Citizen of the world: Professor of French Eric Touya
CLEMSON – Professor of French Eric Touya came to Clemson 11 years ago from the “south-west of the south-west of France,” somewhere between Dax and Bayonne, near the birthplace of Vincent de Paul and Maurice Ravel, and not very far from illustrious authors and thinkers like Montaigne and Montesquieu. It’s about as far away from South Carolina, geographically and culturally, as one can get—but Touya has made it his life’s work to bring those two worlds together and show his students the Earth is much smaller than we imagine.
“Eric Touya brings to Clemson the best of the philological and enlightened European traditions of thought. It is a tradition of research and teaching rooted in the evolution of ideas and the inalienable concept of citizenship,” said Salvador Oropesa, chair of Clemson’s Department of Languages. “The idea is that we, students and professors, are citizens of the world, with rights and duties; we learn from the past to make a better future. Dr. Touya has been a champion of the Language & International Trade program because it puts together the humanities and the ethical creation of wealth to make a better world.”
Touya researches and teaches the French language and 19th-21st century Francophone culture (cultures shared by groups of French-speaking people from different areas) and literature courses. He emphasizes interdisciplinary approaches to literature, art, theory, ethics and society in his extensive list of classes. Some of the courses he offers include studies in French literature and theater that introduce students to authors like Proust, Sartre, Camus and Simone de Beauvoir. His “Contemporary French Civilization” class invites students to approach the social, cultural and political issues that define France in the 21st century. He also teaches a “Francophone Women Authors” class that examines the works of women authors, characters, themes, genres and movements in Francophone literature, and “French Feminism and Theory” in which he explores the works of major figures of French feminism such as Monique Wittig, Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray.
“I enjoy the interaction with the students who are curious learners, and eager to examine through literature major philosophical and political questions but also explore cultures and modes of thoughts different from their own,” said Touya. “I am particularly interested in the progress each student can make and I like to impart to them a certain rigor and a sense of enjoyment.”
While he loves bringing French language and culture to his students in the classroom, his favorite thing is bringing the classroom across the ocean to France.
“A defining moment for me was when I began to co-lead in 2010 with Col. Lance S. Young the ‘Paris-Normandy program’ through which Clemson students revisit the journey of American soldiers during WWII in Normandy, Paris and Northern France,” he said. “I felt a bond with the students as an American, even though I am originally from France, as we reflected on the past and paid homage to Clemson students who now rest in Normandy and gave their lives for the liberation of my native country and the world.”
Touya continues to lead groups of American students to France every summer, offering them the opportunity to learn about their country’s and world history “but also about themselves.”
In his free time Touya enjoys the beauty of Clemson’s campus, and of nearby wilderness areas like Table Rock Park. He received his D.E.A. in Comparative Literature at the Université de Paris IV, Sorbonne, and his Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago. He received the John B. & Thelma A. Gentry Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities in 2012 and the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service in 2017. His most recent book is Simone de Beauvoir: le combat au féminin (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France/Humensis, 2019).