College of Humanities and Social Sciences
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Longtime Mason professor to retire, university honors her work and research with symposium

by B.J. Koubaroulis


The Department of Philosophy honors professor Debra Bergoffen with a symposium called “Vulnerable Bodies” – an April 16, 2009 event that examines the vulnerabilities of aging, disabled, intersexed, harmed and raped bodies.

Dr. Bergoffen, who is retiring after nearly 40 years at Mason, has spent much of her career in academia exploring the concept of vulnerable bodies. Her research has focused on the dignity of the body and how it informs us and dictates the ways in which we formulate medical practice and social justice policies.

“Like many women I did not have the possibility of moving around the country to find the right place for me as my interests changed, for my family was rooted here,” said Bergoffen, who began her career at Mason in 1971. “But I did not have to. As I became more interested in teaching innovations, interdisciplinary work and serious research, so did Mason. You might say we grew up together professionally.”

The symposium, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Research 1, Room 163, welcomes speakers from Mason, American University, Aarhus University and George Washington University. There is a guest panel as well. (See below for a complete list of speakers and guest panel). Bergoffen will also be speaking.

“I have written my paper for the symposium as my thank you to faculty, students, staff, friends and family who have inspired and supported me,” said Bergoffen. “I expect it to be a great time intellectually and socially.”

Sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Women and Gender Studies Program and Cultural Studies Program, the symposium explores the dignity of the body and new paradigms of embodiment.

“George Mason's Philosophy Department would not be what it is without Debra Bergoffen,” said Philosophy Department chair Ted Kinnaman. “She helped design our curriculum, create our degree programs and she has provided leadership both as department chair and as a senior member of the faculty. But, above all, her legacy is the huge number of students she has taught and mentored-- some of whom will be presenting their own work in this symposium.”

A professor of philosophy and former director of Mason’s Women and Gender Studies Program, Bergoffen has worked within the context of the continental philosophical and multidisciplinary feminist traditions, exploring issues at the intersections of epistemology, ethics and politics.

Bergoffen has edited several books and many articles in her area of expertise.

Her book, The Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Gendered Phenomenologies, Erotic Generosities details the significance of Beauvoir’s singular philosophical voice and examines the impact of her thinking on contemporary philosophical theory and current feminist thought.

She has taught courses in existentialism, phenomenology, and feminist theory, including seminars in various figures in these traditions.

“I've known Debra Bergoffen my entire career at George Mason. She has been, through all that time, ever helpful and ever thoughtful,” College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Jack Censer said. “On academic matters, she has listened to my rather theoretically-challenged ideas and brought the reason of a philosopher to help me through my muddle. As far as academic politics goes, she's been a sure guide both ethically and strategically. George Mason will not be the same without Debra Bergoffen.”

Bergoffen chaired the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies from 1980-1987, was Director of the Women's Studies Program from1998-2002.

“Whether it's about Simone de Beauvoir or human rights, the fine points of theoretical argument or the give and take of global campaigns for social justice - when Debra talks, people listen,” said Dr. Nancy Weiss Hanrahan, Associate Professor of Sociology and current Director of the Women and Gender Studies program. “And hers is always a thoughtful, powerful and deeply compassionate voice.”

Bergoffen received George Mason's Distinguished Faculty Award in 1989 and Teaching Excellence Award in 1993. She was the recipient of the College of Arts and Sciences' Award for Scholarship winner in 2004.

“By bringing people together who deal with each of these issues, the symposium will challenge us to think about the body as an issue in itself,” said Bergoffen. “It will, I hope, be the beginning of getting us to think about developing an ethics of the body.”

Attendance is free.

For more information about the symposium, call the Philosophy department at 703-993-1290 or Click Here.


  • Professor Debra Bergoffen, George Mason University
  • Professor Ellen Feder, American University
  • Professor Robin May Schott, Aarhus University
  • Professor Gail Weiss, George Washington University

Guest Panel

  • Professor Lynne M. Constantine, George Mason University
  • Sara Regina Mitcho, George Mason University
  • Laina H. Saul, George Mason University
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