Reconstituting the Constitution -- Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR
National Public Radio feature on Constitution Cafe, December 10, 2011
He Has a Few Questions for You -- Los Angles Times, 2002
Los Angles Times feature about Socrates Cafe, the precursor to Constitution Cafe
"The United States needs constitutional change, but how to get it done? Christopher Phillips has the right answer. Get Americans talking to Americans about how we can improve our nation. Phillips has combined the approach of Socrates and the wisdom of Jefferson to show us the way." -- Dr. Larry J. Sabato, author of "A More Perfect Constitution" and Director, University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“To date, Phillips has orchestrated discussions on … Solomonic topics at nursing homes, maximum-security prisons, churches, homeless shelters, bookstores and coffeehouses across the country, gently prodding students, urban professionals, unreconstructed slackers, street people and others to share their worldviews and scrutinize their most basic assumptions.” –Los Angeles Times
"Chris Phillips is a wonderful writer, philosopher and teacher who has a deep passion and commitment for the public humanities. We worked with Chris as part of our Searching for Democracy project and he was a star. He traveled across California and facilitated meaningful and important dialogues in all kinds of communities. (Chris is fluent in Spanish, which is particular important for our state.) -- Ralph Lewin, President and CEO, Cal Humanities
CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS has a passion for inquiry. A foremost specialist in the Socratic Method, he reminds us that we ought to ask questions – “not about any chance question,” as Socrates put it in Plato’s Republic, “but about the way one should live.”
Dr. Phillips, recipient of the Distinguished American Leadership Award and, most recently a Fellow with the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that the process of dialogue and the space of human interaction are good for us as individuals and essential for us as a society. At a time when there are widening rifts between Americans, and when American culture is frequently perceived as exclusionary and self-involved, Phillips encourages us to approach others with greater openness and less fear. His goal is to inspire curiosity and wonder, to nurture self-discovery and democracy.
To this end, Phillips has inaugurated Constitution Café and Socrates Café dialogue projects, and is the founder of the nonprofit Democracy Cafe. These groups aren’t just about good conversation, however. “It’s grass-roots democracy,” as Phillips told Time magazine. “It’s only in a group setting that people can hash out their ideas about how we should act not just as an individual but as a society.”
“Phillips induces his listeners to examine their assumptions rationally, in hopes they will see the way to improving the meaningfulness of their lives. These dialogues are intriguing, interesting, and often unexpected, as Phillips modestly considers himself a fellow inquirer, rather than a didactic instructor.” —Booklist
In his first bestseller, Socrates Café (2001), Phillips travels across America, launching philosophical discussion groups designed to stimulate inquiry and debate. In Six Questions of Socrates (2004) and Socrates in Love (2007), he expands the scope of his explorations, engaging in spirited and provocative discussions with Japanese fifth-graders, Somali refugees, a Mexican museum worker, an Israeli university student, and Korean Buddhists, among others. These conversations reveal surprising points of intersection between classical philosophy, modern life, and the intellectual richness of societies far removed from Western philosophical tradition.
To date, Phillips has helped create more than 500 ongoing discussion groups around the world. In the words of Time magazine, “Socrates Cafés have found a surprisingly large and diverse following.” The subjects under discussion are Life’s Big Questions: love and friendship, work and fulfillment, justice and religion, death and aging.
Phillips’s newest project, Constitution Café, is a space dedicated to the Jeffersonian idea of freedom: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In these groups, a broad cross-section of actual and aspiring Americans grapple with how they would sculpt the United States Constitution if they could start from scratch. In his upcoming book, Constitution Café (W.W. Norton, 2011), Phillips describes what led him to hit the road once again and launch an initiative aimed at generating a new, nationwide Constitutional Convention. Energized by the initial optimism surrounding Obama’s presidency and the fierce partisanship infecting Congress, Phillips wants Americans to understand and challenge our most fundamental freedoms—with a little help from Thomas Jefferson. Most recently, Phillips presided over the summer-long 'Next 10 Amendments' crowd-sourcing project for the National Constitution Center -- the most participatory online project they've ever had -- and also facilitated a three-day Socratic seminar on the Constitution at the Aspen Institute.
“If challenging received wisdom can be a precarious occupation, Phillips believes it’s as necessary now as it ever was,” says the Los Angeles Times. “America, he thinks, is politically and spiritually adrift, a condition not unlike that facing Greece in the time of Socrates.”
Phillips—who earned his PhD in Communications, and who has Master’s degrees in the humanities, the natural sciences, and in education, as well as a bachelors degree in government from the College of William & Mary —is a noted author, and Executive Director of pro-democracy nonprofit Democracy Cafe (www.DemocracyCafe.org). Dr. Phillips frequently lectures on such topics as “The Idea of Democracy,” "Reinventing the Constitution," "Socratic Questioning and Democratic Citizenship," and 'Discovering Uncommon Common Ground."
"Dear Chris, I have received such wonderful feedback from the school districts who sent the kids to your event. The kids apparently told their teachers that it was their best, most stimulating field trip ever! Indeed one remarked to me at the event--and I found this especially touching—“He treated us like adults. He really wanted to know what we were thinking.” You are an amazing person--and I am honored to know you--and was simply so touched and just astonished by what you did before the audience. It was that rare thing--inspiring in the best way--!” -- Sheila Black, Executive Director, Gemini Ink, San Antonio, TX, and Coordinator of Speakers Series on Breakthrough Thinkers.
Constitution Café: Jefferson's Brew for a True Revolution (W.W. Norton, 2011)
Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Passionate Heart (W. W. Norton, 2007)
Six Questions of Socrates (W. W. Norton, 2004)
Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy (W. W. Norton, 2001)
Ceci Ann's Day of Why (Tricycle Press, September 2006)
The Philosophers' Club, illustrated by Kim Doner (Tricycle Press, 2001)
Join Christopher on Twitter @ChristopherCafe