Richie Nojang Khatami
As multiculturalism has faced mounting criticism in Canada, it has become evident that new approaches are needed to find viable solutions for peaceful coexistence, cooperation, and social integration. To this end, my research proposal looks to the increasingly compelling human capability of empathy. Specifically, it asks: Can empathy aid political communication and cohesion in a multicultural society like Canada? And if so, what kinds of institutions, social structures and practices are most likely to cultivate and support empathy across differences? To develop the response, I synthesize two sets of research areas. On the one hand, I examine the existing work of social theorists on multiculturalism, and on the other, the recent findings of psychologists on empathy. The working objective of this project is to show that empathy is a fundamental faculty that can be used to enhance multicultural policies, given that institutions can be designed to support empathic connections.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
Discovering and engaging with texts, old and new, and finding ways to apply them realistically to the concrete realities of political life.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
The inspiring natural surroundings – the mountains, the freshness and greenness of the city.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I had heard great things about UBC in general, and the Political Science department in particular, but it wasn't until I completed my MA here that I realized how rewarding the experience could be. I was constantly exposed to new ideas, new approaches, new horizons for thinking; the generosity and expertise of the faculty helped me see that there would be no better place to continue my studies.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
Democratic theory, the history of political thought and critical theory are among my main research interests, and the department here is very strong in all three of those areas. All of the professors I’ve worked with are also open to interdisciplinary approaches and willing to engage with literature, sociology and psychology. In my view this open-mindedness is crucial in cultivating fruitful scholarly research.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Finding a home in academia and at the same time staying grounded in social life. Dwelling in an in-between space while striving to bring about positive social change.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
I think that UBC generally has a great vibe in that most people here are upbeat about making a difference, being involved in the community and beyond. This, along with its great academic reputation, makes it an ideal place for future educators, innovators and leaders. The political science program has some of the best scholars in the world and I’m confident that working with them will give me a nice head-start in pursuing career opportunities and making an impact in the field.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
Taking time off in between degrees and having the chance to pursue non-academic writing have been really important for me, as I’ve had a chance to prepare myself mentally and not have to sacrifice the things I’m passionate about.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I spend a lot of my time reading and writing fiction, and when that’s no longer fun or relaxing (!) I try to get out more. I enjoy the occasional drink and the occasional soccer game. I like digging for old records and listening to them. I watch a lot of foreign films. I love to travel.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
I find it's very helpful to have pursuits outside of the academic realm. Engagement with the community, sports and the occasional trip outside the city are all good ways to keep a clear head and find fulfillment outside the rigorous routines of coursework.