Cornel West Essay - Critical Essays

West, Cornel

Introduction

Cornel West 1953-

(Full name Cornel Ronald West) American philosopher, nonfiction writer, critic, essayist, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of West's career through 1997.

An outspoken and highly respected Harvard educator and social critic, Cornel West has been called “the preeminent African-American intellectual of our generation” by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Best known for his writings on the topic of race, particularly as presented in his best-selling book Race Matters (1993), West combines the philosophies of pragmatism, Christian religion, and Marxist criticism to analyze social and political issues affecting contemporary America. A self-described “radical democrat,” West has not remained ensconced in academia, but has instead ventured into the public realm to present his ideas to mainstream American society as a frequent speaker and author of numerous works on the subject of race relations and the African-American experience.

Biographical Information

West was born on June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father was a civilian administrator for the U.S. Air Force and his mother an elementary school teacher (later a principal). The family, including an older brother, eventually moved to a middle-class neighborhood in Sacramento, California. At school, West, protesting the second-class position of black Americans in U.S. society, refused to salute the American flag. After attacking his pregnant teacher, who forced him to salute, he was suspended and later sent to a more accelerated school. Attending a Baptist church, West was fascinated by members of the congregation who frequently spoke of their ancestors who, only two generations earlier, were slaves. He also visited the local Black Panthers office where he learned about activism and was introduced to the writings of Karl Marx. West went on to attend Harvard, from which he received an A.B. in Near Eastern languages and literature in 1973. He continued his studies at Princeton University where he was attracted to the teachings of Richard Rorty, who stressed the relevance of literature and history to philosophy. After receiving his M.A. from Princeton in 1975, West returned to Harvard as a Du Bois fellow. There he decided to postpone his dissertation and work on a novel, which has remained unpublished. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1980. From 1977 to 1984, he served as an assistant professor of the philosophy of religion at Union Theological Seminary. While there, West published his first book, Prophesy Deliverance! (1982). He left Union Theological Seminary to accept a position as an associate professor of the philosophy of religion at Yale where he stayed until 1987. He then returned to Princeton to revive and direct its Afro-American Studies department. West subsequently took a position at Harvard University, where he teaches Afro-American studies and the philosophy of religion.

Major Works

West's writings address such issues as racism, multiculturalism, and socialism. Prophecy Deliverance!, the author's first book, considers the combination of the philosophies of Christianity and Marxism as a tool not only to confront white racism and oppression but to bring about social change. In this work he combined ideas from such disparate sources as the writings of African-American authors W. E. B. Du Bois and Toni Morrison, and the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes. With Prophetic Fragments (1988), a collection of essays, West continued to reflect on Christianity and Marxism as well as offer writings on sex and violence in contemporary American society. The essays range from an examination of a socialist theory of racism to an exploration of the significance of rap music among young urban blacks. Influenced at Princeton by philosopher Richard Rorty's writings on American pragmatism, West cultivated his own version of this philosophy which he called “prophetic pragmatism.” He expounded upon this concept in The American Evasion of Philosophy (1989), drawing upon the development of Anglo-American pragmatist philosophy and invoking the populist spirit of American philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson to create a moral vision that takes into account race, class, and gender. In The Ethical Dimension of Marxist Thought (1991), a book that originated as West's doctoral dissertation, West applied Marxist concepts to contemporary political and social problems in an effort to counter what he viewed as the self-defeating forces of nihilism and skepticism. West argued that morality is found in the process of change and proposes radical historicism as an antidote to moral relativism.

