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A journal for undergraduate philosophers

By Bradley West '13
January 29, 2013

Staff members of The Reed include (from left) Bailey Wheelock '15, Thomas Churchill '14, Emelia Carroll '13, Jon Erik Haines '14, Katherine Kihs '13, and Devin Orchard '13 (not pictured).

Every year since 1998, a group of St. Olaf College students has published The Reed, an undergraduate journal containing everything from reflections on anxiety to analyses of Soren Kierkegaard's poetic language to essays on Friedrich Nietzsche's metaphors.

The journal is devoted to exploring existentialism, a branch of philosophy concerned with the individual's lived experience and search for meaning in an apparently meaningless world.

"The Reed exposes students to the life-applicable ideas of existentialism. In modern society, questions of despair, alienation, anxiety, and responsibility have become a seemingly inherent part of the collective consciousness," Editor-in-Chief Katherine Kihs '13 explains. "As an organization, we hope to quell such anxieties and accentuate the modern relevance of existentialist ideas."

Although St. Olaf students may do their fair share of thinking on existential themes, especially during the cold winter months, the editors don't limit themselves to publishing only on-campus work. Instead, they solicit submissions from undergraduate institutions around the country, looking for high-quality, original scholarship on thinkers like Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. In past years The Reed has published work from students at Colorado College, Carleton College, Luther College, and Syracuse University.

The cover of one of the most recent issues of The Reed.

This year the publication is managed by Kihs and an editorial board consisting of Emelia Carroll '13, Thomas Churchill '14, Jon Erik Haines '14, Devin Orchard '13, and Bailey Wheelock '15.

The college's long-standing devotion to scholarship on Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher considered to be the founder of existentialism, explains why St. Olaf has a journal like The Reed. St. Olaf is home to the Hong Kierkegaard Library, a special collection that features the same editions of the books that the philosopher consulted while writing his works, as well as secondary resources related to existentialism in general. The Kierkegaard library provides funding and support for The Reed's publication.

Because so many topics and so many thinkers fall under this philosophical field, The Reed's editors come from a variety of backgrounds and interests.

"I first got involved in The Reed because I was interested in incorporating existentialism into my poetry," Kihs explains. "But since then I've become more concerned with exploring the philosophical issues more deeply for their own sake."

Kihs studied existentialism for the first time in a philosophy class taken during her senior year of high school. When she came to St. Olaf, she further explored the topic in Professor of Philosophy Gordon Marino's course on existentialism, which spurred her to join The Reed's editorial staff. Since then she has also taken part in the Kierkegaard Library's Young Scholars Program, in which students from around the country closely study Kierkegaard's texts and draft their own research papers.

"Existentialism was the first philosophy I encountered that dealt with big, important themes like life and death and that spoke to my everyday life," Kihs explains. "Studying existentialism and philosophy in general has been very edifying and a huge part of my experience at St. Olaf."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or