Jazz-soaked philosophy in our catastrophic times: from Socrates to Coltrane

Join American philosopher, theologian, activist, and public intellectual Professor Cornel West for the RSE’s annual Gifford seminar.

“These lectures reflect my passionate conviction that the vocation of philosophy may be, in the language of the great jazz musician, John Coltrane, a force for good in a broken world.”

Cornel West

How do we emerge from the bleakness of our catastrophic times?

At this year’s RSE Gifford Seminar, Professor Cornel West, distinguished American philosopher, theologian, activist, and public intellectual, considers the philosophical and artistic resources at our disposal to help us shape courageous, compassionate responses and find ways of moving forward. The seminar allows audience members to explore with Professor West some of the larger questions and issues raised in his Gifford Lecture Series – ‘A Jazz-soaked Philosophy for our Catastrophic Times: from Socrates to Coltrane.’ It is an opportunity to join in a conversation about the topics of Professor West’s lectures, and hear a variety of voices and perspectives.

As the University of Edinburgh Gifford Lecturer for 2023-24, Professor West will give six public lectures between 6 and 16 May. In these lectures, he will explore how the forces of kairos (disruptive hope), kinesis (the holy folly of faith) and, above all, kenosis (revolutionary love), when embedded into philosophic traditions, can “sustain us in the painful but also joyful trek from womb to tomb.”

About the Gifford seminar

The RSE and the University of Edinburgh unite annually to present the RSE Gifford Seminar, providing a unique overview of the Gifford Lecture Series for the year. This seminar is not another lecture but an interactive session where you can engage with the speaker on their series, fostering fresh thinking, connections, and exchanges. The Gifford Lectures were established in 1887 under the will of Adam, Lord Gifford, a judge of the Court of Session and a man of broad interests and compassion. Gifford Lectures are held at each of the four ancient Scottish universities. For over a century, the lectures have enabled an eminent field of scholars to advance philosophical and scientific thought.



Professor Cornel West

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Professor of Philosophy & Christian Practice Union Theological Seminary, New York

Professor West teaches the Philosophy of Religion and African American Critical Thought at the Union Theological Seminary, New York. His teaching and publications focus on race, gender, and class struggle in American society, synthesizing influences from Christianity, moral philosophy, the black church, democratic socialism, neo-pragmatism and transcendentalism.

Professor West is the former Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He earned his first degree in Near Eastern languages and civilisation from Harvard, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Princeton.

He has written 20 books and has edited 13. He is best known for his Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. A musician and spoken word artist, Professor West has collaborated with acts across the rap, hip-hop and funk genres, as well as appearing in the Matrix series and many documentary films.

Mona Siddiqui sitting in front of a mirror posing for the camera


Professor Mona Siddiqui, OBE, FRSE

Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies, University of Edinburgh, VP International, RSE

Professor Mona Siddiqui is a highly respected public intellectual and speaker on religion, ethics and public life. Her primary research areas are Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), ethics, and Christian-Muslim relations. She has held several prestigious research grants and visiting professorships, serving as a Humanitas Professor at the University of Cambridge and a Visiting Professorship at Hartford Seminary in the US.

In 2011, she was awarded an OBE for her interfaith work. She is a regular commentator in public life and the media. She has addressed the World Economic Forum, she chairs the BBC’s Religious Advisory Committee in Scotland, and she is included on the Debretts list of the 500 most influential people in the UK.
Cornel West wearing glasses


Wednesday May 15th, 2024 18:00-19:00


The Royal Society of Edinburgh




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