McGill Political Science Students Marking Adam Smith's 300th Anniversary Celebrations

Undergraduate and graduate students from the Research Group on Constitutional Studies will take part in lectures, conferences and summer school programs in Scotland and Canada to mark Adam Smith’ 300th Anniversary celebrations led by the University of Glasgow.  

This year, the University of Glasgow is marking the 300th anniversary of the 18th century Scottish philosopher and economist, Adam Smith, and select members from McGill’s Department of Political Science are taking part in the tercentenary celebrations throughout 2023 in Glasgow, St Andrews, Montreal and London.  

McGill’s Research Group on Constitutional Studies-Charles Taylor Student Fellowship, a division of the Yan P. Lin Centre for the Study of Freedom and Global Orders in the Ancient and Modern Worlds, is the only Canadian partner participating in the international “Smith Around the World” lecture series, a series of lectures by leading experts at some of the world’s most prestigious universities marking Adam Smith’s legacy and work.  

McGill will be hosting its “Smith Around the World” lecture in September 2023, presented by doctoral candidate Ryan Griffiths, whose dissertation, “Adam Smith’s ‘Coarse Clay’ Political Realism” will inform his lecture (details forthcoming). 

An International Dialogue on Smith’s Legacy  

“My lecture will be about Smith’s political theory, but, more broadly, it will be about a political theory that is grounded in a philosophical study of emotions, chiefly of gratitude and resentment,” says Ryan. “I will be arguing that his political theory is contained in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and then is applied to several political questions that he raises in his best-known work, Wealth of Nations.”  

Ryan’s lecture will focus on the merits of religious establishment and the proper relationship between church and state in Smith’s Wealth of Nations.  

“The discussion I am hoping my lecture elicits is one concerning the relationship between persuasion (church) and coercion (state),” he says. “More fundamentally, I hope my lecture provokes discussion by arguing that we ought to be attentive to how emotions are, as a matter of fact, involved in politics.” 

Ryan will also join Professor Jacob Levy, Chair of the Department of Political Science and coordinator of RGCS, in Glasgow in early June for the Tercentenary week lectures and conference hosted by the University of Glasgow. Professor Levy will also be giving a lecture on Adam Smith in the Fall at King’s College London (details forthcoming).  

Incoming second-year MA student in Political Science, Shal Marriott, will also be heading to Scotland during the summer, presenting a paper at the International Adam Smith Society (IASS) conference at the University of St Andrews in July.  

"The paper I am presenting at IASS this year is concerned with the significance of Jean Racine as a figure of importance to David Hume and Adam Smith,” she explains. “I consider specifically how Racine's plays exemplify refinement (from the perspective of Hume) and love and friendship (from the perspective of Smith). My hope is that this paper will help to contribute to the ongoing scholarship which takes seriously the role of fictional forms of writing, like plays and novels, as sources of significance for political theory and scholarship on Adam Smith specifically." 

Both Ryan’s lecture and Shal’s paper draw inspiration from Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiment. 

When Shal first came across Adam Smith during an undergraduate lecture, she felt an immediate recognition of something she felt she had known all her life but wasn’t able to put into words.  

“ ‘Man naturally desires, not only to be loved; but to be lovely’”, quotes Shal. “When I heard it, it struck me that it was true. As if Smith had said something about the human condition that I had intuitively known, but couldn't put into words. That is always how I feel reading The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and to celebrate this anniversary is to celebrate a figure who has provided us with words and ideas that articulate what it means to be human, whether about love, virtue, and friendship or politics and economics." 

For Ryan, reading The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a unique experience. “He talks us through the life of us,” he says. “It is odd to see one’s emotional life so helpfully described […] you may disagree with him, but his descriptions are always helpful because they are articulate about things we typically lack words for, or even awareness of.”  

An Immersive Experience for Undergraduates  

This summer, undergraduate students Amelia Lang and Natalie Pennisi, will take part in a summer program at the University of Glasgow that will provide students with a deeper understanding of Smith’s work.  

For Natalie, a fifth year undergraduate student in Political Science (Hons.) and History Studies, taking part in this summer program fulfills her long-held dream of studying abroad.  

“I am really excited to gain a deeper understanding of Adam Smith’s works,” she says. “He is often cited in modern discussions about today’s economic climate, so I am eager to understand him better so that I may weigh in on these conversations.” 

Amelia, a U4 student majoring in Political Science and Philosophy, with a minor in Art History, shares the same sentiments as Natalie.  

Amelia Lang headshot“Being able to dedicate myself to an in-depth study of a political theorist is an exciting prospect, but to do so while being in the environment in which he wrote is an opportunity to understand Adam Smith's intellectual and political context,” she says. “It will certainly offer me a level of intellectual immersion I have never experienced before.” 

