Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy (STUDIES IN THE BABI AND BAHA'I RELIGIONS)

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9781890688387: Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy (STUDIES IN THE BABI AND BAHA'I RELIGIONS)

  • History remembers Alain Locke (1885-1954) as the first African American Rhodes Scholar (1907) and, more famously, as the "Dean" of the Harlem Renaissance (1919-1934). Locke edited The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), acclaimed as the "first national book" of African Americans.
  • In this way, Locke's role is analogous to that of Martin Luther King: whereas King championed the civil rights of African Americans through nonviolent civil disobedience, Locke did so through a process known as "civil rights by copyright." 
  • In the Jim Crow era, when blacks had no effective political recourse, Locke used the arts as a strategy to win the respect of the white majority and to call to their attention the need to fully democratize democracy and Americanize America by extending full equality to all minorities.
  • Recent scholarship has brought Locke back to life, and his philosophy of democracy, in particular, lends him renewed importance.
  • Harvard, Harlem, Haifa -- place names that represent Locke's special involvement in philosophy, art, and religion -- are keys to understanding his life and thought. 
  • Harvard prepared Locke for distinction as the first black Rhodes Scholar in 1907 and, in 1918, awarded Locke his PhD in philosophy, thus securing his position as chair of the Department of Philosophy at Howard University from 1927 until his retirement in 1953. 
  • Harlem was the mecca of the Harlem Renaissance, whereby Locke, as spokesman for his race, revitalized racial solidarity and fostered the group consciousness among African Americans that proved a necessary precondition of the Civil Rights movement.
  • Haifa is the world center of the Bahá'í Faith, the religion to which Locke converted in 1918, the same year he received his doctorate from Harvard. Until recently, this has been the least understood aspect of Locke's life.
  • During the Jim Crow era, at a time when black people saw little possibility of interracial harmony, this new religious movement offered hope through its "race amity" efforts, which Locke was instrumental in organizing. 
  • These three spheres of activity -- the academy, the art world, and spiritual society -- converge to create a composite picture of Locke as an integrationist whose model was not assimilation, but rather "unity through diversity" (the title of one of his Bahá'í World essays). 

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From the Author:

  • As a cultural pluralist, Alain Leroy Locke (1885-1954) may have a renewed importance as a social philosopher, particularly as a philosopher of democracy. Because Locke was not a systematic philosopher, however, it is necessary to systematize his philosophy in order to bring its deep structure into bold relief.
  • Democracy is a process of progressive equalizing. It is a matter of degree. For blacks, American democracy was largely a source of oppression, not liberation. 
  • America's racial crisis was not just national -- it was a problem of world-historical proportions. As a cultural pluralist, Alain Locke sought to further Americanize Americanism and further democratize democracy. In so doing, he proposed a multidimensional model of democracy that ranged from concepts of "local democracy" all the way up to "world democracy." 
  • This multidimensional typology is developed further in the penultimate chapter of Christopher Buck's Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy (2005).
  • We know that Alain Locke was important. If his philosophy of democracy has any merit, we know now that is Locke is important, especially if it is time to transform democratic values into democratic imperatives.
  • Chapter Ten: "Philosophy of Democracy: America, Race, and World Peace" (pp. 241-264) deals with Alain Locke's single most important contribution to philosophy: i.e. his philosophy of democracy, which, for the first time in Locke scholarship, has been typologically reconstructed in nine dimensions.
  • Ironically, in Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), scholars Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth devote their Chapter Ten, "Theorizing Democracy," to Locke's philosophy of democracy, without referencing my Chapter Ten. "Theorizing Democracy" is far more anecdotal than analytical. Considering that Leonard Harris had graciously contributed the Foreword to my book, this omission wasn't for lack of knowledge of my work.
  • Notwithstanding, Harris and Molesworth rightly make this pregnant and uncanny observation on page 329: "Locke's views on democracy deserve fuller study than they have received. . . . In the last decade and a half of his life he referred to democracy often, and he did so in a context of reasoned debate that implicitly affirmed it as the most inclusive and valuable of all political theories." I could not agree more with this statement.
  • Errol Henderson (Associate Professor, Pennsylvania State University, University Park) recently presented a paper, "Alain Locke and the Evolution of Cultural Revolution in Black America," at the American Political Science Association (APSA) 2010 Annual Meeting, in which Henderson references Chapter Ten rather extensively. Cornel West was the respondent. This paper can be downloaded at papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1641985.
  • Professor Henderson writes, in part: 
  • As Buck (2005) has observed, Locke maintains that democracy proceeds through nine stages: (1) local democracy, (2) moral democracy, (3) political democracy, (4) economic democracy, (5) cultural democracy, (6) racial democracy, (7) social democracy, (8) spiritual democracy, and (9) world democracy. In an address at Talladega College, Locke delineated the development of democracy from its origins "in concept and practice" in the Greek city-state as "a concept of local citizenship". This was a "great achievement" at the time; and "[o]ur nearest approach to it is the kind of fellowship we find in college fraternities and sororities in which the bonds are of "like-mindedness" excluding others". Importantly, democracy as local citizenship includes as well as excludes. . . . Where spiritual democracy is extended globally, then the final stage of democratic development is attained-world democracy. Locke (1943: 14) asserted that world democracy "presupposes the recognition of the essential equality of all peoples and the potential parity of all cultures".
  • Leonard Harris (Purdue), who is widely acclaimed as the leading authority on Alain Locke, has rightly remarked: "Locke's views on democracy deserve fuller study than they have received."

From the Back Cover:

Alain Locke was one of the leading African American intellectuals of his day. Best known as the father of the Harlem Renaissance--the mastermind behind the explosion of black music, literature, and art during the 1920s and 1930s that centered in New York--he also pioneered calls for multicultural democracy and cultural pluralism, tirelessly demanding that America make good on its promises of interracial equality.

Locke became a Bahá'í in 1918, and remained a believer until his death. While his contributions to African American history have been widely appreciated, Locke's commitment to the Bahá'í Faith is not widely known or understood.

Here is the first and only serious, scholarly study of Locke's identity and commitment as a Bahá'í. The book provides exhaustive evidence of Locke's conversion; his two pilgrimages to the Bahá'í Shrines in the Holy Land; his correspondence with Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, then Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith; and his years of estrangement from the Washington, D.C., Bahá'í community.

Beyond this, the book explores Locke's ideas of "spiritual democracy" and demonstrates how the Bahá'í principles of the unity of humanity and "unity in diversity" influenced Locke's thinking--and how Locke also left his mark on Bahá'í ideals.

Cover Design: Judy Liggett
Cover Photo: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Alain Locke Papers, Howard University

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