Cornel West is not particularly interested in being nice. He recently left Harvard—after his second tour as a professor there—and he made sure to post his resignation letter on Twitter: The school’s “narcissistic academic professionalism,” “anti-Palestinian prejudices,” and what he saw as indifference toward his mother’s recent death constituted “an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths.” Last week, the CNN commentator Bakari Sellers told Jewish Insider that West toys with anti-Semitism in the same way that former President Donald Trump deploys racist tropes. “That’s a cowardly lie of a desperate opportunist,” West told me.
And yet, when he’s not rumbling with one of his enemies, West is eager to find common cause with people he disagrees with—including, occasionally, political pariahs. He proudly recounted to me his days of debating with Meir Kahane, the Jewish nationalist who was convicted of domestic terrorism, and he has unapologetically spoken beside Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who frequently espouses anti-Semitic views. West takes issue with those on the left who believe that white people are hopeless, or that people who violate progressive orthodoxy should be canceled. “White brothers and sisters, brown, red, or yellow—they are capable of transformation,” he said. “Salvation is not in our hands anyway.” If West does not feel completely at home on the left because he is a Christian, neither does he feel completely at home in the church, which, in his view, has failed to stand up for working people. Perhaps the famous academic is only truly comfortable in the role of outcast.
I spoke with West about whether the left needs Jesus and much more. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Emma Green: Your first big book was Prophesy Deliverance! You called for a radical reimagination of America, grounded in Black Christian thought. Do you see any evidence that now, 40 years later, Black Christian socialist thought has more cultural or political influence than it did when you were writing that book?
Cornel West: In many ways it has much less. That book was published in 1982. The legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King Jr. was much stronger at that time. What I’ve always tried to put forward is the best of a tradition of Black people—people who, in the face of 400 years of chronic hatred, have dished out love warriors; in the face of 400 years of fear, have dished out freedom fighters; and in the face of 400 years of trauma, have produced wounded healers and joy spreaders. That’s a very rich spiritual and moral tradition. We live now in a moment of profound spiritual and moral decay. In 2021, the tradition that I was talking about is a much feebler tradition. The market has taken over.
Read: Black activism, unchurched
Green: Over time, the Democratic Party has become less grounded in theological conviction. There are now more religiously unaffiliated Democrats than there are Democrats who are part of any other religious group. What explains that, in your view—the left moving away from faith?
West: In responding to Reagan, the Democratic Party tried to triangulate. They tried to steal the thunder from the Republican Party. They cut back on corporate taxes. They allowed for the deregulation of corporations. They celebrated the unleashing of the market forces. They also cut back on social support for the poor. Their base became the professional-managerial class. And the managerial class is less religious than working-class people. It is less religious than poor people. It’s highly educated, right? But you can be miseducated just like you can be educated.
Green: But on the actual left—among the Democratic Socialists of America, say—how many of those people do you think are deeply religious or motivated by theological concepts of justice?
West: It’s a good question. It’s partly generational. The DSA goes back to 1982. At that time, it was much more tied to the trade-union movement. These days, most of the real fire in DSA is the younger generation, especially since AOC’s entrée onto the public stage. My hunch is that those younger brothers and sisters and comrades are deeply spiritual, but many of them have distanced themselves from the churches and the mosques and the synagogues.
Green: Why is that?
West: Because they failed. Mainstream Christianity is a colossal failure in terms of standing up for poor people. You get prophetic Christians, Catholic Workers, certain nuns. You get Black churches concerned about prisons. But for the most part, mainstream Christianity has been concerned with what American culture has been concerned with, which is success. And success has never been the same as spiritual greatness.
Green: So do you think the left needs God? Do the young Democratic Socialists of America need Jesus?
West: As a Christian, I think everybody could gain much by having a relationship with Jesus. But I think the left can teach Christians like myself very much in terms of their willingness to speak in a courageous way to the “least of these,” to echo the 25th chapter of Matthew: the poor, the orphan, the widow, the exploited. They’ve done a much better job than most churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. The marketization of Christianity and Judaism and Buddhism and Islam is something to be resisted in the name of the prophetic element of those religions. But that prophetic dimension is weak. It’s pushed to the fringes. And so you end up with those prophetic elements aligning themselves with deeply secular forces.
Green: It sounds like you think Jesus might feel more at home at a DSA meeting than in a lot of American churches today.
West: Oh, there’s no doubt about that in terms of the depth and scope of their love for poor people. But at the same time, Jesus did found his church. I think Jesus is looking for all of those who will deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow him.
