Stepping into Our Agora: Reflections on Hosting the 'Story of Philosophy' Series

Stepping into Our Agora: Reflections on Hosting the 'Story of Philosophy' Series

As a child, I was always intrigued by my parents’ bookshelf. I would see my father deeply engrossed in books that looked incredibly hard to understand. 

The books that I vividly remember were of different social philosophers. As a student of science, philosophy was a generic term to me. With age, my curiosity started to increase about a lot of things, including philosophy. 

A serendipitous conversation on the ii philosophy channel about Will Durant’s book set me off on this incredible and challenging journey of co-hosting a book club series covering one philosopher each month. The excitement had an undertone of fear and nervousness as I was stepping into unchartered territories. My trepidations dissipated as the gentle transition into a host’s role is crafted thoughtfully with loads of support and genuine encouragement. Not to forget that having a brilliant co-host makes the whole hosting experience more pleasurable. Flick Hardingham, my co-host, was the perfect match as we both embarked on this ship with similar goals. We complement each other and have been able to maintain our unique hosting styles. Choosing a good co-host can alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with hosting such events. 

While we were sketching the salon format, we were keen to bring context from our current era. We try to weave in a central theme based on the philosopher and find parallels relatable to the present day. This approach has helped us to have engaging discussions on a wide range of societal and personal topics with the group while not losing focus on the philosopher. It meant going down a rabbit hole of discovery and finding good quality topics along with reading materials for circulation. We allocate a few hours a week to accomplish this goal apart from reading and listening to podcasts that help us prepare for the salon. 

One of my early learnings was to list down the possible pathways of the topic and focus on a few. It is perfectly ok not to know everything. The salons are collaborative. It is a commune where we exchange knowledge and opinions. As a host, it is imperative to facilitate the conversation to cover all vantage points of the topic. It is equally important to avoid falling into the trap of trying to know it all, especially on subjects that are not one’s core area of expertise. I have these light bulb moments when someone shares a new insight, and it is joyful and humbling. 

Now to the most critical part of the equation, these conversations wouldn’t be meaningful without the people. What drew me to the ii was the intellectual curiosity, warmth, respect, and kindness that makes you feel at home right from the word “go.” I have written about it too. As a host, it is essential to maintain the balance of communication exchange and allow everyone to participate. To be able to keep the ii spirit in such dense discussions was a small win for us. 

I am writing this post after the fifth salon on Spinoza; these past few months have been a fulfilling journey of philosophical exploration in the modern context. I have gained so much from these salons. It feels like stepping into our Agora, where our curiosities and quest for knowing ourselves, our world bring us together. And I wholeheartedly agree with Socrates; one thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing. My father is extremely happy that I set out on this journey as he has company in me to discuss his favorites and the need for more socialist philosophers. 

I continue my hosting sojourn with curiosity and humility. Do join us if you can, as we have many exciting philosophers in the upcoming salons.

The Story of Philosophy series runs on the last Sunday of each month until January 2022. Individual salon tickets are available for purchase on the series page.