West greatly enlarged his readership from the world of academia to that of the mainstream public with the release of his best-known work Race Matters in 1993. This book was published on the first anniversary of the Los Angeles riots which followed the acquittal of four white police officers accused in the beating of black motorist Rodney King. In this slim collection of eight previously published essays, West argues that both blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives, are all responsible for the poor state of race relations in the United States. In addition to an examination of the Los Angeles riots, which the author points out were not limited by race or class, Race Matters includes essays that cover the resurgent popularity of African-American activist Malcolm X, relations between blacks and Jews, black rage and sexuality, and what West sees as a “crisis of black leadership.” This crisis is evident in West's examination of the silence among black leaders when President George Bush appointed Clarence Thomas, a candidate whom many felt to be unqualified, to the Supreme Court. West argues that the African-American community needs what he refers to as “race-transcending prophetic leaders,” such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Fannie Lou Hammer of the National Welfare Rights Organization. The author believes that the current generation has failed to produce such a leader, a lack that only worsens the state of the disadvantaged. Keeping Faith (1993), West's next volume, consists of seventeen previously published essays on a diverse array of subjects including Marxist criticism of Georg Lukacs and Frederic Jameson, critical legal studies, pragmatism, architecture, and black painter Horace Pippin. The Future of Race (1996), co-authored with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., consists of W. E. B. Du Bois's 1903 essay “The Talented Tenth” and critical commentary on the responsibility of educated blacks in contemporary society. The book also discusses policy issues to alleviate poverty and to provide blacks with access to education and advancement. In addition to these works, West has authored, edited, and contributed to numerous books that further develop the major ideas propounded in his early works while exploring other topics including progressivism, parenting, and prison.

Critical Reception

Beginning with Prophecy Deliverance! and reaching a zenith with Race Matters, West has developed a reputation as a highly respected philosopher and critic. Although West has been reported as not entirely satisfied with Prophecy Deliverance!, the work earned praise from numerous reviewers and was received as a new phase in the history of black liberation theology. While West is consistently praised for his broad intelligence, rhetorical powers, and provocative insight into the issue of race, critics note that his work is often inaccessible to a wide audience due to his use of highly abstract concepts and allusions. West's writings have also been faulted for lacking intellectual rigor and depth due to their broad concerns and theoretical underpinnings. The American Evasion of Philosophy, regarded by many critics as West's most ambitious undertaking to date, was commended for its complex presentation of the history and significance of American pragmatism. Again West was praised for the wide range of his knowledge. Though the practical application of West's “prophetic pragmatism” was questioned in light of the abstract nature of the concept, West was credited with desiring to bring out of the sphere of academia a new type of intellectual life to serve the politically and socially disadvantaged. The publication of Race Matters, which was compared to the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois, and James Baldwin, affirmed West's position as one of the nation's foremost public intellectuals. Although West was taken to task for appearing to be a political centrist while also criticizing American capitalism, he was credited with attempting to provide a much-needed analytical framework for examining the plight of black Americans. As with earlier works, West was criticized for taking too broad an approach and for advancing idealistically vague solutions to the problems that he addressed. Nevertheless, the author was commended for his moral vision, keen intellect, and fresh perspective in addressing the much-visited topic of the country's racial divisions.

Principal Works

Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (nonfiction) 1982

Post-Analytic Philosophy [editor; with John Rajchman] (philosophy) 1985

Prophetic Fragments (nonfiction) 1988

The American Evasion of Philosophy: The Genealogy of Pragmatism (nonfiction) 1989

Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life [with bell hooks] (nonfiction) 1991

The Ethical Dimension of Marxist Thought (nonfiction) 1991

Beyond Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism 2 vols. [Volume I, Prophetic Thought in Postmodern Times; Volume II, Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America] (nonfiction) 1993

Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America (nonfiction) 1993

Race Matters (nonfiction) 1993

Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin [with Michael Lerner] (nonfiction) 1995

The Affirmative Action Debate [editor; with George E. Curry] (nonfiction) 1996

Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History [editor; with Jack Salzman and David Lionel Smith] (nonfiction) 1996

The Future of Race [with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.] (nonfiction) 1996

Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America [with Michael Lerner] (nonfiction) 1996

Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America [edited by Kelvin Shawn Sealey] (interviews) 1997

Struggles in the Promised Land: Towards a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States [editor; with Jack Salzman] (nonfiction) 1997

The Future of American Progressivism: An Initiative for Political and Economic Reform [with Roberto Mangabeira Unger] (nonfiction) 1998

The War Against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads [with Sylvia Ann Hewlett] (nonfiction) 1998

The Cornel West Reader (nonfiction) 1999

The Courage to Hope: From Black Suffering to Human Redemption: Essays in Honor of James Melvin Washington [editor; with Quinton Hosford Dixie] (essays) 1999

The Soul Knows No Bars: Inmates Reflect on Life, Death and Hope [with Drew Leder] (nonfiction) 2000

Criticism

Dennis P. McCann (review date 20 December 1985)

SOURCE: “Go Tell It On the Mountains,” in Commonweal, December 20, 1985, pp. 708-9.

