Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy


The origins of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy can be traced back to Harvard University during the 1950s. It was at that time that a senior member of the Harvard Department of Philosophy, John Wild, began teaching courses on phenomenology and existentialism, and in collaboration with some of his graduate students compiled a paraphrase translation of Heidegger’s Being and Time. During this period Professor Wild hatched the idea of a new professional society devoted to the examination of recent continental philosophy, and in particular the works of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. The name of the projected society had not yet been determined, and it was only after Professor Wild left Harvard in 1961 to become Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy at Northwestern University that his vision of a professional society for phenomenological and existential thought became a reality, facilitated by the generous support of Northwestern University and its premier philosophy program in recent continental philosophy.

It was in the spring of 1962 that Wild’s long-time plans for a professional society devoted to a discussion of phenomenology and existentialism were put into action. The planning for the first meeting took place in the seminar room of Brentano Hall, which housed the Northwestern Department of Philosophy. The committee in charge of the planning included John Wild, the newly appointed Head of the Northwestern Department of Philosophy; his two Northwestern University colleagues, William Earle and James Edie; George Schrader of Yale University; and Calvin Schrag, a former student of John Wild at Harvard, who had recently accepted an appointment at Purdue University.

The first meeting of the society took place at Northwestern University on October 26-27, 1962. Robert Scharff, who at the time was one of the graduate students at Northwestern in charge of arrangements for the initial meeting, recalls that some sixty invitations were sent out, with some forty of the invitees attending the inaugural gathering. Presentations included topics in phenomenology of perception, existential aesthetics, value theory, the life-world, the emotions, and expressive meaning. Selected papers from the first and second meetings of the society (both held at Northwestern University) were edited by James Edie and published by Quadrangle books of Chicago in 1965, under the title An Invitation to Phenomenology: Studies in the Philosophy of Experience.

— Calvin O. Schrag