Two revolutionary thinkers will meet head-to-head Nov. 15 to debate a range of current issues in a dialogue billed as “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.”
Cornel West, professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary, and Bob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), USA, will participate in what organizers call a “historic” dialogue from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 15 at Riverside Church in Harlem, N.Y.
“You’re going to hear agreement and disagreement; you’re going to hear transgression and divergence; but most importantly, you’re going to hear two brothers who are for real focusing on… ‘the wretched of the Earth’ how we can resist, how we can be resilient, how we can move toward fundamental social change,” West said in a videotaped invitation to the event posted on YouTube.
West, a former Harvard and Princeton professor who has called himself a “non-Marxist communist” and a radical Christian, is known for his opposition to capitalism and all its manifestations, including racism and imperialism. He is a hands-on activist and philosopher who offers provocative commentary on issues such as the mass incarceration of African Americans, the war in Iraq, the Iraqi-Palestinian conflict and police brutality—he was recently arrested while protesting in Ferguson, Mo., where an 18-year-old unarmed Black teen was killed by a White police officer.
Avakian is a native of Washington, D.C. and an atheist and a Marxist revolutionary. He became involved in leftist politics while in college, including membership in the Black Panther Party, the Free Speech Movement and others. He has been the head of the Revolutionary Communist Party since 1979.
“He is a legendary freedom fighter; he’s a long distance runner; he is one of the few coming out of the ‘60s who never sold out, he never caved in, he never gave up,” West said of Avakian in an episode of his “Smiley and West” radio show in October 2012. “He has such a deep love for poor people, oppressed people all around the world. Whether you agree or disagree with our brother, one thing you cannot deny is that he is the real thing. No doubt about it.”
The dialogue is sponsored by The Bob Avakian Institute and Revolution Books, and is supported by a large host committee, which includes activists and deep thinkers such as Bill Ayers, RCP founding member Carl Dix, Chicago Theological Seminary professor Theodore Jennings, and Columbia University professors Saskia Sassen, Farah Griffin, Fredrick Harris, Carl Hart, Philip Kitcher, and Obery M. Hendricks Jr.
Dix said West will likely challenge people not to become adapted to indifference, while Avakian will provide his framework for ending the ills that confront humanity. The pair will likely disagree on the role of religion in the “emancipation of humanity”—whether as a roadblock or inspiration. The RCP member said he hopes the discussion will give people different approaches for grappling with and addressing the complex issues facing communities and inspire them to be involved in necessary change.
“You’re going to have these two dynamic leaders on stage together, rolling up their sleeves and digging into some of the things that they agree on and also exploring areas of disagreement and doing it with mutual respect and intellectual integrity that will be refreshing,” Dix said.
Host committee member Kitcher, who teaches philosophy at Columbia, said he hopes the discussion will open people’s eyes to the domestic and global problems that are often overlooked.
“I think we live in a country that is, at the moment, politically extremely myopic,” Kitcher said, according to the Columbia Spectator. “We are not facing out to global and local problems of inequality. We are not facing out to the deep problem of coming together and doing something about things like climate change. We are not facing up to the serious problems of poverty and neglect that are felt by people not only in this country but all around the world.
“These things are interwoven with one another,” Kitcher continued, “and I think that we only have a relatively limited amount of time to do something about it.”
The event will be simulcast to the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area and to London, England. Visit http://revcom.us/revolution-and-religion/index.html for more details.