[In the following review, McCann offers a positive assessment of Prophesy Deliverance!]

In this brief programmatic sketch Cornel West has produced the most promising Afro-American liberation theology to date. With his theoretical sophistication, his deep roots in Afro-American culture, and above all, his forthrightness in criticizing the intellectual traditions of Marxism and Christianity, West takes his rightful place among the architects of liberation theology, bold innovators like Mary Daly and Juan Luis Segundo. Whether we agree or disagree with their thinking, these religious...

(The entire section is 1034 words.)

George Cotkin (review date December 1990)

SOURCE: “Truth or Consequences?”, in Reviews in American History, Vol. 18, No. 4, December, 1990, pp. 519-24.

[In the following excerpt, Cotkin offers a positive assessment of The American Evasion of Philosophy.]

The great age of American philosophy, dominated by the figures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles S. Peirce, William James, Josiah Royce, and John Dewey, consistently draws the attention of scholars from a variety of disciplines. These philosophers serve as a source of inspiration, a tradition to be appropriated, and a subject for sustained analysis. As debate about the nature of truth, the role of language, and the relationship between theory and practice...

(The entire section is 1966 words.)

Rickard Donovan (essay date Spring 1991)

SOURCE: “Cornel West's New Pragmatism,” in Cross Currents: Religion and Intellectual Life, Vol. 41, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 98-106.

[In the following essay, Donovan examines the historical development of American pragmatism and the philosophical underpinnings of West's social pragmatism as presented in The American Evasion of Philosophy.]

Cornel West is rapidly becoming an important figure on the intellectual scene. A recent meeting of the American Philosophical Association devoted three separate sessions to his most recent work, and West spoke at all of them. He has even been interviewed by Bill Moyers.

On each occasion, West was exciting and...

(The entire section is 3291 words.)

Robert Gooding-Williams (essay date Winter 1991-92)

SOURCE: “Evading Narrative Myth, Evading Prophetic Pragmatism: Cornel West's The American Evasion of Philosophy,” in Massachusetts Review, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, Winter, 1991-92, pp. 517-42.

[In the following essay, Gooding-Williams examines West's concept of “prophetic pragmatism,” its associations with the pragmatist tradition, West's reading of W. E. B. DuBois, and the problematic significance of West's “universal moral discourse.”]

Cornel West’s The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism is a rhetorically compelling history of American pragmatism that reconstructs, promotes, and purports to extend what West characterizes...

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Cornel West with Bill Moyers (interview date Winter 1991-92)

SOURCE: “Subversive Anger, Subversive Joy—An Interview,” in Cross Currents: Religion and Intellectual Life, Vol. 41, No. 4, Winter, 1991-92, pp. 538-46.

[In the following interview, West discusses contemporary social and political issues, black culture, religion, and black leadership.]

[Moyers:] For an intellectual, you’ve been sighted in some very unusual places, the storefronts and streets of Harlem, the shantytowns of South Africa, one of the worst high schools in one of the worst districts in Brooklyn. How come? Those are so far from Princeton, so far from the ivory tower?

[West:] Yes, well, I understand the vocation of the...

(The entire section is 3620 words.)

Howard Brick (review date September 1992)

SOURCE: A review of The American Evasion of Philosophy, in Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 2, September, 1992, p. 687.

[In the following review, Brick offers a positive assessment of The American Evasion of Philosophy.]

The title of this book [The American Evasion of Philosophy] is laudatory, not pejorative. Here evasion is emancipation: Turning away from “epistemology-centered philosophy” and its search for absolute standards of knowledge and ethics can release intellectual energy for cultural criticism, political action, and social change. That transformation of intellect, Cornel West says, is the burden and promise of American pragmatism...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Nancy Bancroft (review date October 1992)

SOURCE: A review of The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, in Journal of Religion, Vol. 72, No. 4, October, 1992, pp. 618-9.

[In the following review, Bancroft offers a mixed assessment of The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, finding weakness in West's Marxist perspective and arguments.]

Despite its title, [The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought] Cornel West’s book does not simply focus on Marx’s ethics. West does emphasize Marx’s commitment to the values of democracy, individuality, and freedom. But his broader treatment of Marx’s ethics is part of the book’s central argument concerning the nature of Marx’s thought as a...

