Meet the Professor: Theo Christov

26 Sep
Theo Christov

Prof. Theo Christov

Hi UHP-ers,

During the New Faculty Orientation, just shortly before the rocky and earth-shattering welcome Washington gave me, an incoming professor in the Sciences asked me what I will be teaching at GW. When I told him Intellectual History, he looked at me, quite puzzled: ‘So is the rest of history then… non-intellectual?’. After that question, I could not bring myself and tell him that my primary appointment is, in fact, in Honors. Imagine, intellectual history and honors: could one get any more snobbish, I am sure he would have thought. And yet, the pursuit of ideas is more than an academic title: it is a journey.

It is this journey for ideas that brought me to America when I was your age. The journey began in the early 1990’s when I was a freshman in high school, learning English for the first time. I had received a 1992 calendar-book from the Voice of America- the venerable voice of truth in Communist Bulgaria, where I grew up. The calendar had photographs of the most famous Washington landmarks, which, frankly, reminded me of imperial Rome. Little did I know that, two decades later, I would end up living right here, in Washington.

My road to Washington, however, was via the panhandle of north Texas and rural southern California. I left my family in Bulgaria to attend a small college in north Texas, but I left the Lone Star state only too early, barely having finished my first academic year, to attend a tiny liberal arts college just north of Los Angeles, where students lived in trailer houses surrounded by herds of cows. What drew me to idyllically bucolic Thomas Aquinas College was not the 11pm curfew every night, nor the strict dress code for its 250 students, nor the Latin prayer before each class, nor the completely separate dorms for men and women. Instead, I was drawn to the College’s curriculum in the Great Books. Our teachers were Plato and Aristotle, Newton and Descartes, Mozart and Lobachevsky: we read their works and grappled with their ideas. I never imagined that I would end up attending college in California- I still remembered the Washington photographs from my calendar. As soon as my freshman year was over, I packed up my AC-less 13-year old Audi and drove across the country to spend the summer in Washington! I loved the capital city so much that I had to come back the following summer, this time as a summer student at Georgetown and an intern at a think tank. If only for a summer, I thought to myself, I could look like a ‘normal’ student, like those GW undergrads! The great ideas I was reading about in college began to mix with my experience in Washington. It was not until I left college that I began to read for the first time interpretations of the Great Books, or ‘secondary sources’, as they are commonly known. As one of only a handful of non-Catholics and an even smaller handful of non-Americans, I stood out amongst my 53 peers of my college graduating class.

While reading the great minds for four years was one of the most intellectually stimulating periods in my life, I needed more of the historical context to understand these works. The study of history was not a pursuit that Thomas Aquinas College considered central to its mission and for that reason I wanted to continue my studies: this time with a focus on history. As a Masters student in Religion and Society at Harvard, I continued my journey for ideas. It was at Harvard that I realized that my knowledge would somehow be incomplete unless it is shared in common with others, and it is there that I decided to pursue a PhD so that I could make teaching my life career. But my journey was riddled with numerous detours: would it be a PhD in History or Political Science? I was never able to answer that question for myself quite fully, but I did decide to study under the supervision of intellectual historians at UCLA, some of whom were in Political Science while others in History.

While at UCLA, I focused largely on the history of political thought, primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries, and on the theory of international relations. The two don’t seem intuitively related and that is why in my dissertation, Leviathans Tamed, I showed how contemporary theorists of international relations had largely de-historicized the nature of these early modern debates. Shockingly, as I argue to the dismay of international relations scholars, Hobbes- along with a number of early modern thinkers- was not the progenitor of international anarchy, as it is so widely assumed, but the proponent of a much more cooperative international domain. It is indeed possible to tame the beastly Leviathans.

After completing the PhD, my journey for ideas took me to the Windy City, where I taught Political Theory in the Political Science Department at Northwestern for three years. Part of my teaching focused on political theories of empire from Rome to Washington; on the history of international thought; and on the history of cosmopolitanism, from antiquity to the present. Another part of my teaching focused on introducing students to political theory, in lecture courses of about 200 students, where I developed the habit of walking up to the regularly napping students in class.

In addition to teaching the ideas of dead men, my other passions in life include running and traveling. I completed my first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, on 10-10-10 and my next goal is to improve my timing for the next one. Rock Creek Park is certainly not as easy as the flat lakefront of Chicago! I also love to travel and explore far-away places- so far, I have been to over 30 countries. Fiji is definitely up on top of my list of favorite places. Just as I love to travel, I also like to try various kinds of cuisine and what a better place to do that than in Washington!

Many of you may spot me on campus pretty much at any time of the day or night and that is because I live barely a block from the Honors Program. This year I serve as a faculty-in-residence and live at Lafayette Hall, where my apartment is conveniently located on the same block as my office, and, perhaps less conveniently, directly above the student lounge of Lafayette!

One of my goals would be to teach a course I have already taught at Northwestern, Political Theories of Empire from Rome to Washington, though this time with the fresh eyes of living in Washington. How far can we recognize the legacy of ancient Rome in contemporary Washington?

I can’t wait to meet all of you and hear your stories. If not at Lafayette Hall, you will find me typing away in my office at Phillips 327. Feel free to come by for a cup of tea! And remember, the road to Washington may take several detours!

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