Lewis Gordon, internationally acclaimed philosopher and 1984 graduate of the Lehman Scholars Program, was recently appointed to the prestigious Nelson Mandela Visiting Professorship at Rhodes University in South Africa.
Dr. Gordon, who is Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, is teaching a seven-week seminar on African humanism in South Africa this year and two more seminars in 2015. The Nelson Mandela Visiting Professorship was launched in 2012 to bring world-renowned scholars to Rhodes University. Dr. Gordon will lecture on subjects such as “Unjust Justice,” “Theories from the Global South,” and “African Humanism.”
“To have someone of that caliber within our midst raises the bar within the faculty,” said Fred Hendricks, dean of Humanities at Rhodes University. “You get the prospects of postgraduate and undergraduate students being exposed to somebody of that caliber and testing their own ideas against somebody like that who can then guide them.”
Dr. Gordon earned two master’s degrees as well as his Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University. As a post-graduate student, he taught in the Lehman Scholars Program at Lehman College. Since then, Dr. Gordon has taught at Brown University, Yale, Purdue University, and Temple University in the field of Black existentialism and Africana philosophy, among other subjects. At Temple University, he directed both the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies and the Institute for the Study of Race and Social Thought. He also founded the Second Chance Program at Lehman High School in the Bronx.
Dr. Gordon will alternate between seminars at Rhodes and lectures across South Africa at various universities and community events. He has a long time relationship with South African academic scholars, having presented several public lectures and seminars in the country for the past three years. Dr. Gordon’s first book Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism was published in 1995 and made an impact on many university researchers and community activists in South Africa.
“[The book] quickly made its way to unexpected places. Among them were poor black townships across South Africa. The poorest of the poor valued my existential phenomenological meditations on anti-black racism enough to make them available in barely stocked community libraries,” Dr. Gordon said. “Every time I visited South Africa, I found myself entrenched in important national and international debates on struggles for human dignity.”
By the time Dr. Gordon was offered a South African Research Fellowship in 1999 to 2000 at the then Durban-Westville University, he had written several other books on the revolutionary philosopher and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, including Her Majesty’s Other Children which won the Gustavus Meyer award for the Study of Human Rights.
In December, Dr. Gordon traveled to Toulouse University, France, where he was recently named Europhilosophy Visiting Chair, a special position rarely granted to non-European philosophers. In addition to teaching a two-week seminar for graduate students at Toulouse, Gordon presented the keynote speech at the university’s conference on Frantz Fanon and psychoanalysis. This was the second trip to the famous French university for the philosophy scholar, who lectured there last year in the French-German Summer School, an initiative of the European Union.
Dr. Gordon believes that his experience as a student in the Lehman Scholars Program exposed him to an intellectually rich and vibrant environment in an institution attuned to the constant changes of a predominantly immigrant community.
“Studying through the LSP and learning so much from my vibrant community of peers were gifts. My fellow students were politically aware, always active and looking out for each other,” Dr. Gordon said. “We had fundraising parties to assist each other with tuition and living costs; we cultivated our artistic and academic talents through performances and academic workshops; we created newspapers and magazines; and we even developed free used-book drives and additional tutoring services. We understood, in other words, what it meant to be part of a community. I know these are rare moments at many institutions. I was fortunate to be part of one of them.”