(The entire section is 635 words.)

Glenn Loury (review date Summer 1993)

SOURCE: “Preaching to the Converted,” in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 3, Summer, 1993, pp. 80-3.

[In the following review, Loury offers an unfavorable evaluation of Race Matters.]

No one would likely dispute the claim that coming to grips with “race matters” is fundamental to understanding American politics, history, or culture. But an argument is certain to arise if one ventures to be more specific. There is no common definition of the problem, no consensus on a historical narrative explaining how we have come to this juncture, no agreement about what now should be done. Perhaps most important, Americans lack a common vision of the future of our racial...

(The entire section is 2233 words.)

John Bellamy Foster (essay date June 1993)

SOURCE: “Introduction to a Symposium on The Ethical Dimension of Marxist Thought,” in Monthly Review, Vol. 45, No. 2, June, 1993, pp. 8-16.

[In the following essay, Foster delineates West's Marxist perspective and his approach to the problem of moral relativism as put forth in The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought.]

In the decade before his death Raymond Williams frequently referred to the need for “resources for a journey of hope” that would enable socialists to continue the “shared search” for human emancipation in spite of all the obstacles posed by the reality of capitalism and of the first attempts to create socialism.1 Cornel...

(The entire section is 2607 words.)

David Nicholson (review date 13 June 1993)

SOURCE: “Race, Culture, and Morality,” in Washington Post Book World, June 13, 1993, p. 5.

[In the following excerpt, Nicholson offers a favorable assessment of Race Matters.]

If questions of morality are largely absent from Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy [by Houston A. Baker Jr.], they are always present in Cornel West’s Race Matters. There are parts of this book that are as moving as any of the sermons of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as profound as W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, as exhilarating in their offering of liberation as James Baldwin’s early essays.

This is not to suggest, however, that...

(The entire section is 958 words.)

Randal Jelks (review date 30 June-7 July 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Race Matters, in Christian Century, June 30-July 7, 1993, pp. 684-5.

[In the following review, Jelks offers a positive assessment of Race Matters, though disapproves of West's humorlessness and the book's title.]

The eight essays in this collection extend themes that Cornel West has been developing over the past ten years. This is the eighth book for this wide-ranging academician and cultural critic, who is director of the Afro-American Studies Program and professor of religion at Princeton University.

West has been concerned with the advancement of democracy, politically and culturally. He has sought to deconstruct...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

Arch Puddington (review date August 1993)

SOURCE: “Immoderate Moderate,” in Commentary, Vol. 96, No. 2, August, 1993, pp. 62-4.

[In the following review, Puddington offers an unfavorable analysis of Race Matters and West's Leftist perspective.]

Cornel West has been acclaimed as one of the most important commentators on race relations in America. He has been the subject of feature profiles in major publications and appears frequently on televised public-affairs programs. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard, has described West as “the preeminent African-American intellectual of our generation”; according to Marian Wright Edelman, president of the...

(The entire section is 2091 words.)

Linda Kulman (review date 9-23 August 1993)

SOURCE: “The Fire Down Under,” in New Leader, August 9-23, 1993, pp. 18-9.

[In the following review, Kulman offers a positive evaluation of Race Matters.]

The national discourse on race relations deteriorated into intellectual ambulance-chasing this past April while Americans awaited the outcome of the “second Rodney King trial”—in which four police officers previously acquitted of beating the motorist now faced Federal charges of having violated his civil rights. As long as the violence that had leveled parts of Los Angeles following the initial decision a year earlier threatened to recur, talk-show hosts and Op-Ed-page columnists flocked to address the race...

(The entire section is 1144 words.)

Ellen K. Coughlin (essay date 22 September 1993)

SOURCE: “Cornel West Matters: The Celebrity Philosopher,” in Chronicle of Higher Education, September 22, 1993, pp. A8-10.

[In the following essay, Coughlin discusses West's emergence as a public intellectual and his controversial social and philosophical perspectives.]

It was hard to escape Cornel West this summer.

As professor of religion and director of Princeton University’s highly regarded program in Afro-American studies, Mr. West has been a rising academic star for some time. As a committed “public intellectual,” he is also familiar to a certain segment of readers outside the universities.

But in late April, when...

(The entire section is 2285 words.)

