Professor Jonathan Israel of the Institute for Advanced Study explores Spinoza’s role as a revolutionary thinker and precursor to the modern human rights movement in the 2017 Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies, which were held on May 21 and 23 in conjunction with the Spinoza and Modern Jewish Philosophy Conference.
Since his expulsion from the synagogue in 1656, Spinoza has been a notorious figure within the Jewish world and in the Western world as a whole. He is seen as the very embodiment of irreligion, rejection of religious authority, and of skepticism about the Hebrew Bible as divine revelation. As several key passages of his writings make clear, though, his principal aim was not to spread irreligious attitudes, but rather to promote “freedom” and fight political tyranny, especially tyranny in the form of great monarchical empires that operated in close alliance with religious authority, like those of Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France.
In What Sense Was Spinoza a Revolutionary Thinker?
In the first lecture, Jonathan Israel outlines Spinoza’s key writings in favor of democracy and democratic republicanism–and against restrictive religious and state institutions–and explains how these writings were received by Spinoza’s contemporaries.