Course Instructor: Contemporary European Philosophy (Fall 2022);
Course Co-instructor: Art, Philosophy, and Science (Fall 2022);
Course Co-instructor: Topics in Ethics (Spring 2022);
Course Co-instructor: Studies in Phenomenology and Existentialism (Spring 2022);
Course Co-instructor: Topics in the History of Western Philosophy (Fall 2021).
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Course Instructor, SCTM-2013 What Is Time?, OCAD University, Toronto (Winter 2022; Fall 2021)
Course Instructor, PHIL 3455 Existentialism: 19th Century, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax (Winter 2021)
Course Instructor, PHIL 474 Phenomenology, McGill University (Winter 2020)
Ad-hoc revisions to syllabus upon the COVID-19 outbreak
Teaching Assistant, PHIL 474 Phenomenology, McGill University (Winter 2019, Winter 2018)
Teaching Assistant, PHIL 375 Existentialism, McGill University (Fall 2020, Summer 2020, Summer 2019, Fall 2018, Fall 2017)
Teaching Assistant, PHIL 200 Introduction to Philosophy, McGill University (Fall 2019, Fall 2016)
Guest Lecturer, McGill University
2019-09-12 Husserl’s discovery of “pure consciousness”
2019-07-11 Towards a philosophy of existence: Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein
2019-02-26 Heidegger on the self and its (in-)authenticity
2019-02-21 Existential constitutions of Da-sein: Befindlichkeit, Understanding, and Discourse
2019-01-31 The structure of the question of Being
2018-11-18 Past and future in Sartre’s dualist monism
2018-11-06 Sartre’s notion of facticity
2018-03-01 The relation of priority between inauthenticity and authenticity
2018-02-27 Existential constitutions of Da-sein: Befindlichkeit, Understanding, and Discourse
2018-02-08 What “phenomenology” means in Being and Time
2017-11-08 Sartre’s claim that “existence comes before essence”
My approach to teaching philosophy is based on the conviction that the main role of the instructor is not simply to impart information but to initiate the students into a collective intellectual adventure, in which every individual will find a path that is properly their own. Philosophical thinking is always collective and presumes interlocutors; it is the multiplicity of minds and voices which gives rise to the countless ‘folds’ in great philosophies, making them rich and concrete.
Accordingly, my pedagogy consists primarily of leading the students onto an intellectual ‘forest walk’, familiarizing them with the conceptual topography of the subject and the paths of investigation that various thinkers once treaded or continue to tread. My role is to prepare this field for the diversified growth of the students, to let them see openings for new directions, and to pursue these directions through a dynamic questioning. I exhibit my own philosophizing at work, so that a student can then deviate from my path and find their own voice.
We begin with philosophical texts, but the aim is always to revitalize the thinking activity which once gave rise to the texts. To facilitate this process, I create a lot of opportunities for the students to exchange their thoughts with one another, and, in addition to oral discourse, I structurally encourage them to post their thoughts in writing in an online forum, so that they develop precision when expressing philosophical ideas and receive serious feedback from me and from fellow students. In this way, we build towards an academic community which values rigorous, multifaceted, respectful, and constructive discussion.
I understand that, when explaining complex philosophical ideas to ‘novices’, one tends to vulgarize the ideas so that they become readily digestible. My strategy is not simply to avoid vulgarization and to let what is inaccessible remain so; I believe a philosopher must be ‘timely’ in the sense that they bridge what was thought elsewhere and autrefois with the time in which they live. Like every cultural heritage, the only way for philosophy to be perennial is through perpetual re-expression in the context and in the terms of varying times. Teaching philosophy is the vital locus of this renewing re-collection. Meanwhile, I vigilantly resist being carried away by the unexamined presuppositions of the present age. For philosophy, the greatest enigma is the banality of what seems banal, the obviousness of what seems obvious. The hermeneutic distance a study of philosophical texts creates allows us to develop a wonder in front of what otherwise seems banal and obvious. Striking a balance between accessibility and rigor, the style of my interpretation makes profound insights come to life vividly, without sacrificing richness in depth or flavor.
I have always been keen on enabling a multidimensional learning experience with the help of digital technology. Over the years of teaching, I have developed expertise in online course management, and I always complement in-person classes with slides, guide questions, and lecture scripts. These allowed me to make quick and adequate responses in the rapid shift from in-person to online teaching during the COVID-19 outbreak in Spring 2020, when I was teaching Phenomenology. I re-tailored both my course content and the format of delivery to students’ needs in such an unprecedented situation. The Existentialism course I teach in 2021 was delivered entirely remotely. While I am aware how a flattened online ‘space’ may affect philosophical dialogues, I also manage to make the environment more encouraging to students who are shier in person. These experiences give me an acute sense of how the asynchronous model may add to the traditional synchronous model.
As a teacher, I care most about my students’ intellectual and personal development. I am always as constructive as possible in my feedback to their work. The aim is never to fit them into a definite ideal but to help them go further in the directions of their own inspiration and make their own positions more robust.
Selected Student Comments
Course Instructor, SCTM-2013 What Is Time?, OCAD University, Winter 2022
- The discussions in the actual meeting helped me understand the content, so when we furthered the conversations in the discussion forum it was clear what everyone was referring, too.
- He spends a lot of time on our subjects, and so we are given a lot of context for the concepts outside of the readings. He is also very calm and easy to talk to, so I don’t feel intimidated to ask questions.
- Renxiang was very knowledgeable and approachable which made it very easy to learn from him. He made sure students understood the content before moving on to others and had an organized approach to the layout of the course.
- Renxiang is a very charismatic and enthusiastic teacher and speaking comes naturally to him, the lectures are interesting and engaging.
