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Department of Philosophy
409 Clough Hall

John Olsen, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Acting Chair

Leigh Johnson | Assistant Professor
Office: 307 Clough Hall | Phone: (901) 843-3586 | Email:


I teach a variety of courses mostly focusing on social/political philosophy (Feminist Philosophy, Philosophy of Race, and courses devoted to such themes as “Justice,” “Power,” and “Human Rights”) and contemporary European/Continental philosophy.  I also teach courses cross-listed with several of Rhodes’ interdisciplinary programs, including the Search for Values Program, the African-American Studies Program, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, and the American Studies Program.  My courses tend to combine both lecture and discussion formats.  Because of the nature of many of the topics that I teach, students find that my classes quite often include passionate, even heated, discussions of the material.  I encourage these sorts of conversations and conflicts, as I believe that they provide excellent opportunities for refining one’s thinking and values.  The first rule in all of my courses, as my current and former students will attest, is: “Read more.  Write more.  Think more.  Be more.”  I am thoroughly convinced that philosophy courses are ideal opportunities to satisfy all four parts of that rule.  Recently, I have begun establishing class blogs for all of my courses, which has been helpful not only for bringing “philosophy” into the 21st century, but also for extending the classroom conversations and reflections beyond the limited time we are together each week.

I wrote my dissertation at Penn State University on truth commissions, focusing in particular on commissions in Africa and Latin America, especially the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (which was set up to aid in the transition from apartheid to a democratic South Africa).  Using the theoretical framework of deconstruction (as elaborated by French-Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida), I analyzed the roles that truth-telling, forgiveness, reconciliation and memory played in the work of various commissions.  I was especially interested in addressing both how these commissions conceived of “democracy” and how they helped to facilitate its realization.  Since then, I have turned my scholarly attention to the discourse of human rights and “crimes against humanity” in an attempt to investigate whether or not the implicit philosophical humanism that grounds them is still sustainable.  I am currently working on a manuscript tentatively titled Weak Humanism, which constitutes my attempt to resuscitate a viable philosophical humanism to ground a defense of human rights.

Beyond Rhodes
I am a native Memphian and a true lover of Memphis, a city about which it has been said “nothing ever happens, but the impossible always does” (see Robert Gordon’s It Came from Memphis).  In my spare time, such that it is, I can be found frequenting the many establishments that constitute Memphis’ historic “music scene,” and I both play and sing with several local musicians.  I am the faculty advisor for (and an ardent advocate of) Rhodes Radio, which was resuscitated the same year that I arrived at Rhodes and has been growing strong ever since.  I’m also on the Board for the Memphis-based Scholars in Critical Race Theory, a joint venture between scholars from various disciplines at Rhodes and the University of Memphis.  I live in Midtown and, in true Midtown fashion, very rarely venture “outside the Parkways.”

B.A., University of Memphis
M.A., Villanova University
Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University

  • Humanities 101 - SEARCH:VALUES IN HIST & RELIG
  • Philosophy 250 - TOPICS: PHILOSOPHY OF RACE
  • Philosophy 150 - SOCIAL AND POLITICL PHILOSOPHY (Theme: "Justice")
  • Philosophy 315 - 19TH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY (Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche)
  • Humanities 201 - SEARCH:VALUUES IN HIST & RELIG
  • Philosophy 101 - INTRO SEM IN PHILOSOPHY (Theme "Power")
  • Philosophy 360 - EXISTENTIALISM