Westar scholars inducted into the Order of Baruch Spinoza hold a history of commitment to Westar, a consistent track record of seminar involvement, or a publication background exhibiting daring, imaginative, and cutting-edge scholarship in the spirit of Spinoza. Westar scholars inducted into the Order have rigorously applied critical and imaginative theology or philosophy to the study of religion in a manner reflecting the spirit of Spinoza.
Baruch Spinoza was a pioneer in the critical engagement of theology and philosophy. He was among the first to affirm the significance of science for thinking in religion. His imaginative and daring creativity recast the understanding of God from a supernatural object of pious regard to the cosmic fabric of life. His willingness to reimagine the humanistic values of religion resulted in excommunication from his community and condemnation as a heretic.
In his work on Ethics, Spinoza held that existence and essence are identical in the concept of God. God is therefore the natural, single substance of reality. Human beings can only experience partial elements of this singularity through sensation and thought. In ethical behavior, human beings must avoid forming absolute opinions based on partial experiences and must learn to view their partial experiences from a cosmic perspective.
In his Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza was among the first to question the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and became, in this act, a founding figure of Higher Criticism. Against supernatural ideas, Spinoza stressed that nature unfolds without specific teleological goals and minus special considerations for humankind.
Baruch Spinoza spent his life as a private scholar. Such was the controversy surrounding him that only the Principles of Philosophy was published in his lifetime and under his name. Following his death, his other works surfaced to great uproar, criticism, and vehement condemnation. Yet, with the perspective of time, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was able to write, in his History of Philosophy, that one was either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.
John D. Caputo, Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University and Villanova University
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