Benedict de Spinoza, oil painting, c. 1665

Spinoza and Mendelssohn: Politics of the Sacred and Profane

The Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street New York
New York 10011

In this course, we will explore questions of political theology and “the secular” in two pivotal, controversial works in both Jewish thought and in the history of “Western” political philosophy: Baruch Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise and Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem. We will study these texts in terms of their historical relationship to and interaction with normative ideas in “Western” philosophy, as well as in light of the questions in political philosophy and metaphysics they raise. How should we understand—or, rather, not understand—God? What is the proper relationship between religion and the state? How can we understand the differences between revealed “religion” and revealed “legislation”? How did Spinoza articulate an alternative vision of modernity nearly a century before Kant? How did Mendelssohn rebut Kantian ideals of freedom and autonomy by drawing on Jewish traditions and concepts of heteronomy? What philosophical positions can emerge from examining the contrast between Christian notions of universalism and Jewish conceptions of particularity? In addition to Spinoza and Mendelssohn, we will read commentaries on both authors and secondary literature on the nature of “religion” and “secularism.” This will not be a class merely in philosophical reading. We will try to understand, apply, and reflect critically on these questions in our contemporary context.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 7-9pm
January 02 — January 02, 2013
6 weeks