On November 17, the New York Times reported that Cornel West will be returning this summer to Union Theological Seminary—where (since 1977) he has taught intermittently for decades—to become professor of Philosophy and Christian Practices. See Cornel West to Take Job in New York, N.Y. Times, Nov. 17, 2011, at A25.
As a cultural critic, West has been a prominent fixture, particularly upon issues of race. In legal academia, West has supported the Critical Legal Studies movement: For example, defending Roberto Unger in the pages of the Yale Law Journal, West characterized the long-entrenched liberalism of legal academia by connecting it to broader, more insidious social structures of violence and oppression:
[T]he liberal rule of law and civilian government—two grand achievements of most advanced capitalist societies—result from much bloodshed; bloodshed . . . from those who have been and are victimized by their flaws, imperfections, and structural deficiencies. [This] link between legal systems and their regulatory impact on the legitimate instrumentalities of violence, as well as [law’s] role in inhibiting or enhancing the well-being of the populace, [critical legal studies] begins with an historical and social analysis of the present cultural context of legal scholarship and education.
Cornel West, Colloquy: CLS and a Liberal Critic, 97 Yale L.J. 757, 765 (1988).
Yet, as the Times notes, West locates his social activism and political bent in the progressive Baptist tradition. This link between West’s social activism, legal criticism, and evangelical roots places his work in the same vein as that of figures like James H. Cone, his colleague at Union. (See my commentary on Cone and his recent work The Cross and the Lynching Tree [Orbis 2011], which combines a theology of the cross with a critical look at black oppression throughout American history.)