As part of the Max and Marian Farash Community Lecture at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein read from one of her latest works, “36 Arguments for the Existence of God,” during an a two-day campus visit.
On Thursday, April 4, Goldstein, a scholar and author who lectures around the world on issues of science and religion, conducted an on-campus book reading in the Geneva Room of The L. Thomas Melly Academic Center, contiguous to the Warren Hunting Smith Library. A question-and-answer session and book signing followed her remarks.
“Rebecca Goldstein is a very fine novelist,” says Professor of English David Weiss. “Her most recent work, ’36 Arguments for the Existence of God,’ is a marvel of structure, character and imagination. It concerns the dangers of zealous belief and the zero-sum logic of egotism, while being shot through with ecstatic life. This wise, sprezzaturic novel, like her work in general, is inextricably interdisciplinary, a quality the Colleges value highly. Theology, philosophy, mathematics, Jewish culture, literature: all are her domain and subject.”
Winner of awards for both her literary and scholarly work, Goldstein’s career intersects the cultural lines of the humanities, arts, and sciences. Not only is she an author, philosopher, and academic, but she equally can discuss subjects ranging from physics to fiction writing.
Her appearance at HWS, which included events with students and faculty, was made possible by the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit based in Rochester, N.Y., which values education and entrepreneurship, and has deep consideration for civic and religious communities. Through its efforts, grants are made available to nonprofits in Monroe and Ontario counties, half of which are for projects and programs with ties to Jewish life.
In addition to her book reading, Goldstein also met with students and faculty for a focused dialogue about her book, “Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity” (2009). Goldstein’s visit marked her second campus appearance at HWS. In 2001, she gave a talk at an event hosted by the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men.
“Goldstein is one of the most original and suggestive writers working today,” says Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski. “Her scholarship and fiction operates at the intersection between philosophy, mathematics and authentic faith, and it is most fitting that she is the second speaker of the Farash Community Lecture series at HWS.”
In February, the Farash Foundation launched the inaugural Max and Marian Farash Community Lecture at HWS, which featured celebrated author and scholar, James Carroll.
“Goldstein’s recent book, ‘Betraying Spinoza,’ like James Carroll in his work and lecture, reminds us of what is at stake if we neglect and betray the challenges and questions posed by this ‘prophet’ of tolerance, rationalism, secularism and democratic values,” Dobkowski says. “By engaging not only with Spinoza’s Jewish origins, but with her own Jewish upbringing, we truly gained some insights into the personal and intellectual influences that inform and shape her work.”
Goldstein’s Farash lectureship, like Carroll’s visit to HWS, was facilitated through of a collaborative effort at the Colleges among the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, the Religious Life Office, and the Religious Studies Department. The Abbe Center for Jewish Life provides an environment for people of Jewish faith or with Jewish interests to gather and socialize, and to celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays.
“I am very pleased that the Abbe Center, with these other Hobart and William Smith divisions, and through the generosity of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, was able to bring Rebecca Newberger Goldstein to campus as the Farash Visiting Scholar,” says Lorinda Weinstock, director of the Abbe Center and HWS Hillel adviser. “As the Center for Jewish Life at HWS, it was an honor to bring someone to campus who has received both the National Jewish Book Award for her 1995 novel, ‘Mazal,’ and the 2006 Koret International Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought for her nonfiction work, ‘Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity.’ Ms. Goldstein is truly a ‘Renaissance’ woman.”
Goldstein graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College and went on to earn her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. After receiving her degree, Goldstein returned to Barnard, where she taught courses in philosophy of mind and philosophy of science.
Throughout her career, Goldstein has received numerous honors, including her being named a MacArthur Fellow in 1996. In 2006, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a Radcliffe Fellowship. Included among her most recent lectures, Goldstein spoke at the World Science Festival in New York, the London School of Economics, the Bath Literature Festival, and Cambridge University.