Modern Stoicism, Ltd has been an official non-profit organization since incorporating in 2017. Those of you who started reading Stoicism Today, participating in Stoic Week or the SMRT course, or going to the international Stoicon conferences before that likely remember that time of transition. But as Stoicism worldwide attracts more and more interest, and many new people start studying, practicing, and inquiring about it, we thought that it is probably time to provide an overview about the Modern Stoicism organization.
Sometime down the line, we’ll likely produce a sort of mini-documentary about the rise of interest in contemporary applications and interpretations of Stoicism over the last few decades and how that brought together a number of philosophers, psychotherapists, and professionals from other fields into a growing conversation about ancient Stoicism adapted to modern times. Suffice it to say that – as far as the Modern Stoicism organization goes – the original conference in 2012, and the following “Live Like A Stoic” week that came out of it, are one main starting point.
From that point onward, the working group regularly held an annual conference with talks, workshops, and symposia – what developed into Stoicon – and hosted the online class called “Stoic Week”, which did indeed (and still does) invite people to incorporate Stoic ideas and practices into their daily life to see what differences it makes for them. They also started the blog you’re reading right now, Stoicism Today, originally edited by Patrick Ussher. And from early on, the team began engaging in quantitative research about the effects of practicing Stoicism.
Over the years, the organization and the community it serves has grown considerably. New members came on while some of the original founders retired from the team. Additional projects were undertaken, and many of them came to be integral and recurring parts of our work. We consolidated the Stoicism Today blog with the Modern Stoicism website, and built up a significant base of readership. We actually do so many different things now that it might be hard to keep track of some of them – all the more reason for providing an overview here!
Modern Stoicism’s Mission
Every company has a set of purposes. These provide an ethos, a mission, a direction, and accountability. For Modern Stoicism, there are six main purposes
- to disseminate knowledge and encourage discussion about Stoic philosophy and practices and their applications to modern living
- to reach as many people from around the world as possible with our work and provide opportunities for them to explore Stoicism, whatever their orientation or interpretation with respect to Stoicism
- to provide accurate and reliable information about Stoic philosophy and practices, and in doing so to maintain continuity with classic forms and sources
- to focus on the application of Stoicism to everyday problems of living in the modern world
- to conduct philosophical inquiry into, and empirical research on, Stoic philosophy and its applications to modern living, in order to advance our knowledge of its benefits
- to represent a broad spectrum of views on the subject by including people who approach Stoicism from different theoretical perspectives, personal backgrounds, and religious, political, or cultural commitments;
Those are some significant tasks, and keep all of us on the team continually busy and occupied. Some of us focus more on certain of these tasks, and the things we do also often favor one of these purposes more than the others. But that is the scope of our activities and planning.
Stoic Week, SMRT, and Other Potential Courses
Each Fall, Modern Stoicism selects one week to run the free online course that is, straightforwardly enough, called “Stoic Week”. This year, Stoic Week is planned to run from Monday October 19 to Sunday Oct 25. Participants are provided with a Stoic Week Handbook (which we update and revise a bit each year), a set of guided meditations voiced by Donald Robertson, and access to the online course site. Each day has a particular theme, specific exercises, and readings to engage with.
The Stoic Week course is largely intended for newcomers to Stoicism, or for people who might have read some Stoic literature but haven’t actually tried putting it into consistent practice. I personally find that it’s also a useful exercise for those who have been studying and practicing Stoicism for some time, as a bit of a regular “tune-up”.
Donald Robertson (and this year, collaborating with him, Tim Lebon) also provides on a more occasional basis a more in-depth and longer class called Stoic Mindfulness and Resiliency Training, or SMRT for short. That course is also provided free to the public worldwide. We always announce when SMRT course is coming up in the Modern Stoicism social media and here in Stoicism Today, so that anyone interested can sign up with plenty of lead time.
We have been kicking around the idea of designing additional courses with different focuses connected to Stoicism. As soon as we’ve arrived at any decisions about those, and committed to the work required to develop, host, and run those courses, you’ll find out about here
One key aspect to the courses that we provide about applying Stoic principles and practices is gathering data that we can use to determine with some scientific rigor whether or not practicing Stoicism really does make a difference for people (it turns out that it does). We’ll say a bit more about that below.