Green: Some theologians would say, “Okay, maybe many of the things DSA members believe are similar to those of Dorothy Day. But that small detail of whether they actually believe themselves to be following Jesus and accept his salvific power is a really important small detail.”
West: It certainly is. I don’t want to downplay that. There’s no doubt about that. In the end, Jesus wants to be embraced. His power, his love, and the grace of God mediated through his own work and witness is important. But those who would accent doctrine and dogma and have very little love in their hearts and very little courage to fight for the poor—Jesus would be the first to say, as does Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, that’s sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. That’s empty. It’s vacuous.
Green: In our political culture, accumulating power necessarily involves a trade on principles. Democrats, for example, are now the most frequent users of dark money, allowing very rich people to hide their identities and funnel cash to candidates. Is that an impossible tension for the left to reconcile?
West: The Democratic Party can have access to a lot of big money at the top. But if its priorities are not on poor, working people, then it just ends up reproducing the same forms of poverty, social misery, and subordination of working people to capital. The Democratic Party has not used its power to empower poor people. When Obama had a chance to bail out Wall Street or homeowners, what did he do? He doesn’t send even one person to jail, given all of the crimes of insider trading, market manipulation, predatory lending, and fraudulent activity. But 58 percent of Black homeowners lost their houses. That’s downward mobility. That’s redistribution of wealth from the below to the top, reinforced by the Democratic Party.
Green: It seems to me that on the left, especially among many white people, there’s this secular Calvinist moment happening—a dawning realization that we’re stained with sin before we’re born and we have no power to change our sinfulness. You see this in racism self-help books like White Fragility. The trouble is that this notion of sin isn’t accompanied by a framework of salvation or atonement or redemption. It’s Calvinism without the Jesus part. What do you make of this struggle on the left?
West: I think the jump is not from sin to salvation. There’s a mediating stage of conversion and transformation. I’m with Augustine here, that we are forever in an endless battle of trying to become better Christians. Even as we convert, sin is still persisting. But we are making progress because the grace available to us is a gift that empowers us to try to make better choices. If somebody says, “You can’t love white folks these days,” then how are you going to love Arabs? How are you going to love the Palestinians? They have a low priority in a way that’s precisely the kind of witness we need. Anytime people tell you not to love others—don’t love gays, don’t love lesbians, so forth—that’s precisely, for Christians, a sign of the need to embrace.
Green: What exactly does that look like in a moment when the culture is very much preoccupied with the way that whiteness can be toxic?
West: First you point out to your white brothers and sisters the rich history of white people fighting against white supremacy, from Myles Horton to Anne Braden to Vito Marcantonio to Tom Hayden to John Brown. The list goes on and on. They went against hatred; they went against greed; they went against fear in order to go a better way. If they can do it, then you can. White brothers and sisters, brown, red, or yellow—they are capable of transformation. Salvation is not in our hands anyway. Ours is in the trying; the rest isn’t our business. That’s T. S. Eliot. He’s right about that.
Read: The vortex of white evangelicalism
Green: Do you feel out of step with the way that many people on the left think about this question of the redeemability of white people? Most progressives don’t reach for Augustine to think about the nature of sin.
West: That’s true. And my dear brothers and sisters on the left have their own perspectives on this thing. We come together in terms of analysis and, oftentimes, practice. But I do have a Christian root that is profoundly grounded in this sense of, as W. H. Auden put it, “How do I learn how to love my crooked neighbor with my crooked heart?”
When I was in Charlottesville, looking at these sick white brothers in neo-Nazi parties and the Klan spitting and cussing and carrying on, I could see the hounds of hell raging on the battlefield of their souls. But I also know that there’s greed in me. There’s hatred in me. People say, “Oh, you’re so qualitatively different than those gangsters.” I say, “No, I’ve got gangster in me. I was a gangster before I met Jesus. Now I’m a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities.” It is a very different way of looking at things than many of my secular comrades.
Green: One characteristic of what I’ll call this secular Calvinism is a strong sense of associational stain. Certain people are persona non grata, and we cannot associate with them. And moreover, we have to shame anyone who does associate with them. Throughout your career, you’ve bucked that. You’ve spoken beside Louis Farrakhan, even though, as you know, he has said things that are blatantly anti-Semitic. And to name someone completely different, you have appeared many times beside Robby George, the conservative Princeton professor who is staunchly anti-abortion and doesn't believe in same-sex marriage.
Is there a line? Is there ever an instance when this notion of associational stain is appropriate?
