Biography:Christia Mercer

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Christia Mercer
NationalityUnited States
Alma materBrooklyn College (B.A.); Princeton University (Ph.D.)
Scientific career
FieldsEarly modern philosophy, Feminist Philosophy
InstitutionsColumbia University

Christia Mercer is the Gustave M. Berne Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, the Director and Founder of the Center for New Narratives in Philosophy at Columbia University, editor of Oxford Philosophical Concepts, co-editor (with Melvin Rogers) of Oxford New Histories of Philosophy, and the president of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, 2019-20.[1][2][3][4][5]

Early life

Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Mercer studied art history before living in Rome where she studied Latin with Reginald Foster at the Gregorian University. She received a PhD in Philosophy  from Princeton University in 1989 and a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the Leibniz Archives in the University of Münster in 1984.[6]


Mercer has been the Guest Professor, Seminar für Geistesgeschichte und Philosophie der Renaissance, University of Munich, 2003; gave the Ernst Cassirer Lectures at the University of Hamburg, 2006; and was visiting professor at the University of Oslo (2012-15).

Some of her fellowships are from: Humboldt Foundation (1993-94), NEH (2002), Herzog August Bibliotek, the American Academy in Rome (2013), the National Humanities Center (2012), Harvard’s Villa I Tatti Library (2015), the ACLU (2015-16), and  the Folger Library (2016). In 2012, Mercer was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship [7][8][9][10] and in 2018-19  was chosen to be the Mildred Londa Weisman Fellow at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies.[11] From 2004 to 2015, Mercer was the North American Editor for Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie. Her teaching awards include the 2008 Columbia College Great Teacher Award[12] and the 2012 Mark van Doren Award, which annually recognizes a professor for her "commitment to undergraduate instruction, as well as for humanity, devotion to truth and inspiring leadership."[13]

At Columbia, Mercer has been active in interdisciplinary pursuits. From 2010-2012 and 2013-2014, she was the Chair for the Core Curriculum course, Literature Humanities, an interdisciplinary course on the masterpieces of Western literature and philosophy taken by all first-year undergraduates at Columbia College.[14] She was the Director for the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia from 2000-2001. She has also written articles on plagiarism,[15] Literature Humanities,[16] and queer identity[17] for the Columbia Daily Spectator undergraduate newspaper. She appears in Pat Blute’s Hardcore as a naughty professor, a comic comment on Literature Humanities and the Core Curriculum at Columbia.[18]


Mercer began her career working primarily in early modern philosophy. Her book, Leibniz's Metaphysics: Its Origins and Development (CUP, 2001),[19] offers a new interpretation of Leibniz's philosophical development.[20][21][22][23] She has published widely on Leibniz and on the diversity and importance of early modern Platonisms.

Mercer has begun to devote herself more and more to contextualizing the history of philosophy. She has designed a book series, Oxford Philosophical Concepts, that enlists prominent international scholars to think creatively about the "lives" of concepts in the history of philosophy. As of 2018, there are more than 20 volumes in various stages of production, and 11 published.[24] These include Animals, Dignity, Efficient Causation, Embodiment, Eternity, The Faculties, Memory, Moral Motivation, Pleasure, Self-Knowledge, and Sympathy.[25] Each of the volumes traces the historical development of central philosophical concepts and includes interdisciplinary "reflections."[26] She is also the editor of the Oxford New Histories of Philosophy series, which she launched with the late Eileen O’Neill[27] and now co-edits with Melvin Rogers,[28] and which "speaks to a growing concern to broaden and reexamine philosophy’s past".[29] The first book in this series is titled Mexican Philosophy in the 20th Century (2017) was edited by Carlos Alberto Sanchez and Robert Eli Sanchez.[30] Mercer has written about about the importance of inclusive history of philosophy in op-eds for the New York Times and the Washington Post.[31]

