Attendees of the Colleges’ second Max and Marian Farash Community Lecture recently enjoyed a captivating and philosophically centered book reading by award-winning author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, who shared an excerpt of her latest novel, “36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction” (2011).
Held in the Geneva Room of The L. Thomas Melly Academic Center, the presentation was part of Goldstein’s two-day appearance on campus as the Colleges’ Farash Visiting Scholar. Her lectureship was made possible by the generous support of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, a Rochester N.Y.-based nonprofit that values education and entrepreneurship, and has deep consideration for religious and civic communities.
Before launching into her book reading, Goldstein, who also is a noted scholar and philosopher, reflected on where she originates inspiration for her novels and how characters play a central role in capturing that inspiration. “I’m always thinking about philosophical problems, and every once in a while I feel that I have to write a novel about whatever philosophical problem I’m thinking about,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein explained that her desire to explore various philosophical or ideological questions or conflicts often is at the source of her inspiration. She says she uses character development as the catalyst for exploring those problems and offering insights through her writing into the human condition. For Goldstein, the focus of her writing often arrives at the intersection of science and religion.
“When I feel a particular philosophical message that’s currently consuming me, it’s one with great emotional overtones and it’s one in which conflicting intuitions are at war,” Goldstein said. “The different intuitions speak very deeply to character. Where are these intuitions coming from that are orienting us toward reality?”
Introducing Goldstein for the book reading, Professor of English David Weiss noted how reviewers have used her novel, “36 Arguments for the Existence of God,” as a launching point to discuss a wide range of ideas, including Judaism, genius, atheism, science, academia, and faith. He said one of the great aspects of the novel is its thorough and well-devised associations to those subjects.
“A lot of what I could say about Rebecca Goldstein’s fiction, her reading will make it abundantly evident,” Weiss said. “Its wit and warmth; its verbal play; its great playfulness at times richly satirical; all of this in ‘36 Arguments’ comes across as a kind of joyfulness. ‘She’s must have had great fun writing this book,’ I was thinking as I read it, and that is something, in my experience, that isn’t always the case.”
Following Goldstein’s presentation, there was a question-and-answer session in which she shared insights about her writing process, the content and context of her works, as well as further explanation of her novel’s characters. As the Farash Visiting Scholar, Goldstein also met with students and faculty of the Colleges to discuss the 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinazo, particularly through the context of her 2009 publication, “Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity.”
Goldstein’s Farash lectureship was facilitated through 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.
About Rebecca Newberger Goldstein:
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 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. Previously, Goldstein gave a talk in 2001 at an event hosted by the HWS Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men.