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Travel and Wisdom

Literature throughout the ages have extolled the virtues of travel. In the Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey, travel was an integral part of the heroic journey and the quest for knowledge of self and others. Inspired by this idea, the Greek historian Herodotus believed that observing the world was necessary for anyone who sought wisdom. Many ancient Greek and Roman philosophers have echoed this sentiment, arguing that travel was essential for personal development: voyaging not only spurred intellectual creativity and contemplation, it also fostered a sense of empathy for others. To embark on a journey was thus to open oneself up to a world of intellectual, spiritual, and social possibilities. For these writers, it was travel that enhanced understanding, sparked curiosity, and cultivated a sense of social awareness: “wandering” (aleteia), in short, led to “truth” (aletheia).

The world’s religious traditions have also understood the significance of travel as vital for appreciating how the divine and human worlds intersect. From Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad to the Buddha, Lao-tzu, and Gandhi, many of the world’s most influential religious figures were sojourners whose travels prompted spiritual reflection and generated fundamental insights into the nature of reality. Following in their paths, contemporary pilgrims past and present have utilized journeying as a mechanism for deepening personal spiritual commitments and forging connections with larger world communities. Travelers, in short, dissolve boundaries of thought and experience. It is in this spirit of fearless exploration that the Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu encouraged his students to “cast aside country, break with tradition, and travel on.”

An eighteenth-century maxim notes that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” In our transnational and globalized world, this observation has not lost its relevance. As a department that understands the value of the “book,” we actively encourage students to explore the cultures of the world as part of their liberal arts education.