Ochs Returns to Colgate to ‘Re-Enlighten’

To be both a philosopher and theologian is to often be criticized for disloyalty to both vocations. On Tuesday, March 9, Colgate welcomed back former Colgate professor of philosophy Peter Ochs to discuss the reality of being both religious and philosophical. He coined this concept “Re-Enlightenment,” which served as the title of the annual M. Holmes Hartshorne Lecture.

Ochs structured his lecture into three philosophical compartments that individually represented the noteworthy stages of his life. He prefaced the lecture by commenting on his personal evolution: from growing up in an orthodox Jewish home to becoming a postmodern philosophic theologian.

As he reminisced over the three stages involved in this process, Ochs said that he wanted “a grounded way of integrating these.” In order to internalize and integrate each step of life, he coined a process that one must develop: integrate body and spirit, have a critical mind by searching for self-understanding and open oneself to reality of God.

His first stage, called youthful universalism, was comprised of his internal realizations that he experienced during college in the 1960s. He entered college with hopes of finding knowledge, wisdom and truth as a philosophy major. He wanted his youthfulness to respond to European Enlightenment. After being greatly influenced by Immanuel Kant, who emphasized the importance of “knowing the world,” Ochs started thinking about religion and switched his major to anthropology. In an attempt to better know the world and build a large system of knowledge, he traveled to the Pacific and studied Micronesian wisdom and then held communal groups with elders in the Bronx, only to later return to his university and continue studying philosophy.

Next, he described his teaching years at Colgate, or post-liberalism, and his continuoing process of questioning the search for enlightenment. He described post-liberalism as a period of critiquing modernism and accepting the modern quest and the need to find truth. To this end, he created groups that practiced textual and collective reasoning of scriptures. He formed a group of people of different Abrahamic religious beliefs and practiced reading different scriptures, “socialized people into religious studies and practices,” according to Ochs.

Ochs also stated that what he called “re-enlightenment” was what enlightenment should have meant in the first place.

Some students felt that Ochs’s lecture was somewhat convoluted and far from profound.

“One problem with the message was his conviction that he could discover some sort of meaning in studying only religions,” one unsatisfied sophomore said. “Religions aren’t the only things out there; there’s physics, history and all sorts of lessons to be learned from other disciplines that don’t seem to be incorporated into [Ochs’s] study. I would argue that they must be studied in order to reach the kind of wisdom he’s looking for.”

Although some students were left bewildered and unsatisfied from Ochs’s lecture, others were positively influenced by his pattern of reasoning. A main theme from the question and answer session following Ochs’s speech was the possibility that students are experiencing re-enlightenment at Colgate University through the institution of the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum.