For years, I’ve been reading articles and watching bits and pieces of interviews with Dr. Cornel West. He’s provocative, brilliant, and hilarious (watch him on Real Time with Bill Maher). On one documentary he compares philosophy to jazz and the blues. In his memoir, he describes “being true to the funk of living today.” His words are fleshy and visceral, and his wit is quick and cutting.
If you haven’t been introduced, here’s a bit from his website:
Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. He has taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard and the University of Paris. He has written 19 books and edited 13 books. He is best known for his classic Race Matters, Democracy Matters, and his new memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. He appears frequently on the Bill Maher Show, Colbert Report, CNN and C-Span as well as on his dear Brother, Tavis Smiley’s PBS TV Show… West has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of publics in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.
So as familiar as I am with West’s public persona, I hadn’t taken the time to crack one of his books. I’ve been excited to start with Prophetic Fragments: Illuminations in the Crisis of American Religion and Culture. And after reading James Cone’s singularly-focused A Black Theology of Liberation, Prophetic Fragments is indeed that: quick, fragmented, and provocative. This is a collection of dozens of essays on a wide variety of topics, from a reflection on Martin Luther King Jr. as an “organic intellectual,” and a discussion of black-Jewish relations, to pieces about the work of Hans Frei and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.
In his introduction, West writes:
The crisis in contemporary American religious life is profound and pervasive. The crisis is profound in that it deepens as Americans turn more desperately toward religion. The crisis is pervasive in that it affects every form of religiosity in the country - from Christianity to Buddhism, from reform Judaism to Islam. To put it bluntly, American religious life is losing its prophetic fervor. There is an undeniable decline in the clarity of vision, complexity of understanding, and quality of moral action among religious Americans... The principal aim of this book is to examine and explore, delineate and demystify, counter and contest the widespread accommodation of American religion to the political and cultural status quo... This accommodation is, at bottom, idolatrous - it worships the gods created by American society and kneels before the altars erected by American culture. (ix)
The man’s perspective, worldview and intellectual capacity are all staggering, as is the grace and wry humor he brings to his writing.
More to come…