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Askwith Essentials: Who Is Cornel West?

What you should know about Harvard Divinity School Professor Cornel West before the Askwith Forum on October 4.

Watch a video of the event.

At the Askwith Forums on Wednesday, October 4, Cornel West, will speak on “Spiritual Blackout, Imperial Meltdown, and Prophetic Fightback.” In a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper after recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the violent protests concerning the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue led to the loss of three lives, West reflected, “We are dealing with the life and death of the American democratic experiment, what I mean by that is the spiritual blackout, the eclipse of honesty and integrity; moral meltdown where there’s no space for prophetic witness of love and justice.”

Here’s what you should know about Cornel West before the forum:

Learning and Teaching

After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Harvard College in 1973, West went on to pursue his M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton. He has taught at multiple universities including Princeton and the University of Paris. He currently teaches at the Harvard Divinity School and within Harvard’s Department of African & American Studies. Some of his courses include Race and Modernity: W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, and Lorraine Hansberry; American Democracy; and The Examined Life: Philosophy Religion and the Crises of Modernity.

Scholarly Work

In Race Matters, published in 1993, West discusses issues of equality and race in the United States. He writes, “To establish a new framework, we need to begin with a frank acknowledgement of the basic humanness and Americanness of each of us. And we must acknowledge that as a people — E Pluribus Unum — we are on a slippery slope toward economic strife, social turmoil, and cultural chaos.” In the book’s 2004 sequel, Democracy Matters, West concentrates on the role of democracy in American society and the factors that impede the progress of democracy in the United States.

On Education

West emphasizes the role of education as a space where injustice can be revealed and the grievances of marginalized people are exposed. In a recent video for The Brainwaves Video Anthology, he stated, “I have been committed in my life to what the Greeks call, paideia, p-a-i-d-e-i-a, which is deep education, not cheap schooling, that deep education has to do with trying to unearth the truth, and the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. One of the forms of suffering that I have been deeply concerned about is the suffering that flows from the vicious cycle of white supremacy.”

Presence in the Media

A frequent guest on CNN, C-Span, and Democracy Now!, among other media outlets, West offers his views on current events or people in the news. In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! after the violence in Charlottesville, West explained, “The crucial thing is, we’ve got to be able to unify, come together, fortify the efforts against the neofascists, against the big money, against massive militarism, and especially against the xenophobia that highlights the most vulnerable.”

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