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New Faculty Profile: Nicolas Bommarito

March 22, 2021
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The Department of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University gives a warm welcome to Nic Bommarito as a new member of faculty. Nic who was previously a Bersoff Fellow at NYU, joins us from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo SUNY Buffalo

Nic received his BA from the University of Michigan and his PhD from Brown University. He also spent two years at the Tibet University (西藏大学) in Lhasa gaining a Tibetan language certification. His research focuses on questions in virtue ethics, moral psychology, and Buddhist philosophy, with an interest in modesty and why it's important. You can learn more in an article he wrote for Aeon.

“I try to teach philosophical ideas as active living things that real people are thinking about, instead of just being very old texts from far away,” he says.

Arriving as a new Assistant Professor ‘on campus’ in the midst of the travel restrictions imposed along the Canada/US border before the beginning of the fall term is not easy. Nic notes that not all parts of the process were a bit rough.

“Although moving is always awful, it went much more smoothly than expected!” he says. And on arriving he’s loving the vibe of the department—albeit working remotely—with people who care about doing their best to teach their students.

Coping with Social Distancing and other Pandemic Measures

Nic suggests: ‘try to figure out what you can do that keeps you going and make space for those things. They’re not trivial indulgences but a really important part of a long-term strategy.’

Nic also does his best for teaching, drawing on previous experience when he himself was a student.

“I think my experience in Lhasa affects how I relate to students,” he explains. “I remember how hard it was to listen to lectures, do readings, and write up assignments all in Tibetan. It was really hard and really exhausting. I think that experience in particular changes how I relate to students, especially those who are non-native English speakers.”

Nic’s experiences as a student also fueled his interest in art and drawing, admitting that for most of his childhood he wanted to be a cartoonist when he grew up.

“I’ve always liked to draw, especially during classes when I was a kid,” he says. “When I was still young Bill Watterson, who drew Calvin & Hobbes, took a sabbatical and I asked my parents what that word meant. They told me it’s like a long vacation and after that I was even more sold on that as the job for me.”

As well as being persuaded to provide illustrations for the department website, Nic uses his love of drawing to create comics in Tibetan. https://www.nicbommarito.com/comics To Nic, the language was more than just a code to crack then put the ideas into English. The comics reflect what he loved about being in Tibet was talking about stuff with people in the language, using it as a means of expression and for connection. With this language skill on board he’d talk not only with Tibetans but also classmates from Japan in Tibetan.

You can also learn more about Nic and his research in an interview with 3:16 Magazine and on Buddhism on the UnMute Podcast. His website is https://www.nicbommarito.com/philosophy

Publications: Seeing Clearly: A Buddhist Guide to Life 

Meet Your Prof 

As part of his new faculty profile, Nic agreed to answer a few questions. You can read his answers below and get to know a little more about our new professor.

- Your subject areas focus on Buddhist and Asian Philosophy - what drew you to these as subjects?

I first started reading about Buddhism in my teens so I was interested in Buddhist thought long before I knew there was a field called philosophy. I actually read Shantideva long before I ever read Plato or Kant and when I discovered what philosophy was it mostly highlighted the aspects of Buddhism that I was most interested in. 

- What inspired you to spend two years learning Tibetan at Tibet University, Lhasa?

I took a year of Tibetan as an undergrad and I didn’t know if grad school was for me. I’d seen very little of the world at that point and so I really wanted to experience life in another place. Tuition was very affordable and since I didn’t speak Mandarin, it was a great place to improve my Tibetan and meet people. I would have probably stayed longer but my visa expired after two years so I had to move on. 

 

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