My friends and I formed the Washington D.C. Spinoza Society in 2001 after taking a course on Spinoza at the local Jewish Study Center. Everyone in the class loved the teacher (Sidney Bailin) and found his class stimulating. When the class was over, a number of us agreed to keep on meeting. After first getting together at someone's house, and then at a restaurant, we finally found a home: the Washington, D.C. Goethe Institute, which is located at 812 7th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. (That's at the northwest corner of 7th and I Sts, N.W., one block north of the Chinatown metro stop on the red line.)
We are proud to say that we are now in our twelfth year of sessions, which take place on Monday evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m., and go from September through May. This season begins on September 24, 2012, and I am looking forward to giving the presentation on that date. Here is the schedule for this year's sessions:
Also, you will find below a copy of the introductory lecture on Spinoza that I delivered on April 1, 2012 at Washington, D.C.'s Theatre J immediately preceding the "Spinozium." The purpose of the Spinozium was to consider whether to revoke the decision of the Amsterdam Sephardic community to excommunicate Spinoza in 1656.
And the most recent addition to this page is the essay I presented on September 24, 2012, entitled "Profiles in Panentheism," which compared the teachings of Spinoza and contemporary Neo-Hasid, Rabbi Arthur Green.
Over the years, we've picked up new members, but several people from Sidney's original class still attend regularly. We meet once a month from September through May, typically at 6:30 p.m. on the second Monday of the month.
I can't thank the Goethe Institute enough for sponsoring our group. The Insitute has been extremely generous with their space and very supportive about our efforts. Essentially, we're a group of people who love philosophy generally, and recognize in particular the incredible wisdom of one Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), a Dutch Jew who was nearly universally reviled as the epitome of evil until the late 18th century, when Germans like Goethe adopted him as a secular saint. Our pitch to the Institute was very simple: just as we adore philosophy and Spinoza, so, too, did Goethe and many other German sages (e.g., Lessing, Schelling, Heine, Mendelssohn, Herder, Hegel and Nietzsche). If the spirit of Goethe were to haunt this Institute, we argued, he'd surely plead for the building to host a society that met in the name of his greatest hero, Spinoza.
Our group is always looking for more members, so please consider joining. But first, check out some of the essays and dialogues on this page. I wrote each of them and presented them to the group.
As you can see from the links below, when our group meets, we often focus on topics aside from Spinoza. The only requirement of a presentation is that it involve philosophy. Truly, that's what Spinoza stood for -- the idea that the clearest path for salvation isn't through theology, or hedonism, but rather philosophy. Spinoza believed that philosophy -- or "intellectual love," to use his words -- leads both to virtue and to contentment.
Being one of the earliest (classical) liberals, Spinoza was typically speaking to the individual. But perhaps philosophy's greatest gifts would be to our society. Next time you go to a place of worship or attend a political rally, think about the potential power of philosophy. Wouldn't it be nice if instead of praying or chanting for our own partisan/parochial goals, more people would yearn for wisdom -- principles with universal applicability forged from the contemplation of a logical mind? There would surely be fewer wars and greater mutual understanding. I suspect there'd be more love as well.
Now, before I leave you with my various presentations to the Spinoza Society, I am blessed to say that the very first link that follows is not to one of my pieces but rather was written by my daughter Rebecca and her friend, Gina. The link is to a play entitled "Spinoza Remembered," which Rebecca and Gina performed at the Spinoza Society in May of 2007. One month later, the two of them -- who had just completed the 8th grade -- received the Special Prize for the History of Religious Freedom at the National History Day competition. That award, which carried with it a lucrative gift, was sponsored by the Council for America's First Freedom. I cannot tell you how moved I was to see Rebecca and Gina honored for their efforts. Leaving aside all the hours they spent working on their play and their performance, they truly did care deeply about seeing Spinoza remembered by a new generation of Americans -- remembered not simply for his philosophy generally but, in particular, for the way that he valued freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom to worship -- or not worship -- in a manner that isn't imposed upon us by our societal leaders but is selected by each of us as individuals.