Stoicon (and Stoicon-X) Conferences
One of the coolest things – in my view – that Modern Stoicism does is holding annual conferences, called Stoicons (Stoic + Con – or “get your Stoic On”), where those attending have the opportunities to hear a variety of established and up-and-coming speakers give talks about Stoicism. They also get to engage in more intensive hands-on workshops with some of the speakers and to meet and have conversations with others as interested in Stoicism as they are. These usually take place the weekend before Stoic Week in the Fall.
In the past, Stoicons have been hosted in London, New York, Toronto, and Athens. This year, due to COVID-19, Stoicon will be virtual, and we will have much more information coming out about that here when the schedule has been entirely worked out. Suffice it to say that we won’t be allowing a contemporary plague to prevent us from getting together as the modern Stoic community in some way this year! Once we’re able to resume meeting in person (hopefully in 2021), the plans are for Stoicon to alternate between Toronto and London locations.
For a number of years, around the time when Stoicon and Stoic Week take place, there have also been smaller, more local Stoicon-X events. Think of them as analogous to TED-X events in comparison to the big TED conferences. In the last few years, Stoicon-X events have taken place in London, New York, San Leandro, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Newton, Toronto, Moscow, Madrid, Athens, Brisbane, and Bogota.
Just as with the main Stoicon, this year Stoicon-X events will have to be virtual, but that isn’t preventing a number of the local organizations that have previously hosted them – and even some newcomers – from starting their planning for online Stoicon-X events. This will likely have the effect of making the local Stoicon-Xs a bit more international, which strikes me as a good thing for the worldwide modern Stoicism community. There has already been one so far this year, officially hosted in Ghent, and featuring Massimo Pigliucci and Donald Robertson.
There are, it should be pointed out, some clear guidelines for what can count as – and call itself – a “Stoicon-X” event. This year, Modern Stoicism will be expecting local Stoic communities who wish to host a Stoicon-X event, and to bill themselves as such, to sign an agreement with Modern Stoicism. This will ensure that those events will be done for the public interest rather than for profit, and that certain standards will be met.
Stoicism Today – The Blog and the Books
As mentioned above, early on, Patrick Ussher – one of founding member Christopher Gill’s graduate students at the University of Exeter – started a blog called Stoicism Today. It had several different functions – publishing work on Stoicism, publicizing activities like Stoicon and Stoic Week, and providing notices about modern Stoic events or writings. Under Patrick’s editorship, it developed a solid base of readers and became one of the premiere places online to go to for quality pieces on modern Stoicism.
In 2016, Patrick stepped down as editor, and I took up that role. We also moved the blog over from the University of Exeter website to its present location. Since then, we’ve published hundreds of posts, some of them contributed by Modern Stoicism team members. The vast majority of posts, however, are contributed by guest authors, many of whom I’ve worked with to develop or improve their essays prior to publication. (If you’re interested in contributing a post, here’s something you’ll want to read).
Like the Modern Stoicism organization itself, Stoicism Today has a set of purposes that guide its activities:
- to increase public awareness of the Modern Stoicism organization and its activities (including Stoic Week, STOICON, and the SMRT course).
- to be an online magazine, posting articles on a wide variety of topics relating to the practice and interpretation of Stoicism, written by a wide variety of authors.
- to publicize courses, workshops, and other opportunities for studying and practising Stoicism
- to allow for conversation between members of the public on a wide range of topics related to Stoicism
- to publish articles of good quality from the blog in a regular Stoicism Today series of books
Some years back, Patrick Ussher published two full edited volumes of selected essays from Stoicism Today. My colleague Leah Goldrick and I are currently at work on a new volume of selected essays from Stoicism Today, and the plans are to publish new volumes on a regular basis once we bring volume 3 out.
Modern Stoicism Videos, Podcast, and Patreon
Modern Stoicism has its own YouTube channel, where viewers can find a number of useful or interesting videos about a wide range of topics.