Motivated by her friend, Eileen O’Neill, she has become increasingly devoted to discovering and articulating the ideas of early modern and late medieval women.[32] Her paper, “Descartes’ Debt to Teresa of Ávila, Or Why We Should Work on Women in the History of Philosophy,” in Phil Studies, August, 2016, exposes Descartes’ debt to Teresa of Ávila. Alongside her book on the philosophy of the English philosopher, Anne Conway,[33] she is publishing a new edition and translation of Conway’s Principles,[34] with Andrew Arlig, Marcy Lascano and Jasper Reid. Her forthcoming book, Feeling the Way to Truth: Women, Reason and the Development of Modern Philosophy, argues that historians of philosophy need to rethink core assumptions about seventeenth-century philosophy and that the writings of women play a much more significant part in that history than has been recognized.[35]


Mercer's Twitter profile describes her as a "sometimes activist."[36] In 2015, she was the first Columbia University professor to teach in a prison as part of Columbia’s Justice In-Education Initiative.[37] At Taconic Correctional Facility, she taught female prisoners texts including the Aeschylus's Oresteia, Euripides's Medea, Aristophanes's Lysistrata, and William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. She has been active in the education and prison reform movements, publishing op-eds and posts in the Washington Post and other outlets about philosophy's gender bias, the history of Christianity, and the prison-industrial complex.[38][39][40][41][42] In 2015, her post on the Columbia prison divestment campaign was publicly challenged by Jonathan Burns, director of public affairs for the Corrections Corporation of America, who accused her of making "multiple misleading and false statements about our company." Mercer's response argued that "Mr. Burns’s demand for corrections exemplifies the tortured logic of the corporation he represents."[43]

Mercer is the founder of the Rethinking Justice initiative, which is “encouraging collaboration among philosophers and social activists to explore social issues, especially concerning criminal justice reform.”[44] Her experience with teaching incarcerated students was featured in a nationally broadcast segment on CBS This Morning and described in her op-ed for the Washington Post and in a piece about her experience for Columbia News.[45][46][47] She has also taught in Metropolitan Detention Center, a Federal Prison in Brooklyn, which she wrote about in NBC Think.[48] Since early 2018, she has organized mini-courses that are available to the men of Metropolitan Detention Center.[49] Each year, roughly 250 MDC men graduate from a mini-course, and a dozen professors and two dozen Columbia undergraduates take up the opportunity to teach.[50]

Recent awards and positions

  • Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, 2018-19.
  • Fellowship, Folger Shakespeare Library, Spring, 2016.
  • Senior Professor, Villa I Tatti, Florence, Italy, Fall, 2015.
  • Resident Fellow, American Academy, Rome, Italy, Spring, 2013.
  • Sovereign/Columbia Affiliated Fellowship, American Academy, Rome, Italy, 2010-11.
  • Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy, 2009–present.
  • Great Teacher Award, Society of Columbia Graduates, Columbia College, 2008.
  • Gustave M. Berne Professorship in the Core Curriculum at Columbia College, 2003-2009.
  • North American Editor, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 2002–2015.
  • Guest Professor, Centre Alexandre Koyré, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, December 2003, November 5, December 7.
  • Ernst Cassirer Lectures, Ernst Cassirer Guest Professorship, Philosophy Faculty, University of Hamburg, Spring 2006.


  • Oxford New Histories of Philosophy, Series Editor (co-edited with Melvin Rogers)
  • Oxford Philosophical Concepts, Series Editor
  • Early Modern Philosophy: Mind, Matter, and Mechanism (co-edited with Eileen O´Neill), Oxford University Press, 2005.[3]
  • Leibniz’s Metaphysics: Its Origins and Development, Cambridge University Press, 2001; paperback edition, 2006.


