Skip to Main Content
Skidmore College
Jacob Perlow Series


Spinoza’s “Atheism”

 Yitzhak Melamed headshot

A lecture by Yitzhak Y. Melamed Professor of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University, with an introduction by William Lewis, Professor of Philosophy, Skidmore College

Wednesday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall • Admission is free and open to the public

The charge of atheism was brought against Spinoza by both his Christian contemporaries and many of his 18th-century readers (such as, F.H. Jacobi). In our times, Spinoza became a cult figure in certain circles due to his alleged atheism. In my paper, I will argue that Spinoza deserves neither the praises nor the condemnations bestowed upon him, and that the view of Spinoza as an atheist relies on a narrow-minded conception of the divine in anthropomorphic terms. Relying on an analysis of both the TTP and the Ethics, I will argue that the chief claims of both works are unintelligible under the assumption of Spinoza’s atheism. I will further argue that the textbook version of the so-called “orthodox conception of God” (whose existence Spinoza denied) is an instance of conceptual colonialism, i.e., the uncritical application of the categories of a hegemonic culture (in this case, Western Christianity) on marginal cultures (here: Rabbinic thought). 

Yitzhak Y. Melamed is the Charlotte Bloomberg Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. He holds an M.A. in philosophy and the history of science and logic from Tel Aviv University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University (2005). He has been awarded the Fulbright, Mellon and American Academy for Jewish Research fellowships. Recently he won the ACLS Burkhardt (2011), NEH (2010) and Humboldt (2011) fellowships for my forthcoming book on Spinoza and German Idealism.

Melamed works at the intersection of philosophy (primarily metaphysics), Jewish and religious studies, the history of science and the humanities in general. He focuses on foundational questions, which he aspires to approach with both philosophical and historical rigor. In particular, he is interested in well-argued views that are commonly treated as “counterintuitive”; such views, he believes, may help us challenge our own well-fortified beliefs, force us to motivate what we deem to be obvious and reveal our conceptual blind spots. To that end, he studies bold past philosophers (e.g., Spinoza), and less-familiar theoretical analyses (e.g., Rabbinic thought), which may not only expand our philosophical imagination, but also help us develop a more inclusive attitude to philosophy and its history. 

This presentation is part of the Jacob Perlow Event Series and is co-sponsored by the Departments of Philosophy and Religious Studies and the Office of the Dean of Special Programs.


About the Jacob Perlow Series: A generous grant from the estate of Jacob Perlow—an immigrant to the United States in the 1920s, a successful businessman deeply interested in religion and philosophy and a man who was committed to furthering Jewish education—supports annual lectures and presentations to the College and Capital District community on issues broadly related to Jews and Judaism.