Cornel West, who has been called "one of America’s most gifted, provocative and important public intellectuals," will discuss the "Heart of American Darkness" at Lehigh’s Packard Auditorium at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23.
The talk by West, currently the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University, is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Lehigh University’s Humanities Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Africana Studies, the departments of philosophy and religion studies, the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Student Affairs, the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, and Lehigh’s Visiting Lectures Committee.
"Cornel West is an American public intellectual of the finest sort," says Gordon Bearn, professor of philosophy and head of Lehigh’s Humanities Center. "He chastens his audience and moves them to refocus their energies in ways that can alter their lives."
Bearn says that he and fellow organizers are particularly pleased that West will speak at Lehigh as part of the university’s "Just Globalization" series.
"Perhaps the single largest influence of global economies on the United States was the slave trade, and Professor West’s leadership in formulating an African-American philosophical and political vision is a central move in addressing the many and deep scars that historical economy has left on the present," Bearn says.
Stephan Coggs, assistant dean of students for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, adds: "It is definitely a great honor to have Cornel West, who is arguably one of America's most recognized contemporary intellectuals, speak to the Lehigh community. His analysis into the political, social, and cultural systems and traditions in American society has been well-documented, both domestically and internationally."
Prior to his recent appointment at Princeton, West taught at Harvard University, where his focus was Afro-American studies and the philosophy of religion.
Born in Tulsa, Okla., West is the son of a civilian Air Force commander and an elementary school teacher-turned-school principal. His family moved often because of his father’s military career, but eventually settled in the Sacramento area, where he found himself touched by the deep faith and convictions of the parishioners in his Baptist church.
He was equally attracted to the commitment of the Black Panthers, whose office was near his boyhood church. But it was a biography of Teddy Roosevelt that West borrowed from a neighborhood bookmobile that helped him chart his educational course.
As someone with asthma, West was impressed with the accomplishments of Roosevelt, who also suffered from asthma and eventually conquered his disease, went to Harvard, became a great public speaker and ultimately achieved the office of the presidency of the United States.
West did, in fact, go to Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude in three years and impressed his instructors with his probing mind. One of them, Martin Kilson, recalled him as "the most intellectually aggressive and highly cerebral student I have taught in my 30 years here."
West earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton, and was selected to head the university’s department of Afro-American studies. He moved to Harvard, where he continued to refine a fiery, dramatic and inspirational speaking style that was formed by his roots in the Baptist Church.
He is the author or co-author of nine books, including the 1993 best-seller, Race Matters, which is widely credited with changing the course of America’s dialogue on race, justice and democracy.