  1. "Columbia Faculty Page". Columbia University. Retrieved 12 October 2018. 
  2. Mercer, Christia. "Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 22 October 2018. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Early Modern Philosophy: Mind, Matter, and Metaphysics". Oxford University Press Catalog. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  4. "Christia Mercer" (in custom). 
  5. "The American Philosophical Association" (in en). 
  6. "Biography". Retrieved 2018-10-22. 
  7. Leiter, Brian. "Three philosophers win Guggenheim Fellowships". Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  8. Budd, Jeremy (16 April 2012). "10 professors win Guggenheim Fellowships". Columbia Daily Spectator. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  9. "Christia Mercer's Guggenheim page". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  10. "Eight Columbia Profs Win Guggenheim Fellowships". Bwog. Bwog. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  11. "CNNP Director Christia Mercer Awarded Radcliffe Fellowship". 
  12. Toure, Madina (24 October 2008). "Profs Honored With Teaching Awards". Columbia Daily Spectator. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  13. "Mercer, Lurie Receive Van Doren, Trilling Awards". Columbia College Today. Summer 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  14. "Faculty Profile: Christia Mercer". Columbia University. Archived from the original on 1 November 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  15. Mercer, Christia (31 March 2011). "Cheating and Dante's Hell". Columbia Daily Spectator. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  16. Mercer, Christia (9 September 2010). "Lit Hum and the Examined Life". Columbia Daily Spectator. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  17. Mercer, Christia (10 February 2008). "21st Century Feminism or the Need to "Be Queer"". Columbia Daily Spectator. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  18. Blute, Pat. "Hard Core: A Columbia Odyssey". Bwog. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  19. Mercer, Christia (2001). Leibniz's Metaphysics: Its Origin and Development. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521403014. 
  20. Hawthorne, John (28 March 2003). "Active or Passive?". Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  21. Look, Brandon. "Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  22. McDonough, Jeffrey. "Leibniz's Philosophy of Physics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  23. Youpa, Andrew. "Leibniz's Ethics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  24. "Christia Mercer" (in custom). 
  25. "Oxford Philosophical Concepts". 
  26. "Oxford Philosophical Concepts". 
  27. "Eileen O'Neill Memorial Fund". 
  28. "Oxford New Histories of Philosophy Series Editors' Foreward". 
  29. "Oxford New Histories of Philosophy". 
  30. "Oxford New Histories of Philosophy Published Volumes". 
  31. "Biography – Christia Mercer" (in en-US). 
  32. "Eileen O’Neill, 1953-2017 (obituary by Christia Mercer) - Daily Nous" (in en-US). 
  33. "Christia Mercer | Department of Philosophy". Retrieved 2015-09-15. 
  34. "Christia Mercer" (in custom). 
  35. "Feeling the Way to Truth: Women, Reason, and the Development of Early Modern Philosophy" (in en). Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. 2018-07-18. 
  36. "Christia Mercer (@christiamercer8) | Twitter". Retrieved 2015-09-15. 
  37. "Philosophy Professor Teaches Core Classics at Women’s Prison | Columbia News". Retrieved 2015-09-15. 
  38. Strauss, Valerie (2015-06-18). "The lessons of Juneteenth still matter 150 years later" (in en). The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. 
  39. Strauss, Valerie (2015-06-16). "Radical Pop-Up Schools: A new way to reach educationally disadvantaged communities" (in en). The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. 
  40. Anderson, Nick (2015-04-28). "Philosophy’s gender bias: For too long, scholars say, women have been ignored." (in en). The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. 
  41. Mercer, Christia (2015-03-24). "I teach philosophy at Columbia. But some of my best students are inmates." (in en). The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. 
  42. "Sorry, Fox: Obama Was Right About Christianity's 'Terrible Deeds'". Retrieved 2015-09-15. 
  43. Strauss, Valerie (2015-07-15). "Update: Columbia University divesting from private prison companies. Why other schools should too." (in en). The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. 
  44. "Rethinking Justice "About"". 
  45. Why NY is expanding top tier higher education in prisons,, retrieved 2018-10-22 
  46. "I teach philosophy at Columbia. But some of my best students are inmates." (in en). 
  47. "Columbia News" (in en). 
  48. "Opinion | Reading gives prisoners hope. States want to take it away." (in en-US). NBC News. 
  49. "Pedagogy of Dignity Workshop". 
  50. "Pedagogy of Dignity Workshop". 

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