Lilla, Mark 1956-
Lilla, Mark 1956-
Academic and religious scholar. New York University, New York, NY, faculty member; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, Committee on Social Thought professor; Columbia University, New York, NY, professor of the humanities and religion. Oxford University, visiting scholar.
(Editor, with Nathan Glazer) The Public Face of Architecture: Civic Culture and Public Spaces, Free Press (New York, NY), 1987.
G.B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.
(Editor) New French Thought: Political Philosophy, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994.
(Editor, with Ronald Dworkin and Robert Silvers) The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin, New York Review Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, New York Review Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.
Mark Lilla is an academic and religious scholar. Born in 1956, Lilla studied at the University of Michigan. He then earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1990. Lilla has served as a visiting scholar at Oxford University and was a member of the faculty at New York University. He later moved to the University of Chicago, where he was a professor on the Committee on Social Thought. Lilla then settled at Columbia University, as a professor of humanities and religion. His research interests include the history of ideas, the legacy of modern Western enlightenment, and the relationship between politics and religion.
Lilla gave a lecture at the Carnegie Council on September 26, 2007. There he discussed a number of issues related to his research and publications, including the dialogue between religions and political cultures, notably between Islam, its radical elements, and Western political systems of democracy. He was introduced by the organization's director of public affairs programs, Joanne Myers, who opened the discussion by saying that "Professor Lilla is not shy when it comes to examining topics of enormous scope. He is widely recognized as a sophisticated essayist and world-renowned intellectual historian who concentrates on the history of ideas." Lilla himself summarized his views on the matter with the following: "My view is that now that we share Europe with people who may not accept the legitimacy of our system of government, we need to draw lines and we need somehow to accommodate ourselves to this fact. I am not terribly hopeful about the possibility of an easy, simple liberal reform of Islam—not because of anything about Islam, but because of the story I've just told about the failed liberalization of Protestantism and Judaism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The paradox is this. The moment you liberalize a religion in order to reconcile it with the present political order, the more that religion becomes implicated in whatever happens in that political order. If things turn out badly, there is a tendency for people to abandon that liberal religion for a more messianic one, to bring the judgment of God down on a political order that is not just. I do not think that this easy liberalization that we are hoping for will happen because it sets off this dynamic of apocalyptic and messianic yearning."
He concluded his thoughts on the matter by saying: "That's why, unlike some of my adversaries in the press now I've been arguing against, I am more hopeful about thinkers like Tariq Ramadan and Abou El Fadl, who are trying to renew an understanding of Islamic law from within, not accommodated to our taste of the present, but to reinterpret it in such a way that makes it easier for believing Muslims to live in the modern world without feeling that they're abandoning the core of their faith. I wish them well. But in the end, we have to realize that none of this is in our hands, that we do not share the basic presuppositions of those who are promoters of and believers in political theology. There's a gap separating us. We live on the other shore. The best way to navigate in the present is to understand that there's no bridge that's going to connect us."
Lilla edited his first book, The Public Face of Architecture: Civic Culture and Public Spaces, in 1987 with Nathan Glazer. In 1993, he published his first solo work, entitled G.B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern.
Lilla published New French Thought: Political Philosophy in 1994. Although much scholarship exists on the significant role French philosophers and thinkers had throughout the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, Lilla continues the tradition of examining the French philosophers' contributions to knowledge by covering the young, modern thinkers in France, the majority discussed being under the age of fifty. Lilla shows how they propose new directions in the realms of humanism and liberalism along with a shunning of postmodernist views of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.
Paul Kurtz, reviewing the book in Free Inquiry, observed that "all in all, this is a stimulating and hopeful book, especially in its defense of human freedom and individual autonomy, the efficacy of technology against romantic Luddite ecologists, and the importance of creative activity in achieving the good life of eupraxophy."
In 2001, Lilla edited The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin with Ronald Dworkin and Robert Silvers. Lilla also published The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics that same year. The book shows how many philosophers, including many revered scholars, have shown tendencies to support tyrannical governing and policies or, at least, to do nothing to speak out against it.
Sunil Khilnani, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented that "beneath the stylish prose and the incisive, fluent engagement with subjects of worldly intellectual talk lie subterranean debts that obliquely reveal other preoccupations. Some are to the ideas of Leo Strauss, instanced by Lilla's interest in classical themes—friendship, eros, reason and passion, tyranny and liberty—and his insistence on the permanence of political problems. There are Arnoldian streams too, visible in Lilla's implied yearning for a clerisy, morally chaste, that might uphold the candle of reason amidst the dark of politics. Such affiliations sit a little curiously, not to say uneasily, with Lilla's liberalism; the health of the individual soul becomes the basis for a healthy polis. We seem to have been transported from the pursuit of intellectual understanding to the realm of cultural grumbling." Khilnani also noted, however, that "Lilla has a gift for nimble exposition, and each study in his collection is illuminating, often revelatory. He possesses the skills of a dramatist, and the dilemmas and choices of his subjects are framed sharply through the eyes and judgments of their friends and sometimes lovers."
Lilla published The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West in 2007. Here Lilla shows how the seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and his publication, Leviathan, marked the academic turning point in states being governed by philosophical reason and by humans as opposed to being theological states under a supreme god-like leader. Lilla next shows how Romantic era philosophers then brought God back into the debate, before following the philosophical sway of accepting or shunning religion in political life. He also looks into the negative consequences the pairing of religion and politics have had, including Nazism.
