What is the meaning of life?

It’s a daunting question at any age, but philosophy associate professor Evgenia Cherkasova has no doubt Suffolk freshmen can tackle the topic.

And the National Endowment for the Humanities agrees - the federal agency recently awarded Cherkasova a prestigious Enduring Questions grant. The grant was created to “support faculty members in the teaching and development of a new course that will foster intellectual community through the study of an enduring question.”

To that end, Cherkasova has enlisted some of the world’s greatest thinkers and creators as fellow travelers in the existential journey. The course material will feature Eastern and Western philosophers, psychologists, writers, artists, and filmmakers who confronted the problem of life’s meaning in their work.

“It’s enlightening for students to engage in the dialogue with famous thinkers and artists in a personal creative quest. Even the iconic, undisputed geniuses like Beethoven or Tolstoy battled with the perceived meaninglessness of their own lives. The key questions – What do we live for? Which beliefs and values sustain meaningful existence? – are things that everyone struggles with,” explains Cherkasova.

The professor believes that the course can have a deep personal relevance for students, inviting them to add fresh perspectives to the centuries-long conversation.

In fact, Cherkasova says she often learns from the insights of her students during class discussions. It was the unfinished debates during her Existentialism course that inspired her to craft a new platform to explore the meaning of life.

“I want students to leave this class being able to think creatively about what makes life meaningful for them,” she says. “So often, we go through the motions and find ourselves unfulfilled. I hope to create a space for my students to grapple with the idea of meaning and purpose.”

The class will be dialogue-driven and will include out-of-class activities, such as a film series and a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to examine how different cultures make and express meaning through art.
Cherkasova credits the support of her department chair, Suffolk’s Center for Teaching Excellence, and the Office for Research and Sponsored Programs for helping with the application for the grant – awarded to only 10% of applicants each year.

She hopes to begin offering “What is the Meaning of Life” to Suffolk students next Spring.