- This course has helped me practice writing down original thoughts and engage in discussion with students about subjects that I am not well-versed in.
Course Instructor, SCTM-2013 What Is Time?, OCAD University, Fall 2021
- Very approachable and open to students, clearly cared about the class and is deeply knowledgeable of the materials. Really appreciated his teaching overall.
- The professor is clearly passionate about and an expert on the subject he is teaching. He reacts positively to the thoughts of students regarding the subject matter.
- A regular activity of zooming in and out, attending to details and checking in on the larger picture. Dr. Liu creates a genuine human encounter through his open minded and open-hearted engagement with the subject, and with the attendees, and is very open and honest about his own relationship to what’s being talked. Attending his lectures is a very humbling and mind-opening experience, and this is evident in students’ response and engagement as well.
Course Instructor, PHIL 3455 Existentialism: 19th Century, Saint Mary’s University, Winter 2021
- He is very attentive to students, and gives some of the best feedback I have received. I had a problem with paying my Wi-Fi bill this term, and he accommodated me in an incredible way. I can tell he really loves philosophy and really loves teaching, and I am proud to have been his student. The passion he has for us and the subject has made learning from him extremely fulfilling.
- I found the course to be very well organized and each assignment contributed to preparing us for the next. His feedback is also very helpful and his expectations are always made clear to us. The discussions were very conducive to furthering my understanding and I feel much more knowledgeable on the topic compared to before I have taken the course. I hope to take any other course Professor Liu may teach.
- I am very impressed with this class and with his ability to deconstruct complex philosophical concepts. I feel as though Renxiang is a great resource for any student.
- He is so nice and has very helpful feedback and comments on our work. He is a really kind person and I can tell he genuinely cares about us as students and wants us all to do well. He picks super interesting topics and I really appreciate the discussions every Wednesday and how we all answer each other’s questions.
Course Instructor, PHIL 474 Phenomenology, McGill University, Winter 2020
- Renxiang communicated material clearly and effectively. His lectures illuminated otherwise clouded ideas in phenomenology, and he was open to engagement.
- Great pacing, thorough, very thoughtful and clear. Lectures were an incredible help in clarifying often convoluted and dense readings.
- This was definitely the most eye-opening philosophy course I’ve ever taken. The professor was amazingly clear, offered brilliant insight and was passionate about the material. His clarity, organization, mastery of the material and his relevant use of examples made even the most abstract ideas feel accessible and applicable to me in my everyday life.
- I feel far more in command of Heidegger than I thought I would be at the beginning of the course. This was a wonderful, comprehensive, engaging, and challenging introduction for me!
- Mandatory online discussion posting component. At first, I was daunted by this, but I found it to be a really great way to overcome my hesitation with Heidegger and to engage with the professor and my fellow students outside of the classroom. A ton of discussion occurred in these posts, and it was really obvious how much a lot of us were engaging.
- I appreciated that a non-trivial portion of our grade (20%) was allotted to online discussions. This, I feel, pushed me to read Heidegger much more carefully, and practice articulating my own thoughts and interpretations of the material way before having to submit a longer paper.
- I was consistently impressed and grateful that Renxiang would respond himself to our questions and responses on [course management platform]. The feedback itself was helpful and the fact that he took the extra time to do so really made me feel more engaged with the course.
- Very good handling of the Coronavirus crisis.
- Ad-hoc adjustments to the syllabus were laid out really clearly, which was super helpful in the switch to online learning. Slides, reading guides, lecture recordings, and scripts were all posted clearly and promptly on [course management platform].
- Even with the lockdown/quarantine, Professor Liu did phenomenally at providing a video recording, a lecture with slides, and a transcript. His transcript is practically a grade AAA essay, so helpful… I even felt a bit sad at the end, will definitely remember his class for many years to come as one of those highlight moments of my undergrad courses.
Teaching Assistant, PHIL 474 Phenomenology, McGill University, Winter 2019 / Winter 2018
- The lectures given by the TA were incredibly effective as they were well-structured and the topics were explained very clearly. Renxiang does a great job of deconstructing complicated topics into easier-to-digest parts (without losing the meaning of the whole, of course).
- Renxiang was a wonderful TA who consistently held a high standard for himself in this role, delivered clear and insightful lectures when necessary, and made himself widely available to his students.
- It was a blessing to have a Virgil to guide me through the hell of Being and Time.
Teaching Assistant, PHIL 375 Existentialism, McGill University, Fall 2020 / Summer 2020 / Summer 2019 / Fall 2018 / Fall 2017
- Renxiang was a wonderful TA—very responsive, eager to help, kind, constructive, inclusive, and very knowledgeable.
- Renxiang has a very strong grasp of the material and seems to always have an answer for students’ questions, no matter how out there they may seem. He is amazingly good at pinpointing what students say during conferences; often he will draw diagrams on the board within seconds to illuminate what is being said.
- Renxiang gave the best feedback I have ever received on an essay at McGill, highly in-depth and genuinely helpful.
- He made sure to not impose on our understandings of the texts by including his own views, and rather let us come up with different ideas.
- He was respectful of everyone’s ideas and very helpful at explaining things.
- He was especially skilled at maintaining a respectful and safe environment in tutorials, even as we discussed heavy issues.
Teaching Assistant, PHIL 200 Introduction to Philosophy, McGill University, Fall 2019 / Fall 2016
- He tried to get everyone involved without putting people on the spot. Different teaching methods, e.g., flash cards, were used. He was available for questions via email and during office hours. He did not always give the ‘answer’ but directed me in the right direction to find the answer.
- What stood out most about him to me is that he truly cares about his students. He makes a lot of time for us and really wants to help us learn. He doesn’t only concentrate on us getting good grades, he wants us to come out of this class with the sense that we have truly learned something.