“I Created the Université Populaire to Make Education Accessible to All,” Says Michel Onfray
Abu Dhabi 1st May 2014 – Paris – Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi hosted celebrated French philosopher, Michel Onfray, in a “Literary Majlis” organized by the French Studies Department followed by a discussion session at the university’s Al Reem Island campus. The event was attended by dozens of students, faculty members and scholars interested in culture, literature and philosophy. During the event, Mr. Onfray discussed the relationship of philosophy to literature and the importance of philosophy in disseminating peace. Mr. Onfray also reflected on his books, his career in philosophy, creating the Université Populaire (People’s University) and how he became the most widely read philosopher in Europe.
The seminar set out to introduce philosophy as a field of research and thought that seeks to understand reality, and attempts to explore the nature of truth and knowledge. Philosophy strives to identify issues of fundamental importance in life. The seminar, moreover, revealed how philosophy expresses philosophical truths through literature, as it constitutes a science or pursuit that can be achieved by way of language that is the core preoccupation of literature. Philosophy can likewise offer philosophical readings of literary texts and supply literature with themes to unpack philosophically.
Teaching philosophy at tuition-free popular universities aims to make philosophy available to all, and accessible and easily understood by young and old, by the privileged and not so privileged, by readers and non-readers alike, he said.
The People’s University that Mr. Onfray created at Caen in 2002 is not founded on the production of knowledge to build a social model. Mr. Onfray remarked that the purpose of the People’s University is to enable individuals to shape and mold themselves. Anyone is welcome to attend and is welcome to leave when they please; there are no controls and no registration requirements.
Instructors at the People’s University are all volunteers. It is a space where alternative knowledge is taught in an alternative way, meaning that the university teaches what others don’t and offers in addition to philosophy lectures on psychoanalysis, contemporary art, jazz and cinema.
The seminar concluded with a discussion with a group of undergraduate and graduate students in literary and cultural programs, in addition to the scholars in attendance. Students commented on the prevalence of free universities in France and the service they provide for society. Guests also explored L’Ordre libertaire which restores to French writer, philosopher, essayist and playwright Albert Camus his rightful position:
Guests underscored the appeal of Michel Onfray’s work, his lucid style, his broad knowledge and solid argumentation. Despite their complicated nature, the philosophical ideas examined in his books become accessible; which explains his wide success. His books and works, they said, carry a beautiful message of enjoying each moment and are a reminder that there are in life things worth living for.