Immersing oneself in the surroundings and culture that shaped a writer offers us the opportunity to momentarily see the world and their work, through their eyes.  

“Stepping outside of a Canadian educational context will expand my exposure to a variety of perspectives,” says Amelia. “Learning from acclaimed academics alongside students with similar interests and divergent backgrounds from myself will certainly broaden my understanding of approaches to political theory and scholarship at large.” The exclusive summer program will not only give undergraduate students the chance to discuss and debate Smith’s work within the walls of the university he called home, but it will also give students the chance to understand ‘the man’ that Adam Smith was, with planned ‘field trips’ to various places relevant to Adam Smith, such as his birthplace.  

As with any devotees of a writer and their work, their place of birth, former residences and places of work, even their resting places, are enshrined with some sense of holiness or reverence that deepens a connection to the writer. One needs only to look at the annual pilgrimages to Dublin on June 16th to celebrate Bloomsday, the annual festival marking James Joyce’s Ulysses, or the throngs of Regency-era clad Austen aficionados in Bath to understand that a writer’s work lives beyond the pages they have written and is culturally embedded in the cities they called home.  

Experiences Made Possible Through Funding from the RGCS 

Students taking part in this year’s celebrations are able to do so thanks to funding that is available to follows of the Research Group on Constitutional Studies. Recently renamed the RGCS – Charles Taylor Student Fellowship, in honour of Professor Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher and Emeritus Professor of Political Science at McGill, funding efforts spearheaded by current and past students of RGCS, along with faculty from McGill, have successfully established a long-term endowment for conference travel and research projects.  

For many Political Science students, past and present, the RGCS –Charles Taylor Student Fellowship is an important and memorable part of their experience at McGill. 

For Shal, joining RGCS was a dream she fostered during her time as an undergraduate student Carleton University.  

“Meeting students who spoke fondly of a reading group where students came to discuss books that mattered and their love of ideas, as an aspiring political theorist, seemed like the perfect place for someone like me,” she says. “I'm delighted to say that is exactly what I have found. Sitting in the reading room, sharing what I love most with others who understand that passion, feels like home. It has been what has allowed McGill to feel like a home to me, and has been an absolute highlight of my graduate studies experience.” 

Amelia echoes these sentiments.  

“RGCS has certainly been the most fulfilling part of my time at McGill, and the reading group gave me something to look forward to every week,” Amelia says. “RGCS has provided students with countless opportunities to pursue their intellectual interests beyond the classroom but is in itself truly a singularly fulfilling learning environment.” 

You can learn more about the Research Group on Constitutional Studies – Charles Taylor Student Fellowship, on their website and you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  

You can support the RGCS fellowship endowment through their McGill crowdfunding page

Student Bios:

Ryan Griffiths grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan and completed his undergraduate studies in Political Science at the University of Regina. He studied at McGill University for his MA. His final thesis consisted of a comparison of Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant: “An Anthropomorphic Categorical Imperative: The Impartial Spectator.” Griffiths stayed at McGill University and completed his dissertation again on Adam Smith: “Adam Smith’s ‘Coarse Clay’ Political Realism.” The central claim of that dissertation is simply that Smith has a political theory and that it is a compelling type of political realism. During his PhD he and his wife moved to New York and started a family. The family has now settled in Montreal. 

Shal Marriott is an incoming second year MA student in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, focusing on Enlightenment and 20th century political thought. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts from Carleton University where she double majored in political science (political theory) and history. Her undergraduate thesis considered the role of sympathy which she argues serves as a foundation for political factions in the works of David Hume and Adam Smith, under the supervision of Marc Hanvelt. Previously she has presented her work at the International Adam Smith Society conference, the American Political Science Association conference, and the Britain and Ireland Association of Political Thought conference. She has also published short articles on Adam Smith for Adam Smith Works, and has a publication on Michael Oakeshott in Cosmos + Taxis.

Natalie Pennisi is entering her fifth and final year at McGill University. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, Natalie is excited to enrich her honours Political Science and History studies this summer by doing research and visiting the University Glasgow for its celebration of Adam Smith’s 300th birthday. Her studies have focused on quantitative political science and the history of political thought with special interest paid to Mediterranean history.

Amelia Lang is a U4 undergraduate student, majoring in Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in Art History. She joined RGCS after developing an interest in political theory through taking classes with Professor Levy and Professor Roberts. She will be doing research work on Baruch Spinoza under RGCS faculty member Prof. Hasana Sharp through the Arts Research Internship Award.

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