Associate Professor Aleksandr Lvov wins the League of Lecturers 2022 contest

It is the second consecutive year that the Russian Society "Znanie" has held the League of Lecturers contest. The number of participants in the contest has increased dramatically to over 5,000 from 378 cities in Russia. Among the 100 finalists, 12 represented St Petersburg.

The winners of the second season of the League of Lecturers received a special award − a 2.5-kilogram shungite cube symbolising the significant contribution of the lecturer to education. The 50 winners of the second season will be supported by the Znanie Society in developing their educational projects. They will also have the opportunity to speak at the best venues across the country as part of Znanie’s educational events and will benefit from access to its training programme.

Aleksandr Lvov, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophic Anthropology at St Petersburg University, took part in both seasons. This year, he has become the only academic philosopher to reach the finals.

The educational mission of the Znanie Society focuses on identifying potential lecturers who can convey complicated ideas in a simple way, regardless of their specific field of competence. The contest therefore attracts more and more participants not only from the academic and educational community, but also businessmen, entrepreneurs, managers, and artists to name just a few. This year, according to the organisers, the age of the contestants ranged from 18 to 88 years.

The topic chosen by Aleksandr Lvov for the public lecture in the final round was "Man and the Universe face to face".

’I have elaborated the classic thesis of Claude Lévi-Strauss that the methods of explaining the world around them by people with mythological thinking and people with scientific thinking are equally accurate and equally appropriate for them. The difference is not how they explain the world, but what the world is like in front of them. I have illustrated this point though the archetypal story of the "World Tree" in different traditions: Yggdrasil in Scandinavian myths; or the Christian Cross on which Christ was crucified; the idea of varnas in the Indian tradition; or the idea of microcosm and macrocosm in Renaissance philosophy. I have explored these concepts and revealed that, in principle, this view of the world as a relationship between the higher and the lower, the profane and the sacred, which unites worlds, is also characteristic of the modern spiral of time, which connects everything from the Big Bang to the emergence of man, the development of culture and so on,’ said Aleksandr Lvov. ’It seemed to me to be quite a successful presentation because, given the general unpreparedness of the audience (according to the conditions of the contest), I have managed to construct a lecture with extensive illustrative material, involving generally recognisable plots, but presenting a well-known and understandable issue from a different perspective. The audience usually enjoys this kind of trick or focus. It is always interesting when a lecturer first convinces the audience of a certain idea, and then at the end of the lecture they dispel that belief and state that it is exactly the other way round.’

Using a presentation in a lecture is a very good idea because it makes it possible to prove your technical competencies (i.e., not just your oratorical skills, but also certain pedagogical skills, the way you illustrate your narrative with some "handout" material).

Aleksandr Lvov believes that it is not enough just to deliver a lecture and discuss some texts with students today. It is necessary to create interactive educational settings in which both students and teachers can be creative and free. It is essential for those who study the Humanities. It would also be very useful to conduct master classes on making presentations for students and teachers. Academics and researchers need to know how to make a good presentation to support their grant activities and educational work.

As an illustration of this need, Aleksandr Lvov quoted a well-known joke by Daniel Dennett: ’When I go to parties, there are always a lot of people talking of who does what. When they find out I’m a scholar, a third of the people leave me; when they find out I’m a philosopher, a second third leave me; and when they find out I am a philosopher of consciousness, I’m left alone.’

There is a stereotype of a philosopher as being a man in a barrel, not very wealthy, not able to do anything but philosophise, which means that anyone can do it. This is completely wrong, though.

Aleksandr Lvov has also had to deal with such stereotypes when moderating online courses, meeting with non-professional and unprepared audiences. Such stereotypes need to be combated. ’Participating in the second season of the League of Lecturers, I received good feedback on my lectures. I also regularly ask my students for feedback after my courses, and I am pleased to note that many write about how useful what they have heard has been,’ said Aleksandr Lvov. ’Perhaps, I have posed some questions that helped the students, or perhaps some of the material was particularly catchy and appealing to them. It means that I presented it well, or perhaps they recognised an author they had heard about in the lecture and decided to read his/her work on their own.’

Reflecting on the experience of participating in the contest, Associate Professor Lvov noted that much depends on the lecturer. He is convinced that all academic work is very much a technical activity. That is, teachers need to be able to communicate their knowledge to the audience in an accessible, consistent and comprehensible way: ’The skill of making presentations and organising material is essentially a Renaissance rhetorical skill that keeps humanities practitioners in some kind of shape. This is because the most unacceptable thing in the humanities is to produce commonplaces (everyone thinks so, it’s assumed to be so, who said so and why. Though why it should be done this way is not at all clear). The primary concern therefore lies in the recognition of the author’s position, in proving the validity of academic teaching and knowledge, especially in the field of the humanities. This is a challenge that we have to meet.’

’Philosophy is one of the few areas in higher education without which no academic activity can occur, but which at the same time is completely neglected by the school curriculum. This makes the Znanie Society a very useful platform for teaching schoolchildren what philosophy is and why they need it in their lives,’ said Aleksandr Lvov.