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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
September 20, 2004
Volume 40, Number 2

Faculty Spotlight ~ Jesus Ilundain-Agurruza

Philosopher hooks learners with ‘Lord of the Rings’

By Bonnie Gordon

UNM-Los Alamos faculty Dr. Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza, right, teaches a topics course that combines his many passions. Photo by Bonnie Gordon.
Whether he’s matching wits with his students or crossing swords with fellow members of his historic European martial arts class, UNM-Los Alamos Philosophy Professor Dr. Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza is on his toes. This semester, he combines his academic passion with his swordplay for a topics course, “Philosophy and The Lord of the Rings.”

“I’m using ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a way to illustrate different themes and topics,” said Ilundáin-Agurruza. “I think the books can be used to explain my philosophical points in a fun way. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is the excuse to do philosophy, and not the other way around,” he said. “Philosophy is the reigning lord here and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is at its service.”

Ilundáin-Agurruza also uses popular media in his other philosophy classes, including movie clips from films like “The Matrix” and “The Princess Bride” and even cartoons and comic books. He poses logic students a “riddle of the week” with extra credit for inventive solutions.

“Logic has a reputation for being dry, but if you can connect it to fun leisure pastimes, students can see how logic can be used in everyday activities, he said. “It might even save your life!”

“Philosophy is the reigning lord here and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is at its service.”
Ilundáin-Agurruza pursues the Greek ideal — a healthy mind and body. He earned a double major in philosophy and physical education while in college and has a strong interest in the philosophy of sport.

When not in the classroom, reading or training with the long sword, he can be found on his bike. He races competitively and trains up to four hours a day. “I thrive on competition,” he said. “Bicycling helps me to relieve stress and it’s also a good way for me to think, unless I’m doing intense training.”

The broad scope of philosophy attracted Ilundáin-Agurruza to philosophy during his high school years in Pamplona, Spain. “There were no right or wrong answers — that was very intriguing. You could have a true conversation with the teacher instead of just taking notes. I relished that.”

Ilundáin-Agurruza said he values the intensive intellectual training provided by his European high school education but enjoys the flexibility of the American system. He attended college in the United States and received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.

The professor is described by his students as “tough but fun.” Ilundáin-Agurruza’s enthusiasm for his subject is contagious.

“I get ideas from my students and they get ideas from each other,” he said. “The more participation the richer the experience…. I love to teach. I’d wither if I couldn’t teach. I love to be in the classroom with my students.”