Benjamin Pollock (Michigan State University): “World-Denial and World Redemption: Franz Rosenzweig’s Early Marcionism”

Wednesday, October 26, 5:00 p.m., Boston University, The Photonics Center, Room 206, 8 Saint Mary’s Street, Second Floor

This event has been co-sponsored by Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies and supported by the Boston University Center for the Humanities.

Ben Pollock will present a new account of one of the foundational narratives of modern Jewish thought and a decisive moment in the intellectual biography of Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), one of the most remarkable Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. The story is of Franz Rosenzweig’s near conversion to Christianity in 1913 and his subsequent decision, three months later, to commit himself to Judaism. In sharp contrast to the account of Rosenzweig’s crisis that has dominated the literature for the last sixty years, Pollock will claim that what lies at the heart of Rosenzweig’s 1913 crisis is not a struggle between faith and reason, but rather a skepticism about the world and a hope for personal salvation, which Rosenzweig came to identify with the figure of Marcion. As Pollock argues, Rosenzweig was severely tempted by Marcion’s world-denial but converted to a novel, post-modern affirmation of the goodness of existence.

Professor Pollock is associate professor of religious studies at Michigan State University, and received his doctorate in Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His book, Franz Rosenzweig and the Systematic Task of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2009), was awarded the Salo W. Baron Prize for Outstanding First Book in Jewish Studies by the American Academy of Jewish Research.

Steven B. Smith (Yale University): “How To Read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address”

Announcing the first in the Institute for Philosophy and Religion’s 2011-12 Lecture Series, “Politics, Religion, and Theology.” The series begins with Steven B. Smith, Department of Political Science, Yale University, presenting “How to Read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.” Professor Smith is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science at Yale University. His research has focused on the history of political philosophy with special attention to the problem of the ancients and moderns, Jewish philosophy, and theories of constitutional democracy. He is currently working on a book dealing with the statecraft and political thought of Abraham Lincoln. This event has been co-sponsored by Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies and supported in part by the kind contribution of the Boston University Center for the Humanities.


Videos of the Institute’s lecture series are now available on BUniverse:

Annual Boston Area Philosophy of Religion Conference: Book Session on Mark Johnston’s “Saving God: Religion after Idolatry”

Tuesday, May 3rd, 3-5pm 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Room 525 Book Session on Mark Johnston’s “Saving God: Religion after Idolatry,” with discussants Andrew Chignell (Cornell) and Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers), and a response by Mark Johnston (Princeton). “Saving God” (Princeton University Press, 2009) is the winner of the 2010 Award for Excellence in Religion: Constructive-Reflective Studies, American Academy of Religion, and one of CHOICE Magazine’s 2010 Outstanding Academic Titles. Presenting a novel form of religious naturalism, it argues that God needs to be saved not only from the distortions of the “undergraduate atheists” (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris) but, more importantly, from the idolatrous tendencies of religion itself. Mark Johnston is Walter Cerf ’41 Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University and author of many influential and widely reprinted articles in ontology, philosophy of mind, philosophical logic and ethics. In addition to “Saving God” he has also recently published “Surviving Death” (Princeton University Press, 2010).



John Bowlin (Princeton Theological Seminary): “Tolerance, Resentment, and Virtue”

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 at ***6:00pm***

We’re all supposed to admire tolerance, cultivate it in our children, and praise its exercise, and yet resentment toward tolerance abounds. No doubt, many of us consider its practices and attitudes indispensable aspects of a just response to the hard facts of pluralism, but dig a little deeper and one finds discontent, left and right, widespread and growing. This paper offers an explanation for this ambivalence, one that trades on the fact that tolerance is a virtue with semblances and imperfections that nevertheless generate its act.

John R. Bowlin is the Rimmer and Ruth de Vries Associate Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life at Princeton Theological Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the Society for Values in Higher Education, and has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Religious Ethics since 2003. His areas of specialization are Christian ethics, moral philosophy, social ethics and criticism, and the history of moral theology, and his courses cover ethics and the problem of evil, ethics and politics in Augustine, war and Christian conscience, and friendship, love, and justice. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and is the author of On Tolerance and Forbearance: Moral Inquiries Natural and Supernatural (forthcoming), and Contingency and Fortune in Aquinas’s Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Edwin Curley (Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Michigan): “From Augustine to Spinoza and Locke: Answering the Christian Case against Religious Liberty”

This lecture draws on a book in progress which will argue that many of the most popular arguments for religious toleration are inadequate because they fail to take proper account of the powerful arguments which have been made in the Christian tradition for restricting religious liberty.