Christopher Hitchens, reviewing the book in Slate, remarked that "Lilla's most brilliant point concerns the awful pitfalls of what he does not call ‘liberation theology’ … [by] leaving this stupid and oxymoronic term to one side, and calling it by its true name of ‘liberal theology’ instead." Hitchens concluded: "Shaking off the fantastic illusion that we are the objective of the Big Bang or the process of evolution is something that any educated human can now do. This was not quite the case in previous centuries or even decades, and I do not think that Lilla has credited us with such slight advances as we have been able to make." Booklist contributor Ray Olson concluded that the book is "riveting, engrossing reading, even though it is history-of-philosophy." A contributor to Publishers Weekly proposed that The Stillborn God "will influence discussions of politics and theology for the next generation."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Academic Questions, fall, 2002, James H. Nichols, review of The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, p. 78.
America, December 3, 2007, Bill Williams, review of The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, p. 31.
American Scholar, spring, 1996, Damon Linker, review of New French Thought: Political Philosophy, p. 312.
Antioch Review, winter, 2003, Maurice J. Meilleur, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 180.
Australian Journal of Political Science, March 1, 2003, Dusko Sekulic, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 178.
Booklist, September 1, 2007, Ray Olson, review of The Stillborn God, p. 24.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May 1, 1995, C.E. Butterworth, review of New French Thought, p. 1522.
Commonweal, October 11, 2002, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 28.
Ethics, January, 1997, review of New French Thought, p. 403.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, January 1, 2002, Damon Linker, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 40.
Foreign Affairs, November 1, 1994, Francis Fukuyama, review of New French Thought, p. 155.
Free Inquiry, winter, 1994, Paul Kurtz, review of New French Thought, p. 57.
Historian, summer, 1996, Richard Bienvenu, review of New French Thought, p. 910.
Journal of Legal Education, December 1, 2001, Joseph P. Tomain, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 610.
Journal of Modern History, June, 1995, Marcello Montanari, review of G.B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern, p. 462.
Journal of the History of Ideas, July 1, 1993, review of G.B. Vico, p. 525.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of The Stillborn God.
Library Journal, April 15, 1993, Francisca Goldsmith, review of G.B. Vico, p. 94; October 15, 1994, David Gordon, review of New French Thought, p. 61; September 1, 2007, Gary P. Gillum, review of The Stillborn God, p. 140.
Logos, winter, 2003, Manfred B. Steger, review of The Reckless Mind.
New Leader, October 19, 1987, Barry Gewen, review of The Public Face of Architecture: Civic Culture and Public Spaces, p. 17.
New Republic, September 20, 1993, Anthony Grafton, review of G.B. Vico, p. 51.
New York Review of Books, November 3, 1994, Stuart Newton Hampshire, review of G.B. Vico, p. 41.
New York Times, November 10, 2001, Eric Alterman, "Why Are Deep Thinkers Shallow about Tyranny?," p. 15.
New York Times Book Review, January 6, 2002, Sunil Khilnani, review of The Reckless Mind; June 2, 2002, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 27; December 8, 2002, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 70; November 2, 2003, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 32; September 16, 2007, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, review of The Stillborn God.
Perspectives on Political Science, spring, 2002, Patrick D. Bernardo, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 123; fall, 2003, Eduardo A. Velasquez, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 207; fall, 2003, Alan Ryan, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 198; fall, 2003, Charles L. Griswold, Jr., review of The Reckless Mind, p. 203; fall, 2003, Eduardo A. Velasquez, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 196; fall, 2003, James Miller, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 200.
Political Studies, June, 1996, Jeremy Jennings, review of New French Thought, p. 372.
Political Theory, August, 1994, Hayden White, review of G.B. Vico, p. 509.
Public Interest, spring, 1995, Adam Wolfson, review of New French Thought, p. 111.
Publishers Weekly, July 9, 2007, review of The Stillborn God, p. 49.
Reason, October 1, 2002, Mark Goldblatt, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 63.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2001, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 122.
Report Newsmagazine, April 15, 2002, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 57.
Slate, August 20, 2007, Christopher Hitchens, review of The Stillborn God.
Spectator, September 1, 2001, Nicholas Fearn, review of The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin, p. 38.
Times Higher Education Supplement, September 27, 2002, John Dunn, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 38.
Times Literary Supplement, July 2, 1993, Peter Burke, review of G.B. Vico, p. 30; April 7, 1995, Peter Carrier, review of New French Thought, p. 30.
Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2001, Daniel J. Mahoney, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 20.
Weekly Standard, December 17, 2007, Charlotte Allen, "Look Out Below; Religion Remains the Opiate of the Masses, According to Mark Lilla."
Wilson Quarterly, winter, 2002, Mark Kingwell, review of The Reckless Mind, p. 123.
Carnegie Council Web site,http://www.cceia.org/ (September 26, 2007), author speech transcripts.
Columbia University, Department of Religion Web site,http://www.columbia.edu/cu/religion/ (April 23, 2008), author profile.
God Blog,http://jewishjournal.com/thegodblog/ (August 23, 2007), Brad A. Greenberg, review of The Stillborn God.
Long Eighteenth,http://long18th.wordpress.com/ (August 20, 2007), David Mazella, "Mark Lilla Needs Some Jesus Camp."
Truthdig,http://www.truthdig.com/ (December 20, 2007), Zachary Karabell, review of The Stillborn God.
Veritas Forum,http://www.veritas.org/ (April 23, 2008), author profile.