Professor Roosevelt Montás, Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English, Columbia University


Date & Time:




Columbia University, American Studies Library, 319 Hamilton Hall


In this three-week series, we will examine Plato’s search for truth, St. Augustine’s search for God, and Emerson’s search for individuality. Each thinker is committed to what one might call the philosophic life—a life characterized by devotion, honesty, and relentless self-examination. Do these thinkers have anything to contribute to our contemporary concerns with identity, authenticity, and the epistemological challenges of postmodernity? Do the questions that drive these writers have meaning for us? Do they provide useful models for our own efforts to orient our lives before the whole of reality?

Each week, we will discuss passages from the texts to get a deeper understanding of what each author is trying to accomplish as well as a more vivid sense of the questions that drive each of them. Throughout our discussions, we will also think about the nature of humanistic education and the role that texts like these can play in that task. The texts to be discussed in week one are: Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo; in week two: St. Augustine’s Confessions; and in week three: Ralph Wando Emerson’s “Divinity School Address,” “Self-Reliance,” and “Circles.”

Participants are encouraged to read approximately 15 pages from each text, which will be distributed in advance. Prior knowledge of these texts is not expected.

These discussions are open to students and teachers at Columbia University or other schools in the New York area. Space is limited to 15 participants at each session. Ideally, participants would attend all three sessions, but that is not required. A light meal will be provided.

About the speaker:

Roosevelt Montás is Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University.  He holds an A.B. (1995), an M.A. (1996), and a Ph.D. (2004) in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.  He was Director of the Center for the Core Curriculum at Columbia College from 2008 to 2018.  Roosevelt specializes in Antebellum American literature and culture, with a particular interest in American citizenship.  His dissertation, Rethinking America: Abolitionism and the Antebellum Transformation of the Discourse of National Identity, won Columbia University’s 2004 Bancroft Award.  In 2000, he received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student.  Roosevelt teaches “Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West,” a year-long course on primary texts in moral and political thought, as well as seminars in American Studies including “Freedom and Citizenship in the United States.” He is also a seminar instructor for the Freedom and Citizenship program sponsored by the Center for American Studies and the Double Discovery Center. He speaks and writes on the history, meaning, and future of liberal education and is writing a book for Princeton University Press about his experiences as a student and teacher.