One of America’s most gifted and provocative intellectuals, Dr. West is best known for his outspoken criticism of social injustice in the United States and around the world. He lectures and writes widely on a variety of subjects, including racial equality, American imperialism, war and peace, ending street violence, democracy, and spiritual politics. Dr. West’s speaking, writing, and teaching weave together the American traditions of the Black Baptist Church, Emersonianism, socialism, and pragmatism. He currently teaches philosophy, religion, and African American Studies at Princeton University.
Dr. Cornel West, American scholar and philosopher, has been awarded the 2005 Prize for Cultural Freedom. The Prize for Cultural Freedom was established to recognize people whose extraordinary and courageous work celebrates the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression. As defined by the foundation, cultural freedom is the right of individuals and communities to define and protect valued and diverse ways of life currently threatened by globalization.
Dr. West will receive $350,000.
According to foundation president Patrick Lannan, “Cornel West, a most distinguished scholar and philosopher, is perhaps the most gifted and inspiring American orator of his generation. At a time in modern history where one sees the greatest disparity ever between rich and poor, Dr. West’s talks unnerve and unsettle the comfortable classes, while communicating a sense of hope and justice to the politically and economically marginalized.”
Currently Dr. West holds the position of Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion. Prior to his appointment at Princeton, Dr. West was the Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University Professor at Harvard University teaching in Afro-American Studies and the Philosophy of Religion. He received his AB magna cum laude from Harvard College and his MA and PhD in philosophy from Princeton. In previous years he taught at Yale, Union Theological Seminary, University of Paris, and Princeton, where he was Chair of the Program of Afro-American Studies.
Dr. West is the author of numerous articles and 17 books, including The Cornel West Reader, Race Matters, and The War Against Parents. Race Matters, a contemporary classic that sold more than 400,000 copies, analyzes the scars of racism in American democracy. His most recent book, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism (The Penguin Press, 2004), argues that if America is to become a better steward of democratization around the world, it must first wake up to the long history of imperialist corruption that has plagued its own democracy.
A widely cited scholar, Dr. West focuses on the area where religious thought, social theory, and pragmatic philosophy meet. His most influential scholarly work, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, is a history of pragmatism from Emerson to the present.
Cornel West was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1953. His father was a civilian Air Force administrator, and his mother was an elementary school teacher and principal. The West family moved a great deal and finally settled in a working-class neighborhood in Sacramento, California. It was there that the young West began what would become a lifelong habit of protest by refusing to salute the flag because of the second-class status of African Americans in the United States.
As a boy, Dr. West was deeply shaped by the Black Baptist Church. He had been profoundly touched by the stories of parishioners who, only two generations from slavery, told of Blacks maintaining their religious faith during the most trying of times. Dr. West was equally attracted to the commitment of the Black Panthers, and it was from them that he began to understand the importance of community-based political action. However, it was a biography of Teddy Roosevelt that Dr. West borrowed from a neighborhood bookmobile that influenced his academic future and led him to Harvard.
A long-time member, Dr. West now serves as an honorary chair for the Democratic Socialists of America. He has worked with numerous political and social organizations, including co-chairing the National Parenting Organization’s Task Force on Parent Empowerment (along with Sylvia Ann Hewlett.) Dr. West was also part of President Clinton’s National Conversation on Race.