Robert George and Cornel West Practice What They Preach

08 Jun 2018

These two university professors and public intellectuals from “opposite sides” of the political spectrum came together again on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death display their “brotherhood” despite ideological differences.

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Just over a year ago, George and West issued a joint statement affirming freedom of expression. The statement encouraged people “to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.”

They are well-versed in the challenge they pose to others. 

On May 29, to mark the 50th Anniversary of his death, Baylor University hosted an event to celebrate “The Life and Legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” off campus in Washington DC. The two friends addressed a sell-out crowd, urging people to get to know others who are different from them, like Reverend King did.

“We learn from everyone,” said West. “That means that we ought to be jazzlike. We ought to not just lift our voices but recognize you can’t lift your voice without bouncing your voice off that of others.”

George, for his part, offered that “nobody has a monopoly on the truth. We have something to learn from each other, even across the lines of religious or theological or philosophical or political difference.”

The “odd couple” has been finding common ground for more than a decade, beginning 11 years ago, co-teaching a class when they were both professors at Princeton. 

They have published previous joint statements on important issues, notably a 2016 “Statement on Genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria,” in the name of “decency, humanity and truth.”

And their “Examined Life” chats at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) are widely viewed on the internet. They have discussed such issues as the liberal arts and the purpose of education and philosophy, integrity and morality. 

In addition to his professorship at Princeton and numerous other posts, Professor George is a Distinguished Senior Fellow within Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). The Washington-based institute, part of the private, Christian university in Texas, was established to support multidisciplinary research on religion.

Within an initiative on “faith, ethics and public policy,” George has spoken to Baylor audiences several times. Last November, in “Faith and the Challenges of Secularism,” a round table he shared with Jewish and Muslim speakers, he urged for freedom of religion. This January, he discussed “Intellectual Freedom, Self-Mastery and the Liberal Arts,” explaining at the Waco campus “Why the Humanities Matter.”

Professor West is now at Harvard University, but that doesn’t keep the two friends apart. They continue to work together to help students and others develop the skills of talking fruitfully across political, and other differences. And they travel to joint events like Baylor’s to put their theories into practice, for the benefit of educated audiences who want to take up their challenge to learn from others.