Remembering Jacob Needleman (1934 - 2022)
(Free post) A selection of representative videos
In November of last year, Jacob Needleman died and we lost yet another wise American elder. I cited him in one or more of my earliest Substack posts, and I dare say I will do so again as opportunity affords.
He was one of those philosophers and religious thinkers of an all-too-rapidly passing generation. His intellectual (and spiritual) impact on my own formation is something I couldn’t ignore; hence, this post. The first book of his that ever I read was his (now classic) Lost Christianity (1980). I’ve read it a number of times since, and each time it has yielded fresh thoughts for rumination. I used it in 1982, in fact, when teaching comparative contemplative traditions at UMBC (the University of Maryland Baltimore County; one of the students in that class, as I’ve mentioned before, was my younger brother, David Bentley Hart). At the time it was a new book; now, of course, it’s an “old” book — and since I follow and also recommend C. S. Lewis’s advice to read (roughly) five old books for every new one, I have no qualms about returning to it now and then. Needleman’s other writings are equally invaluable, in my flawless estimation, and I urge readers here to discover or rediscover them.
Below, I have gathered together a few of the interviews he gave over the years, including one he gave in 1980 (the first in the list) following the publication of the book I mentioned above. What immediately follows is an unedited biographical sketch that one can find here on Needleman’s website.
Jacob Needleman is Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University, former Visiting Professor at Duxx Graduate School of Business Leadership in Monterrey, Mexico, and former Director of the Center for the study of New Religions at The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He was educated in philosophy at Harvard, Yale and the University of Freiburg, Germany. He has also served as Research Associate at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, as a Research Fellow at Union Theological Seminary, as Adjunct Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of California Medical School and as guest Professor of Religious Studies at the Sorbonne, Paris (1992).
He is the author of The New Religions, a pioneering study of the new American spirituality, The Wisdom of Love, Money and the Meaning of Life, A Sense of the Cosmos, Lost Christianity, The Heart of Philosophy, The Way of the Physician, Time and the Soul, Sorcerers, a novel, The American Soul , Why Can't We Be Good? and The Essential Marcus Aurelius. He was also General Editor of the Penguin Metaphysical Library, a highly acclaimed selection of sixteen reprinted texts dealing with the contemporary search for spiritual ideas and practice. In addition, he has been general editor of the Element Books series, The Spirit of Philosophy-aimed at re-positioning the teachings of the great philosophers of the West to show their relevance to the modern spiritual quest. Among the other books he has authored or edited: The Tao Te Ching (Introductory Essay), Consciousness and Tradition, Real Philosophy, Modern Esoteric Spirituality and many others.
In addition to his teaching and writing, he serves as a consultant in the fields of business, psychology, education, medical ethics and philanthropy, and is increasingly well known as an organizer and moderator of conferences in these fields. He has also been featured on Bill Moyers' acclaimed PBS series, "A World of Ideas." His most recent books are An Unknown World: Notes on the Meaning of the Earth published by Tarcher/Penguin, 2012. and Necessary Wisdom published by Fearless Books, 2013.
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