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The Harman Academy sometimes defines a polymath as “a person of much or varied learning; a great scholar.” Is this all there is to being a polymath? Someone who knows a lot of stuff? As we have learned over the past six years, and especially this fall, there is much more to the pursuit of the polymathic life: the utility of failure; the imperative of curiosity; and the importance of community, humor, emotion and so on to expand our horizons and enrich both thinking and being. To conclude this semester we will look at the practice of belief as a polymathic principle, a critical element in the pursuit of the meaningful life. We will address a range of questions: what does belief mean, and how have past polymaths utilized belief in problem solving and innovation? What might a polymath believe in? Who today practices a polymathic life, and how does belief matter for them? Dean of Religious life Varun Soni will lead us in conversation on the importance of incorporating belief within the polymathic matrix and on its utility in solving seemingly intractable problems like poverty, inequity, climate change, and racial, ethnic, gender and religious intolerance.
Varun Soni, Dean of the Office of Religious Life
Varun Soni, Dean of the Office of Religious Life, has truly led a polymathic life, earning degrees from Harvard Divinity School, a J.D. from UCLA School of Law, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Cape Town. His research has taken him throughout South Asia where he even spent time living in a Buddhist monastery. Dean Soni is currently a University Fellow at USC Annenberg's Center on Public Diplomacy and is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. He is a member of the State Bar of California, the American Academy of Religion, and the Association for College and University Religious Affairs. Displaying a truly polymathic interest in music, he also produced and hosted his own radio show on Pacifica / KPFK, showcasing music from South Asia and its Diaspora. Born in India and raised in Southern California, he has family on five continents and they collectively represent every major religious tradition in the world.