When Jacob Needleman joined SF State's faculty in 1962, he was assigned to teach "History of Western Religious Thought" -- much against his existentialist and atheistic inclinations.
"I had to do a great deal of research in the writings within the Judaic and Christian traditions and I was astonished to find in those writings philosophical thought of great power and sophistication," says Needleman, a professor of philosophy and best-selling author. "These writings completely blew away all my opinions about what I had taken to be the irrationality or immaturity of religious ideas. Opinions, which were and still are fashionable in many intellectual and literary circles today."
With a newfound respect for the religious texts he once rejected, Needleman opened his mind to the complexities of the concept of God. His subsequent evolution, from atheist to believer in the divine, is the focus of his memoir, "What is God?" (Tarcher/ Penguin, '09).
Students in his "Concepts of God" course are reading Needleman's new book along with a range of texts on religion. He senses that some of his students, who represent many disciplines and religious backgrounds, do not enroll simply to fulfill academic requirements but to begin their own spiritual searches. Much like his book, class discussions are designed to expand upon existing debates about the existence of God, and make progress toward philosophy's aim: living an examined life.
"I don't do answers, I do questions," Needleman says. "My job is to help the students deepen the questions they bring to this class."
Back to Campus Beat index
Share this story: