Heather Ohaneson

B.A., magna cum laude, Barnard College (2003)

M.A., Columbia University (2008)

M.Phil., Columbia University (2010)

Ph.D., Columbia University (2013)


Heather C. Ohaneson holds a Ph.D. in religion from Columbia University, where she studied philosophy of religion with Wayne Proudfoot and Mark C. Taylor. She broaches her primary research interest of ethics in an interdisciplinary way, drawing on ancient Greek philosophy, nineteenth-century thought, and Jewish and Christian theology. Within ethics, she inclines toward the everyday, giving consideration to issues such as friendship, walking, and play.

In her dissertation “Free to Play: An Analysis in Aesthetic, Ethical, and Religious Movements,” Dr. Ohaneson analyzes an array of sources such as Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society, Schleiermacher’s Monologen, Pascal’s Wager (§418 of the Pensées), and Plato’s Laws, bringing them to bear on forms of play, which range from the play of children to improvisation. She does so in order first to ascertain what relationship holds between play and freedom and then to see how the activity of play—and the attitude of playfulness—might contribute to a flourishing human life. She contends that the dialectical interplay of liberty and limitation constitutes the essence of play and that the free engagement of constraints is a proper feature of eudaimonistic ethics. She seeks to enact the claim that constraint has the potential to foster freedom by structuring the study according to Søren Kierkegaard’s aesthetic, ethical, and religious categories of existence. Following this project, she will turn to a study of the limitation of reason in the philosophy of Pascal and Kierkegaard.

Dr. Ohaneson is delighted to return to the Contemporary Civilization classroom as a Core Lecturer. Closely related to her investment in teaching is her interest in civic engagement. In addition to working for Eugene M. Lang’s non-profit organization Project Pericles, she has led a Teagle-funded initiative, “Freedom and Citizenship,” with New York City high school students.