Classics and Faith with Tobias Phillip ’20

Tobias Phillip is a freshman from Brooklyn, NY studying Classics. We talked with him about what we can learn from the past and religious life at Swarthmore.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I was born in Brooklyn to an overbearing Jewish mother and diminutive Indian father. Disdaining the company of other children, I was sustained by opera, ecclesiastical architecture, and New York City’s diverse ethnic cuisines. Because I’ve always enjoyed actualizing my intellectual potential through copious amounts of reading and writing, I decided to study Classics at Swarthmore.

What drove you to study classics?

I am thoroughly dissatisfied with the depthless banality that categorizes postmodernism. I believe in a mystified world, and think that neither empirical science alone nor a shallow secular humanism can fill the void that religion has left. Ever since I was a little catholic boy with few friends, I retreated to medieval scholasticism as a world where extravagant reasoning could coexist with deep faith in perfect concord. I’m fascinated by how interconnected the religious and philosophical act used to be, and that has its roots in ancient philosophy. In restoring an understanding of our civilization’s classical heritage, I hope we can revitalize the ancient sense of wonder and reverence that’s been dulled by the leveling force of consumerist mass culture.

You serve as an editor for Peripateo, the Christian journal at Swarthmore. What advice would you give students who want to deepen their faith at Swarthmore?

While religious groups certainly exist at Swarthmore, my religious experience here has been decidedly individual. As in other areas of personal development, Swarthmore can motivate genuine searching, questioning, and deepening of religious faith. I’d recommend other students to take advantage of our campus’s natural surroundings and spaces for silent meditation; the crum affords a lovely area for contemplating the spheres. More importantly, don’t disconnect the intellectual and spiritual. I’ve found classes in any subject, as long as they’re taken with a genuine sense of wonder and curiosity, can allow for meaningful probing of God, man, and creation.

You’re also the secretary for the Swarthmore Conservative Society. What do you think of being in a conservative political group at a predominantly liberal school?     

I find students here fairly open minded, respectful, and, for the most part, willing to engage with diverse perspectives. A conservative will likely find himself weighing his words and in constant disagreement with nearly the entire campus very often, but I seize these experiences as opportunities for growth. Constantly being challenged facilitates the strengthening and reforming of one’s ideas.  It’s very easy to pronounce anathema on all liberalism and retreat to a monastery, in fact I’ve considered that quite often. Eventually, however, one finds oneself in need of cool vintage clothing, and for that one must venture to a trendy liberal area.

What are you looking forward to the most for your time at Swarthmore?

Graduation. I’m very content at Swarthmore, don’t get me wrong, but I’m most excited to move on to graduate school. If I have to choose something within my actual time here, it would be my honors thesis. I realize it will be stressful, but what a culmination of my work it will be to finish that!


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