Robert Gooding-Williams

Robert Gooding-Williams is a professor of philosophy and African-American studies at Columbia University. He also serves as director for the Center for Race, Philosophy, and Social Justice.

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Monday, July 10th, 2017

Josef Sorett and the idea of a racial aesthetic

Spirit in the DarkJosef Sorett’s Spirit in the Dark is a marvelous book, not least of all due to its meticulous, incisive, and historically informed treatments of the literary sources it assembles. Sorett says that the primary aim of the book is “to narrate the history of the idea of a racial aesthetic” and that the book is written, first and foremost, “with scholars of African American religious history in mind.” Sorett’s story is a specifically religious history of the idea of a racial aesthetic, the point of which is to relate that idea, in its various incarnations, to the evolution of African American and other religious practices in North America from the 1920s through the 1960s.

In addition to weaving together “history and literature,” Sorret tells us he hopes also to attend to “theoretical concerns.” In this essay, I take up those concerns, and some of the issues they raise, for I come to Josef’s book not as a scholar of African American religious history, but as a philosopher with an interest in literary aesthetics generally and in the idea of a racial aesthetic, specifically.

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