West: Whatever deep disagreements I have with my dear brother Minister Louis Farrakhan or with my dear brother Robby George, my love is deeper. When the biblical text says one should allow nothing to get in the way of one’s love for God and neighbor, we have to take that seriously. I’m not saying everybody has to follow that. That’s my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Many Christians would say I’m wrong. There’s a whole host of Christians who would send me straight to hell. I thank God that they’re not in control of things.
Read: T.D. Jakes on how white evangelicals lost their way
Green: I want to ask specifically about Robby George because, as you know, his views are very conservative, especially when it comes to human sexuality and the nature of human personhood. Those views would be deeply anathema to many on the left. Have you gotten pushback and rejection for being willing to stand beside him and call him your friend?
West: Oh, absolutely. Very much so. I just tell them quite explicitly that love is never reducible to politics, and brotherhood is never reducible to agreement on public policy.
I think Robby is wrong on a number of issues. We’ve talked about it in public and private. But that doesn’t mean he's got some kind of taint—that you can’t be in the same room with him, you can’t have a conversation with him, you can’t argue with him. That’s true not just about Robby. That is true for anybody who I have deep disagreements with.
Green: You haven’t always taken a tack of gracious engagement with difference. Just to give an example, you recently supported Nina Turner in the special congressional election in Cleveland. Her opponents put up billboards with her quote about Joe Biden, where she said that supporting Biden is like telling people, “‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you. And all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.” You called Barack Obama a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface.” What is the point of engaging graciously and civilly with Robby George, but then trashing Joe Biden or Barack Obama?
West: Well, I’ve trashed Trump a zillion times, too, as a neo-fascist gangster. I’ve trashed a whole lot of Republicans. But you see, strong language is not the only focus when it comes to taking a stand. I imagine that when Jesus was running out the money changers, his language was not polite. But it wasn’t the language that was the focus. It was his love of poor people.
When sister Nina Turner talks about Biden, and how voting for him is a thing of S-H-I-T, what she has in mind is that Biden was an architect of mass incarceration and the new Jim Crow. All those lives being lost is much worse than her language of S-H-I-T. The same would be true in terms of his ties to Wall Street. You know how many lives were lost because Obama and Biden opted for Wall Street rather than homeowners? So to call somebody a Black mascot of Wall Street really is very weak given the level of social misery that resulted.
People come to me and say [uses a high-pitched voice], “Oh, you called Obama the Black mascot of Wall Street! That’s the worst thing possible!” No, what’s worse is promoting a policy on the back of working people. So you’re right. When we have a disagreement, we’ve got to be very honest. And sometimes when you’re honest, lo and behold, the language can become hyperbolic.
What does Cornel West teach? ›
Dr. West teaches on the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as courses in Philosophy of Religion, African American Critical Thought, and a wide range of subjects — including but by no means limited to, the classics, philosophy, politics, cultural theory, literature, and music.Is Cornel West Smart? ›
West's closest friends knew he had an unbelievable intellect, but he was never obnoxious or condescending. “He's imposing in that he's so smart, but he doesn't make you feel like an idiot when you're around him,” Monroe says.Does Dr Cornel West have children? ›
Cornel WestWho is Dr Cornel West married to? ›
Cornel WestWhat is the philosophy of Cornel West? ›
West's work focuses on American society and the roles that race, gender, and class have on it. His contribution to the field of philosophy is grounded in the African American Baptist church, Marxism, pragmatism and transcendentalism.What is examined life about Cornel West? ›
Examined Life pulls philosophy out of academic journals and classrooms, and puts it back on the streets. Filmmaker Astra Taylor accompanies some of today's most influential thinkers on a series of unique excursions through places and spaces that hold particular resonance for them and their ideas.Who is the most younger professor in the world? ›
The initial letter posed a series of sharp questions about sanctions levied against Comaroff, who it described as “an excellent colleague, advisor and committed university citizen.” But professors began to pull their support for the letter after a federal lawsuit filed against Harvard on Tuesday detailed years of ...What is Cornel known for? ›
Its graduate schools include the highly ranked S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, College of Engineering, Law School and Weill Cornell Medical College. Cornell is also well known for its top-ranked College of Veterinary Medicine and the highly esteemed School of Hotel Administration.How much is Cornel West speaking fee? ›
The estimated speaking fee range to book Dr. Cornel West for live events is $50,000 - $100,000, and for virtual events $30,000 - $50,000. Dr. Cornel West generally travels from Princeton, NJ, USA and can be booked for (private) corporate events, personal appearances, keynote speeches, or other performances.