Eugene Goodheart (essay date Fall 1993)

SOURCE: “Common Ground,” in Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History, Vol. 23, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 93-6.

[In the following essay, Goodheart discusses West's innovative stance concerning the usefulness of political debate and communication between individuals rather than artificially homogenous groups.]

A column is the medium for freewheeling meditation. It is also a challenge and test, for the columnist must trust his instincts to find and focus upon events and books that reveal a significant tendency, whether inspiriting or dismaying, in our cultural life. I begin my column with something inspiriting. Cornel West’s Race...

(The entire section is 1449 words.)

Andrew Hacker (review date 7 October 1993)

SOURCE: “‘Diversity’ and Its Dangers,” in The New York Review of Books, October 7, 1993, pp. 21-5.

[In the following excerpt, Hacker offers a tempered assessment of Race Matters.]

What is intended by the demand that the United States should recognize—and recast—itself as a “multicultural” society? In physical appearance, we are ethnically more diverse than at any other time in our history. Americans who describe themselves as “white” now account for less than 75 percent of the population, and only 55 percent in California. But the issue has less to do with our varied origins than what we make of them. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is not alone in...

(The entire section is 692 words.)

George Packer (review date 12 December 1993)

SOURCE: “The Question is Race,” in Chicago Tribune Books, December 12, 1993, p. 4.

[In the following excerpt, Packer offers a tempered assessment of Keeping Faith, citing shortcomings in West's inaccessible scholarly allusions and indefinite promptings for change.]

Taken together, these two essay collections point up how difficult it is for writers to act as true “public intellectuals”—to bring their talent and discipline to bear on ideas that matter to general readers in a shared culture. James Baldwin did it; Irving Howe did it. But as journalism grows ever crasser, academic criticism ever more specialized and inward and the public less and less...

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Sanford Pinsker (review date Winter 1994)

SOURCE: “What's Love, and Candor, Got to Do With It?,” in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 70, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 174-81.

[In the following positive review of Race Matters, Pinsker examines West's observations and concerns about contemporary racial unrest.]

Race Matters may be a slim volume, but it has propelled its author to wide public attention, not only because the eight essays collected between its hard covers deal with such controversial issues as black-Jewish relations, black rage, and the crisis in black leadership, or even because its publication date coincided with the first anniversary of the profound social unrest that exploded in...

(The entire section is 2573 words.)

Cornel West with Anders Stephanson (interview date February 1994)

SOURCE: “West of Righteous,” in Artforum, Vol. XXXII, No. 6, February, 1994, pp. 66-71, 104, 111.

[In the following interview, West discusses his role as a public intellectual, his philosophical and religious perspectives, American culture, and art.]

When I first met Cornel West in 1979 or ’80, I had been operating on the Eurocentric assumption that each of the three central philosophical traditions of Western culture—the German, the French, and the Anglo-American—had a proper style and language of its own. So I was wholly unprepared for Cornel’s disquisitions on Hegel, which he advanced, with great verve, in a thoroughly black style and idiom. I was...

(The entire section is 6595 words.)

Michèle Lamont (review date May 1994)

SOURCE: “Symbolic Politics and the Hill-Thomas Affair,” in Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 23, No. 3, May, 1994, pp. 346-9.

[In the following excerpt, Lamont offers a positive assessment of Race Matters.]

The three books reviewed here usefully canvas public debate within the African-American community, and between it and American society at large. The main point of convergence between these books is the “mobile social laboratory,” “the referendum on our most cherished values,” that was the Hill-Thomas affair. These books offer a repertory of stances taken by a number of public intellectuals on the most poignant and divisive televised collective drama that...

(The entire section is 758 words.)

Donald E. Messer (review date 21-28 September 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in Christian Century, September 21-28, 1994, pp. 864-5.

[In the following review, Messer offers a positive assessment of Keeping Faith.]

Disappointment and disillusionment with America are more prevalent now among African-Americans than at any time since the 1920s. Though the decline and decay of American life appear irreversible, Cornel West hangs on to the hope that “our prophetic thought and action” may yet open a way if we but keep faith with our deepest religions, moral and democratic commitments.

A self-defined public intellectual, West has been described as “inheriting the mantle of Reinhold...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Michael J. Quirk (review date Winter 1994-95)

SOURCE: “Notes on Prophetic Pragmatism,” in Cross Currents, Vol. 44, No. 4, Winter, 1994-95, pp. 535-9.

