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Brother West and Jeff Sharlet

Cornel West.jpgIf you haven’t already decided to attend Union Theological Seminary Professor Cornel West’s lecture on Thursday at 4:15pm in 105 Dartmouth, you need to re-work your schedule. West will speak on “Scholarship, Diversity, and Social Change” as part of the “Seeds of Change: Gender, Scholarship, and Social Justice” lecture series. I know, I know, an event with such a buzzword-laden title is rarely promising, but West is the real deal. I’d go a long way to listen to him lecture on any subject at all.

English Professor Jeff Sharlet, the subject of a short Dartblog profile this past Saturday, wrote a fine piece on West in 2009 for Rolling Stone: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West. Brother Jeff’s essay is well worth a look in preparation for West’s talk. Note: for West, everyone is a brother or sister, including figures like Brother Fyodor (Dostoyevsky), Brother Leopardi and Sister Bette (Davis). Sharlet notes:

I hope students from across the spectrum will attend Cornel West’s talk. He’s one of the most engaging orators I’ve heard, whether speaking on politics or poetry, radical Christianity or the Jewish prophetic tradition, African-American life or America’s “hotel civilization.” I spent months visiting West at Princeton, at public events, and in the classroom. When I wrote the article that began as “The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West” in Rolling Stone and evolved into “Begin With the Dead” in my book, Sweet Heaven When I Die, I left out the classroom. Now that I have a classroom of my own, I wish I’d written more about West as a teacher. West’s presence in the undergraduate seminar I sat in on was thrilling; charismatic, yes, but most interesting as he drew out the intellectual charisma of students. He helped them be fearless in their examination of texts all but a few classics majors would usually dismiss. West commits himself to what he calls “deep education,” padeia. That’s rare. Combined with wit and style and an omnivorous mind, it’s exhilarating.

Prior to returning to Union Theological Seminary last year, where he had been a member of the faculty in 1988, West taught at Yale (1984-87), Harvard (1994-2002) and Princeton (1988-1994 and 2002-2012).

Addendum: To my farflung correspondents, there is no doubt that, ideologically, West is a loose cannon. He would not have my vote for President. But the academy is for people with challenging ideas. He qualifies eminently.

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