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Even though existentialism is a 20th century philosophy, Laura Seymour ’01of Sewell, N.J., a graduate of Clearview Regional High School, sees similar ideas in the writings of Shakespeare and others.

Under the direction of Patricia A. Donahue, associate professor of English, Seymour is writing an honors thesis entitled “Existentialism and Its Precursors.”

Seymour sums up the existential view this way: “Every choice you make determines the path of your life, and then you die.” She says she first became interested in it when she read some works of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre in high school French class.

“During senior year we started reading literature about existentialism, and when I saw a philosophy course on it here, I took it,” Seymour says. “I loved it.

“At first I found it abstract and difficult to grasp, but then I began to understand it, so I wanted to continue with it after the course was over,” she continues. “Many people find it too negative, but I’m drawn to it.”

She says she has noticed similar ideas in Shakespeare and other authors she has studied in literature classes.

“I would like to explore the ways in which existential theories and ideas existed in literature before the development of the philosophy,” she explains. “Representations of what would eventually be labeled as ‘existential’ can be found in early literary texts. Perhaps existentialism found its roots in these texts.

“I would like to look at the ways the literature itself played a role in this development,” she continues. “What does this say about the ideas themselves? Why did existentialist ideas become particularly popular or apparent in the 1930s and 1940s?”

In addition, Seymour says, she may examine the role the philosophy plays in contemporary literature and the differences between writers in Europe and America. “The research is different from any other I have done before because it is so in-depth. I am reading texts in a way they are not commonly read.”

Donahue, a member of Lafayette’s faculty since 1985, is director of the College Writing Program. A specialist in rhetorical theory, critical theory, and Renaissance literature, she has published a book on critical theory and pedagogy.

She adds that Lafayette’s Skillman Library has proven the perfect location to do research and she gets a lot done there.

“The professors are great, and my adviser has given me a schedule that helps me keep on top of my work,” says Seymour, who is a Writing Associate in the College Writing Program and a member of Alpha Phi sorority.

Categorized in: Academic News