[In the following review, Quirk offers a favorable evaluation of Keeping Faith, though finds that West fails to distinguish between secular and Christian pragmatism.]

In his pathbreaking The American Evasion of Philosophy (Wisconsin, 1989), Cornel West argued that the often-overlooked tradition of American pragmatism contained plentiful, potent resources for social and political change and the spiritual renewal of the American republic. Yet, according to West, two important moral and intellectual hurdles need to be cleared before pragmatism can...

(The entire section is 1849 words.)

Leon Wieseltier (essay date 6 March 1995)

SOURCE: “All and Nothing: The Unreal World of Cornel West,” in The New Republic, March 6, 1995, pp. 31-6.

[In the following essay, Wieseltier provides an extended negative critique of West's social theory, philosophy, and rhetorical style. According to Wieseltier, “West's work is noisy, tedious, slippery, … sectarian, humorless, pedantic and self-endeared.”]

I.

Where are the public intellectuals? The question is asked everywhere in America, but it is not merely an American question. It has been a long time, after all, since calm was preferred to crisis as the proper mood of the mind. For the Marxist tradition in particular, crisis is...

(The entire section is 5506 words.)

Tikkun (essay date March-April 1995)

SOURCE: “The Attack on Cornel West: Racism and Media Cynicism,” in Tikkun, Vol. 10, No. 2, March-April, 1995, p. 7.

[In the following essay, the critic refutes negative criticism leveled against West by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic.]

Having profiled The Bell Curve and helped give national prominence to the racist attack on the intelligence of ordinary Black folk, The New Republic’s literary editor Leon Wieseltier focuses five pages of his magazine on Cornel West, to show that these uppity Blacks who are lauded as the leading intellectuals are also undeserving of respect. Wieseltier was once a young Harvard student with great potential, so it...

(The entire section is 594 words.)

Anita L. Allen (review date July 1995)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in Ethics, Vol. 105, No. 4, July, 1995, pp. 954-5.

[In the following review, Allen offers a positive assessment of Keeping Faith.]

Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America is a collection of philosophic essays about race, religion, art, law, and architecture. The author of the collection is a professor of African American studies and religion whom admirers herald as America’s premier black intellectual. A quirky, synthetic genius, Cornel West is getting to be about as famous as a midcareer ivy-league academic could hope to be. Shortly after West’s book Race Matters became a “best-seller” in 1993, he...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Robert Gooding-Williams (review date October 1995)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 104, No. 4, October, 1995, pp. 601-3.

[In the following review, Gooding-Williams offers a tempered evaluation of Keeping Faith.]

This volume brings together a wide-ranging collection of seventeen essays, most of which were published elsewhere during the last ten or so years and some of which appear here in revised versions. Its subtitle is somewhat misleading, because Keeping Faith is neither a sustained philosophical discussion of American racial identities nor an extended argument to the effect that some noteworthy assumptions about race have helped to shape the history of American...

(The entire section is 1002 words.)

Cornel West with John Nichols (interview date January 1997)

SOURCE: “Cornel West,” in The Progressive, Vol. 61, No. 1, January, 1997, pp. 26-9.

[In the following interview, West discusses American religious faith, black political action and leadership, and the possibility of radical democracy.]

At forty-three, Cornel West is a professor of Afro-American Studies and Religion at Harvard University, a noted theologian, a prominent democratic socialist, and a prime mover in efforts to renew the dialogue between blacks and Jews.

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he grew up in Sacramento and was influenced both by the black church and the Black Panthers. His books, including Race Matters, published in 1993,...

(The entire section is 3565 words.)

J. A. I. Bewaji (review date June 1997)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 27, No. 2, June, 1997, pp. 212-8.

[In the following review, Bewaji offers a positive analysis of Keeping Faith.]

In more senses than one, West’s Keeping Faith is an essay in postmodernist and poststructuralist pragmatism shot through with a commitment to the possibility of shaping the truth to the end of a futuristic good, a future and a good that are not neutral or ascetic. The work is a multidimensional gold mine of ideas on diverse issues; it is a culmination of years of consistent, persistent, and persevering toil in a not too clement academia, where there are benign and...

(The entire section is 2347 words.)