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Reading Group / Seminar

The Black Intellectual Tradition and The Great Conversation

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An Invitation

Join a Seminar on the Black Intellectual Tradition and the Great Conversation

I invite you to join me in exploring the ongoing contributions of black writers to the great conversation of Western culture. You gather others you know who are interested in creating a reading group, and I will provide the seminar outline, readings, and lectures. Your group will gather on its own, with access to readings and lectures. Periodically I will offer optional webinars you and your group may attend if you would like further discussion and reflection on the readings and their themes.

The seminar materials are designed to provide a brief introduction to several key themes of the “Great Conversation” that has taken place among esteemed writers from ancient times to the present. Traditionally, the authors included in this Great Conversation have included very few, or even no black intellectuals. Writers of the black intellectual tradition have, however, much to say that contributes directly to this conversation and that is indispensable to rigorous contemplation of ideas such as liberty, equality, freedom, democracy, citizenship, and more, that are core to the conversation.

In his book *The Great Conversation: The substance of a liberal education*, Robert Maynard Hutchins describes the conversation as consisting of writings that “had endured and that the common voice of mankind called the finest creations, in writing, of the Western mind” (xi). He also explained that “from epoch to epoch, new books have been written that have won their place in the list….It is the task of every generation to reassess the tradition in which it lives, to discard what it cannot use, and to bring into context with the distant and intermediate past the most recent contributions to the Great Conversation” (xi).

The intent with this seminar is to do just the kind of reassessing Hutchins recommends. The texts are curated in a way that seeks to seamlessly weave the voices of black intellectuals into dialogue with writers who have long been established at the core of the great books tradition. It is my belief that the inclusion of these writers deepens the conversation, provides it with nuance, and better equips those engaged in the conversation today to grapple with difficult issues of inequality, belonging, and justice that continue to bedevil our attempts to live together with and to build bridges across our differences.

This weaving in of diverse voices into the core of our generations-long conversation helps us to more fully realize the benefits of this kind of liberal education. Hutchins describes these benefits as follows:

We think these books show the origins of many of our most serious difficulties. We think that the spirit they represent and the habit of mind they teach are more necessary today than ever before. (xiii)

I agree. It is my hope that this introduction will assist and equip us in the effort to cultivate these benefits for ourselves and for a younger generation of students.

What you get

When you join the reading group

List of Readings

I will provide a list of readings and an outline of each session.


Recorded Lectures

Each session includes a recorded lecture that introduces the material and sets the context for the material.

Downloadable Readings

Each session, you will get access to downloadable digital materials for your convenience.


Join the Conversation