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Cornel West to Teach Intro to African American Studies After 18-Year Break

A Conversation with Cornel West
Cornel R. West '74 spoke with Danielle S. Allen, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, as a part of the center's Diversity, Justice, and Democracy lecture series in 2016.

Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy Cornel R. West ’74 will return to teaching African and African American Studies 10: “Introduction to African American Studies” this semester after 18 years away from the course.

West, who returned to Harvard in 2017 after a nearly 14-year break spent teaching at Princeton University, last taught the course in 2000. In recent years, African and African-American Studies Professors Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lawrence D. Bobo have led the course, but Bobo’s promotion to divisional dean of Social Science last fall forced the course to restructure, opening up the opportunity for West to teach it once again.

West said he is excited to able to teach the course after years away, calling the experience of teaching it a “blessing.”

His own academic work mainly concerns itself with the intersection between religion, social analysis, and philosophical thought. West said he will incorporate this multidimensional approach in teaching AAAS 10 by drawing from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

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West described the revamped course as a “fusion of the philosophical, the historical, and the political,” adding that he will incorporate some artistic elements including “good music and literature” as well.

One of the main focuses of the course will be illustrating how African-American intellectual movements responding to catastrophe were influenced by various temperaments and historical schools of thought, according to West.

“I’m trying to show the ways in which the Socratic legacy of Athens, the prophetic legacy of Jerusalem, and the scientific legacy of the Enlightenment, and the democratic legacy of American Romanticism feed into the black intellectual tradition,” West said.

“[The class] really shows the way in which African American intellectuals were hybrid intellectuals, influenced by a number of very deep and strong traditions,” he added.

While many of the texts — which draw from canonical works of the African-American intellectual tradition — will be the same as the ones examined in Bobo’s and Gates’ version of the course, West said his exploration will take a different approach.

“[Bobo and Gates] teach in terms of debates that have been going on; whereas my course I think will be a course taught by me.” West said. “It is different being taught primarily by one person.”

West said he’s most looking forward to teaching texts written by fellow Harvard professors — authors that include Gates, Sociology Professor Orlando H. L. Patterson, and African and African-American Studies Professor Tommie Shelby.

“What’s in part exciting is that we read great classical texts, but [the course] also includes my colleagues,” West said. “That’s what’s so magnificent about teaching the course.”

CORRECTION: Jan. 19, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated West is an African and African-American Studies professor. In fact, his title is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy.

—Staff writer Sophia S. Armenakas can be reached at sophia.armenakas@thecrimson.com.

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