Professor Curley is best known for his work on Spinoza. He published the first volume of his edition of Spinoza’s collected works in 1985 and is currently working on the second volume; he has also written two books on Spinoza (Spinoza’s Metaphysics, Harvard, 1969 and Behind the Geometrical Method, Princeton, 1988) and is working on a third, which will focus on the Theological-Political Treatise. He has written on a wide variety of topics in 17th century philosophy–spanning metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy and political philosophy, and dealing with the other major figures of the period (Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and Leibniz) in addition to Spinoza. Notable here are his book Descartes against the Skeptics (Harvard, 1978) and his edition of Hobbes’ Leviathan (Hackett, 1994).

Currently Professor Curley is most interested in the history of early modern political theory, the development of heterodox religious ideas, and the associated development of the ideal of religious toleration. These interests have led him to expand into the 16th and 18th centuries, with work on Montaigne and Montesquieu. He is a past president of the American Philosophical Association, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of fellowships from the NEH, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Humanities Center.

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Ian Buruma (Bard College): “Tolerance Under Fire”

Liberalism in the classic sense of tolerance, individual freedom, and moderation, is once again being attacked. Radicals of all kinds, whether left or right, have always despised liberals, for being wishy-washy, selfish, boring, bourgeois, and weak in the face of adversity. Between the two World Wars, Communists as well as the hard right tried to crush liberalism. Now it is often the self-appointed defenders of Western Civilization against the Islamic threat who attack liberals for tolerating intolerance, for being soft, appeasing, and cowardly. The talk will be a defense of classic liberalism. I will argue that liberalism does not have to be dull, wishy-washy, or cowardly, but that liberals are in fact the best defenders of open societies against all forms of tyranny. Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, Ian Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan, where he studied history, Chinese literature, and Japanese cinema. In 1970s Tokyo, he had a career in documentary filmmaking and photography. In the 1980s, he worked as a journalist, and spent much of his early writing career travelling and reporting from all over Asia. Buruma now writes about a broad range of political and cultural subjects for major publications, most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della Sera, The Financial Times, and The Guardian. Buruma has been a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington D.C., and St. Antony’s College, Oxford, Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 international Erasmus Prize for making “an especially important contribution to culture, society or social science in Europe, and was voted as one of the Top 100 Public Intellectuals by the Foreign Policy/Prospect magazines (May/June 2008). Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (Penguin USA) was the winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Best Current Interest Book, and Princeton University Press has published Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents in March 2010, based on the Stafford Little lectures given at Princeton in 2008. This lecture is free and open to the public.

Noah Feldman (Harvard Law School): “Madison’s Politics of Religion Revisited”

Noah Feldman specializes in constitutional studies, with particular emphasis on the relationship between law and religion, constitutional design, and the history of legal theory. Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School, he is also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2003 Feldman served as senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and subsequently advised members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law or interim constitution. Feldman is the author of five books, including Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (Princeton University Press 2008), Divided by God: America’s Church-State Problem – And What We Should Do About It (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2005), and What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building (Princeton University Press 2004).

David D. Hall (Harvard Divinity School): “Charitable Hatred? The Civil State and Liberty of Conscience in Early America”

England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was, as a British historian has recently noted, “mostly a persecuting society,” justifying state imposed uniformity as, to quote another British historian, a gesture of “charitable hatred”: to be held within the boundaries of uniformity and orthodoxy was presumably good for the soul. Yet this system was rife with contradictions; and on the New England side, where the customary story is also one of suppression and uniformity, these contradictions are unusually visible.

David Hall, Bartlett Research Professor of New England Church History (Harvard Divinity School), is a cultural historian whose teaching interests span the entirety of American history. Since the mid-1980s, his research interests have included rethinking religion and culture in terms of “practice” (see, e.g, Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice [1997]); the history of cultural criticism and the idea of culture in nineteenth-century America; and reconsidering the religious history of early New England from the standpoint of popular religion (see, e.g., Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment [1989]).