How long did Cornel West teach at Harvard? ›
In a resignation letter shared on social media, West cited "superficial diversity" and "political prejudices" as reasons for leaving the Ivy League school. Monday night, West published his one-page letter, claiming that after 15 years teaching at Harvard, his tenure application was rejected.Who influenced Cornel West? ›
Cornel WestHow old is Dr Cornel West? › Does Cornel West have a PHD? ›
Cornel first arrived on Princeton's campus in 1973 to begin his doctoral work, and in 1980 earned a Ph. D. in philosophy.How much does Cornel West make? ›
Cornel West Biography.
|Celebrated Name:||Cornel West|
|Profession:||Philosopher, political activist, social critic, actor|
Lesson Summary. Western philosophy originated in ancient Greece. The term philosophy translates from the Greek love of wisdom. Its key figures were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.What is the motto of a Western philosopher? ›
Answer: Plain living and high thinking' is the motto of western philosopher.Who was the founder of Moral Philosophy in the West? ›
Aristotle's moral philosophy is a pillar of Western ethical thought. It bequeathed to the world an emphasis on virtues and vices, happiness as well-being or a life well lived, and rationally motivated action as a mean between extremes.What is the meaning of an examined life is not worth living? ›
Meaning of – An unexamined life is not worth living.
Through this statement, Socrates means that an unexamined human life is deprived of the meaning and purpose of existence. To become fully human means to use our highly developed faculty of thought to raise our existence above that of mere beasts.
Ultimately, by living an examined life, we are giving ourselves an amazing gift. We receive a sense of freedom, clarity and thus, peace. Again Socrates reiterates: “We must examine and understand the universe that dwells within [our] own soul.”
What do you think is having an examined life mean? ›
Socrates is said to have exclaimed that an unexamined life is not worth living. This has been interpreted to mean 'a life enriched by thinking about things that matter: values, aims, society'. ET CONTRIBUTORS. Jun 15, 2021, 11:18 PM IST.How many years does it take to become a full professor? ›
How long does it take to become a professor? It can take at least eight years of college education to become a professor. Completing postdoctoral education or gaining working experience in one's field can add to the time it takes to earn a faculty position.How many years does it take to become a professor? ›
How Long Does It Take to Become a Professor? In addition to requiring a bachelor's degree and occasionally requiring a master's, the overall average time to complete a doctoral program is around five to seven years nationally, about 5 years on average for U.S. nationals and 6 years for international students.Can I be a professor without a degree? ›
Hopeful professors must continue their education with a graduate degree. Generally, those who want to work as professors at community colleges are required to earn a master's degree, while those who want to teach at four-year colleges and universities should earn a doctorate.Does a letter from Harvard mean anything? ›
It does mean that the student scored high enough in a standardized test to catch the attention of Harvard. It does NOT mean that Johnnie is Harvard bound. Most colleges buy lists of students from the ACT and SAT that have scored above a certain score.How religious is Harvard? ›
Harvard University has no religious affiliation, but various opportunities for worship are available on campus.Why are grad students suing Harvard? ›
"All of this, Plaintiffs allege, was due to failings in Harvard's Title IX process, which is designed to protect star faculty and allow Harvard to downplay credible accounts of sexual misconduct," the students' attorneys wrote. "The Title IX investigation found that (Comaroff) was motivated only by concern for Ms.Why is Cornell so great? ›
According to Times Higher Education, Cornell's programs relating to life sciences are the 14th best among all universities in the world. In addition, Cornell is known for its stellar research programs.What is Cornell's motto? ›
Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York, and is known as a private research university. The Cornell motto, which reads “I would build an institution where every person can obtain instruction in any discipline,” has been used by the university as a guiding concept throughout its history.What is Cornell mission statement? ›
Cornell is a private, Ivy League university and the land-grant university for New York state. Cornell's mission is to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge, to educate the next generation of global citizens, and to promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community.
How much is a keynote speaker paid? ›
Average Keynote Speaker Costs
Intermediate Keynote Speakers: $500-$1,500. Established Keynote Speakers: $1,500-$5,000. Advanced-Level Keynote Speakers: $5,000-$25,000. Celebrity Keynote Speakers: $25,000-$100,000.
