of mid-1980’s), toward philosophy as a transformative practice in global dialogue.

Editor, Old Hopes for a New Place: The Legacy of Arend D. Lubbers at GVSU (MSU Press, 2006).

Continuous advocacy on General Education Committee that Gen Ed courses should be  distinguished not only by subject matter (as “distribution” or “liberal arts”), but also by an across-the curriculum pedagogy of liberal education, and deep commitment to diversity.

Advocated for many years for GVSC/U membership in COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) until we became too large.

Author of “Seeking the Mind of Liberal Education: The Case of Grand Valley State University” (a work in process, publication under discussion).

Interim Chair, Liberal Studies Program, 2006-2007.

Interim Chair, Philosophy Department, 2010-2011.

Author of many published books, essays, and chapters on liberal education in the U.S. and China (see CV and Two Americas: Liberal Education and the Crisis of Democracy).

Co-chair of the higher education section of the 6/15 Pomona College/ Center for Process Studies “Seizing and Alternative” conference (see Educating for an Ecological Civilization, 1/17).

Frequent consultant and speaker on liberal education and U.S.-China dialogue in China: e.g. 2012 CPC/CCTB sponsored conference in on “Modernization: China and the World;” 2013 one of seven Americans invited to Beijing University Center for Global Ethics “Sino-American Dialogue on Core Values;” 2014 Shanghai Jiao Tong University Wenzhi Lecture, “The Mystery of Chinese Vitality.”

Active participant in the ongoing intellectual and public life of GVSU.

Advisor to Institute for Postmodern Development of China, Claremont, CA.

Faculty member of Cobb Ecological Academy (Sunshine Ecovillage), Jiande, Zhejiang Province, China.


Pre-GVSU Activism

I have been asked to give some detail on the history of my pre-GVSU engagement with activist groups and issues, filling in a little between stories that occasionally surface here and there.  So here goes – with elaboration in Leaving and Returning, Rediscovering the West, Overcoming America / America Overcoming, and various essays, e.g. “Toward a Postliberal Liberalism,” “Rediscovering Liberal Education in China,” and “Commitment and Civility.”

1965-67, Colgate University chapter of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and volunteer at Syracuse Self-Help Center.

1967-70, various events and projects sponsored by Chicago Freedom Movement, and Operation Breadbasket.

1968-1971, Intern and staff member at the Research Department at the Church Federation of Greater Chicago (center for support and initiative of “the urban church,” i.e. the understanding that “the church” is not a building, a dogma, or a liturgy, but social action on behalf of justice.  My work focused on metropolitan development, suburbanization, the Poor People’s Campaign, and the discovery of institutionalized racism via the events of August 1966 when MLK attempted to bring the Civil Rights Movement to the North in Chicago.

1968-1971, staff member of the Urban Training Center, with specialization in urban development, metropolitan racism, and the implications of the federal Kerner Commission Report (1968, acknowledging racism as the source of “urban unrest”) and the Douglas Commission Report (1969, detailing the institutionalization of racism in the dynamics of metropolitan development).

1969, founding member of Seminarians Organized for Racial Justice (SORJ), with projects throughout the Chicago Metropolitan Area, especially Arlington Heights and Naperville, attempting to challenge the structures of the newly discovered institutionalized racism.

1969-1972, founding member of The Commons: An Institute of the Independent Sector, on the understanding that revitalization of the independent (or “voluntary”) sector within/as a Second Reconstruction was the only serious response to the demise of the Civil Rights Movement.  My particular assignments were in the planned/new city of Columbia, MD, in development of Fourteenth Amendment-based lawsuits against Palo Alto, CA, Oyster Bay, NY, and Arlington Heights, IL, and in consultations with Hannah Arendt and Citizens for Local Democracy in New York.

1970-72, teaching at the YMCA Chicago Downtown Community College and the University of Chicago Continuing Education Program, followed by the decision that education is the context in which I could make my best contribution, specifically education in the American tradition of “liberal education in a public context.”  This was (and is) my reason for going to neither elite nor graduate education, but rather to the new and somewhat improbable William James College at Grand Valley State Colleges in Michigan.

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