In particular, if you couldn’t make it to the annual Stoicons to hear the talks and workshops – or you want to go back over them at your leisure – you can do so by checking out their playlists (these even include some Stoicon-X materials as well)
We have also recently started a Modern Stoicism podcast, which is being produced by Adam Piercy. He’s started by interviewing members of the Modern Stoicism team, but will be moving on to carry out regular interviews with a number of other people active in the modern Stoic community. Here are the first several episodes:
- Our Podcast – An Introduction…
- Donald Robertson, Marcus Aurelius, and Alexander the Great
- Massimo Pigliucci, and the Premeditation of Adversity
You can expect to see a number of new podcast episodes coming out regularly over the next few months.
Modern Stoicism also has a Patreon page where people can become supporters of the organization and all of the work that we do. It’s a great way to chip in a bit each month to help us as an organization, and there’s also some perks that patrons can enjoy as well.
Partnerships and Local Organizations
One of the main organizations that Modern Stoicism, Ltd has been partnering with for several years is the Stoic Fellowship. This is a worldwide organization whose main mission is promoting and supporting local Stoic groups, meetups, and organizations. Some of the Modern Stoicism team are also quite active in leadership in the Stoic Fellowship, most notably Greg Lopez.
The Stoic Fellowship has a number of committees devoted to helping in-person (and now virtual) Stoas carry on their own work, including their own Stoic Week events and Stoicon-Xs. The Stoic Fellowship and Modern Stoicism understandably fit together well, carrying out complementary functions.
Modern Stoicism is also partnering with the relatively newer Aurelius Foundation, established in London, and aimed at “shar[ing] Stoicism to help young people consider their journey through life and to support them in planning and living a life that contributes to the greater good.”
Another important new partner organization – which, since it was established by Donald Robertson and Adam Piercey, might be viewed as an offshoot of Modern Stoicism Ltd. – is Modern Stoicism Toronto.
There are several other local organizations founded and run by members of the Modern Stoicism team, all of which have been doing online meetings recently:
- Stoa Nova – run by Massimo Pigliucci
- New York City Stoics – run by Greg Lopez
- Milwaukee Stoic Fellowship – run by me, Greg Sadler
If you go to the Stoic Fellowship site, you’ll find dozens more local Stoic organizations as well.
Research On Stoicism
Quite a few of the members of the Modern Stoicism team engage in academic research and writing about various topics and issues connected with Stoicism. Major scholars on ancient philosophy have been featured as plenary speakers at Stoicon – these include Anthony Long, Julia Annas, Margaret Graver, and (remotely) Lawrence Becker. In addition, we are fortunate to have several other major scholars of ancient philosophy on the team itself, including Christopher Gill and John Sellars. All of these authors engage in substantive academic research on Stoicism, and do so in ways that also inform more popular thinking and practice.
But there’s another kind of research that is also very important to the work and mission of Modern Stoicism, and that is quantitative psychological research on the effects of actually practicing Stoicism. That is precisely why, when we run courses like Stoic Week or SMRT, we gather a variety of types of data. The hopes are to be able to demonstrate in scientific ways that Stoicism can actually make a positive difference in people’s lives. Tim Lebon carries out nearly all of the work involved in that, and if you’ve been reading Stoicism Today for any length of time, you’re familiar with the reports he has been producing for years now. Here’s something Tim himself had to say:
“We are continuing to build an evidence base for the benefits of Stoic practice through our annual Stoic weeks and month-long Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT). These consistently show that practicing Stoicism regularly even for as short a time for a week improves well-being for most people. As mentioned above we will shortly be publishing the results from SMRT 2020 which initial analysis suggests will be very significant.We are most interested in hearing from other researchers and potentially collaborating with them and advising them.
At present Stoic research that is ongoing includes
- Raymond DiGiuseppe with Tim LeBon validating the Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours (SABS) scale and producing subscales
- Alexander Maclellan on Stoicism and cognitive efficiency
- Megan Brown on Stoicism and Empathy in medical students”
So this hopefully gives you some sense of the vast amount of work and activities that Modern Stoicism carries out. If you’d like to help us continue on with this work, consider becoming a monthly Patreon supporter, or make a one-time donation. All of the money donated to Modern Stoicism, Ltd goes to supporting the work that we do and the courses, posts, podcasts, and more that we provide.