In fact, most experienced public speakers, if they've written a book or established expertise in a specific area, can earn anywhere between $5,000 – $25,000 for a presentation.How much does it cost to hire a keynote speaker? ›
Generally, fees for keynote speeches begin around $7,500, with the average national keynote fee being $10,000. For celebrity speakers and top business experts, fees can range from $20,000 to $40,000 and up. For well-known personalities, fees are usually over $50,000.Who is the youngest Harvard graduate? ›
Eugenie Carys de Silva is an academic known for being the youngest person to ever graduate from Harvard University. De Silva completed her masters in Intelligence Studies at age 13.Who is the youngest Harvard professor? ›
Noam Elkies is a mathematician who became the youngest tenured professor at Harvard University at age 26. Elkies is also known for disproving Euler's Sum of Powers Conjecture, a 200-year-old mathematical theory.Who was the first Black man to graduate from Harvard? ›
Harvard's first Black graduate, Richard T. Greener, went on to become the first Black professor at the University of South Carolina and dean of the Howard University School of Law. Born in Philadelphia in 1844, Richard T. Greener moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his parents at age nine.What is Zizek's philosophy? ›
Žižek believes that ideology has been frequently misinterpreted as dualistic and, according to him, this misinterpreted dualism posits that there is a real world of material relations and objects outside of oneself, which is accessible to reason.Who is Cornel West daughter? › Where did Cornell West go to college? ›
Cornel WestIs Cornel West in a fraternity? ›
Although little is known about West's initiation into the fraternity, the professor and activist proudly stated his admiration for Alpha Phi Alpha during a 2010 interview with Golden Sky Media.
What is Cornel West doing now? ›
Dr. Cornel West, affectionately known to many as Brother West, is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary.What is the musical vocation in our bleak times? ›
Cornel West's lecture, “The Musical Vocation in our Bleak Times,” was anything but dreary. West believes music is a vocation, not a profession, grounded in the spirit and speaking truth with honesty and integrity.What is the youngest person with a PhD? ›
The youngest person to be awarded a PhD is the German child prodigy Johann Heinrich Friedrich Karl Witte (born 10 July 1800; better known simply as Karl Witte), who received his doctorate from the University of Giessen, Germany, on 10 April 1814 at the age of 13 years 283 days.Who holds the most PhD? ›
Benjamin Bradley Bolger (born 1975) is an American perpetual student who has earned 17 degrees as of March 2022 and claims to be the second-most credentialed person in modern history after Michael W. Nicholson (who has 30 degrees). Like Nicholson, Bolger is from Michigan. Flint, Michigan, U.S.What GPA to get PhD? ›
With GPA, it is recommended that students have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA and around a 3.5 discipline-specific GPA to remain competitive for Ph. D.What does Dr Cornel West teach? ›
Dr. West teaches on the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as courses in Philosophy of Religion, African American Critical Thought, and a wide range of subjects — including but by no means limited to, the classics, philosophy, politics, cultural theory, literature, and music.Does Cornell West have children? ›
Cornel WestDoes Cornel West have a podcast? ›
Helpful Topics. As we navigate the balance between hope and uncertainty, we invite you to join Dr. Cornel West & Professor Tricia Rose on The Tight Rope, a weekly program where we welcome listeners and guests as thought collaborators.How much does it cost to book Cornel West? ›
Cornel West is a keynote speaker and industry expert who speaks on a wide range of topics including Authors, Civil Rights and Creativity. The estimated speaking fee range to book Dr. Cornel West for live events is $50,000 - $100,000, and for virtual events $30,000 - $50,000. Dr.What denomination is Union Theological Seminary? ›
Does Cornel West teach at Princeton? ›
Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is a Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University.How much does it cost to book Yo Gotti? ›
The estimated speaking fee range to book Yo Gotti for your event is $50,000 - $100,000. Yo Gotti generally travels from New York, NY, USA and can be booked for (private) corporate events, personal appearances, keynote speeches, or other performances.How much does it cost to book 2 Chainz? ›
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TMZ shared that if anyone's looking to book Cardi B for an upcoming gig, she wants at least $300,000.What religion is a union church? ›
Union is a non-denominational Christian Church.What's the difference between seminary and Bible College? ›
Bible college and seminary are very similar in that they impart religious education to their students. Still, while a Bible college gives undergraduate education, seminaries usually give postgraduate education, a Master's degree up to the Doctorate level, that prepares graduates for a ministry role.What denomination is Trinity seminary? ›
The first African American to enter Princeton as an undergraduate during peacetime was Joseph Ralph Moss. A resident of Princeton, Moss entered the University in the autumn of 1947 and graduated on June 12, 1951.What denomination is Princeton? ›
The Seminary remains an institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), being the largest of the ten theological seminaries affiliated with the 1.2-million-member denomination.Why did JFK leave Princeton? ›
He left Princeton in December due to a gastrointestinal illness that put him in the hospital, and later transferred to Harvard, where he graduated with the class of 1940.