A B O U
T C O R N E L W E S T
of 1943 University Professor of Religion, Princeton University
Cornel West is the paradigmatic public
intellectual who joins faith and reason, ideas and action and criticism
and prophecy to be the public teacher. He calls to the heart
of American democracy, to the heart of humanity, to recognize the supreme
value of human diversity. Decrying divisiveness, he challenges the
divisions, the isms of race, class, gender and politics, and charts a course
to 21st century human wholeness.
Healing America’s pernicious and persistent dysfunctional racism has been
the imperative locus of most of Dr. West’s work. His book, Race
Matters, (1993) has been a best-seller and continues to be used by
teachers and leaders to stimulate the dialogue and activity which he advocates.
In this book and others, including Restoring Hope, The American Evasion
of Philosophy, Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, The War Against
Parents, The Future of American Progressivism and The Cornel West
Reader, he teaches how the growing divisions in our society foster
the despair and distrust that undermine our democratic process. He
continues to prod and provoke the conscience of America. In the grand
tradition of Socrates, through his lectures, his publications and his public
conversation, he makes full use of media and all avenues of communication
available and accessible to teach, preach and reach across race and class,
speaking the message of hope and meaning which he posits as essential to
this healing. His message is the celebration of the diversity which
enlarges and expands human possibility and reaches a common ground respecting
and embracing but not fearing or denying human diversity.
Dr. West was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the grandson of a Baptist minister.
He attended schools in Oklahoma and Kansas and graduated from high school
in Sacramento, California, having already shown his academic prowess.
Three years after arriving at Harvard he earned his AB degree, magna cum
laude. He earned his MA (1975) and PhD (1980) degrees from Princeton.
From 1977 to 1984 he taught at Union Theological Seminary, and then went
to the Yale Divinity School for three years. He returned to Union Theological
Seminary in 1987 for one year and then became Professor of Religion and
Director of the Program in African-American Studies at Princeton University.
In 1993 Dr. West joined the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research
at Harvard University and became Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor
in 1998, one of only 14 University Professors in the entire University.
In 2002 he returned to Princeton as the Class of 1943 University Professor
of Religion and African American Studies.|
In each of these appointments he has demonstrated an unparalleled appreciation
for the value of bringing together the perspectives of the various humanities
and social sciences and by joining his own perspective with that of colleagues
within and without the academy. As Director of the African American
Studies Program at Princeton, he gathered a multi-disciplinary group of
literary artists and scholars to explicate the African American experience
in history and literature. While life in the academy gravitates towards
increasing specialization and distance from the world, his studies include
the full range of the liberal arts as well as his own explorations and
study of music, especially jazz, film and architecture and full participation
in society. As engaged philosopher, he pulls from his experience,
his studies and his faith to illumine and address the challenge of America:
to be faithful to the national aspiration of e pluribus unum.
For his leadership as a person of conscience and commitment whose life
is so generously engaged in responding to society’s aching need for justice
and equity and for his teaching, scholarship and public witness of a life
devoted to the betterment of all people, especially the marginalized, The
College of New Rochelle confers on Cornel West the degree Doctor of Humane
Letters, honoris causa.