Bringing It All Together

Jean-Pierre Karegeye

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Jean-Pierre Karegeye

Visiting International Scholar in Philosophy Jean-Pierre Karegeye earned a Ph.D. in francophone literature (University of California at Berkeley); two master’s degrees, in social ethics (JST at Santa Clara University) and in French (UC Berkeley); and three bachelor’s degrees, in African linguistics, philosophy and theology. His areas of research and teaching are mostly based on francophone literature and literary theory in dialogue with other disciplines and studies such as social ethics, linguistics, African philosophy, African theology and genocide studies. His work on genocide and child soldiering focuses on testimony and explores both fictional and nonfictional narratives. Some of his current projects explore how genocide and mass violence in Africa imply a reconstruction and a relocation of social sciences and humanities. Another important element of his academic life has been his involvement, as director, with the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center. Its mission is to encourage the study of genocide through rigorous cross-disciplinary analyses and to organize and host conferences, colloquia, symposia and study abroad groups.

Why Dickinson?

I am at Dickinson College as a visiting scholar. My presence proceeds from a desire to join a liberal-arts college with an open learning system that goes beyond classroom experience. It is a privilege to be at Dickinson, an institution that has the holistic and global perspective of “useful education” embedded in its mission statement. I also received an invitation to serve as a consultant for a possible short-term study abroad program in Rwanda. Dickinson is very well known for having developed its own study abroad programs. I have worked with more than 20 universities from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Brazil, France, Canada and the U.S., including Villanova University, California School of the Arts, Loyola Marymount University and Brown University. The proposed Rwanda study abroad program could be a transformative experience for Dickinson students and a chance to engage them in our useful education. The goal would be to introduce students to local culture and Rwandan history and encourages them to critically engage in discussions of the genocide and reconstruction efforts in a post-conflict society 

What excites you most about teaching?

Teaching for me is a true vocation. My first B.A. was in applied pedagogy in French and African linguistics. Part of the requirement was to teach in both elementary school and high school. I also taught language courses as a graduate student at UC Berkeley. As professor, I continue to teach language and advanced courses. Teaching—or, more importantly, learning how to teach—has been part of my life’s journey. It is amazing to witness how students can progress in a short period of time. In a semester, students can communicate in an entirely new language. I still remember an undergrad student asking me the first day of French I, “Do you think this class is for the very beginners?” The class was entirely conducted in French. After a few months, she could communicate in French, listen to French-language radio, etc. I have also seen the impact of advanced courses on the research and lives of our students. Some students choose to continue their research at grad school using the same topics discussed in class. Some of my undergraduates have been able to publish their papers in peer-reviewed journals. In 2013, some of my students contributed to a special issue of a scholarly journal on child soldiers. This year, I am teaching a course on religions in Africa, and some of my Dickinson students have submitted their papers for publication in a special issue of this journal on religion and conflicts in Africa.

What excites me most is the interaction with students—what I learn from them and what they learn from me. Their insights and their desire to learn create a synergy between their projects and my own areas of research. It is always a pleasure to see students approach their learning as a process that is intertwined with their community as well as their research. Students are able to reflect on their own learning and become motivated to know that the knowledge acquired is real, practical and necessary in navigating a diverse world. I always tell my students that I do not teach a course to them but with them. This helps in negotiating the dynamics of teaching and learning. It is indeed an invitation to take ownership of the course by involving students in a process that reduces the gap between teaching and learning, creating and receiving. 

How did you first get interested in your field of study?

My areas of study are mostly based on literature and literary theory in dialogue with other disciplines such as social ethics, linguistics, African philosophy, African theology and especially genocide studies. In addition to the Ph.D. in francophone studies from UC Berkeley, I have a master’s degree in social ethics and three bachelor’s degrees, in philosophy, linguistics and theology. The itinerary of my study has been marked by my multidisciplinary and atypical education, teaching experience and community service. Before my doctoral studies, my research consisted of studying particular authors and their complete works. I was influenced by a Belgian literary method, lecture liegeoise, of reading literary texts influenced by formalism or new criticism. The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda changed my work and my life. I found myself overwhelmingly drawn to the topics of genocide, mass violence and testimonial narrative. I have also taught and wrote a lot on child soldiers, including editing a special issue of Peace Studies. My work on genocide and child soldiering focuses on testimony and explores both fictional and nonfictional narratives. Religious extremism and radicalism in Africa has also influenced my work. I am currently teaching a course on religions in Africa and co-editing with President Ensign a special issue of Peace Studies, “Religion at War and Peace.” I also had an opportunity to work as consultant with Promundo based in Washington, D.C., and Living Peace Institute in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I translated some of their documents related to transformative and positive masculinities, which dramatically reshaped my understanding of gender. My course in Nigeria on language and society also was influenced by Promundo’s approaches and the need to rethink African languages and cultures in the context of gender equality. 

If you weren’t a college professor, what would you want to be doing?

If I were not a college professor, I would want to be … a college professor. Once you choose to be a college professor, it is difficult to think about a different job. All of your intellectual and emotional investment was essentially preparation to be a college professor, and somehow you feel like that is the only job you want to do and you can do. The other “job” I would really like to do is to spend my time with my young daughter, Alexia Virginie, teaching her languages, reading books with her, playing with her, etc. But her father does not have the means to pay that full-time teacher, as well as to pay bills! In all seriousness, whatever comes first, teaching, research and service are my life. No matter where I would work—in a university or an organization—that is what I would wish to do. 


Published June 20, 2018