Harvey Cox's "Secular City"

The Secular City book cover

[Posted by M. Bogen, 5-31-13] When Daisaku Ikeda spoke at Harvard in 1993, delivering the address that would become our "founding lecture"—"Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization"—he did so at the invitation of professors John Kenneth Galbraith, Nur Yalman, and Harvey Cox. To help celebrate our 20th anniversary, I thought it would be fun to talk a bit about these three men who figure so vitally in our history. In this post I'll talk about Professor Cox and his seminal work of 1965, The Secular City.

Dr. Cox is presently Hollis Research Professor at Harvard University, having retired in 2009 from forty-four years of active teaching at Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School (HDS). An American Baptist minister, Cox knew Martin Luther King, Jr., well, having met him as early as 1956, and was an active participant through the many phases of the Civil Rights Movement.

With the publication of The Secular City, Dr. Cox became one of the most influential and highest profile American theologians of the twentieth-century. Reporting for the Harvard Gazette from a 2005 symposium at Harvard honoring the 40th anniversary of that book's publication, journalist Elizabeth Gehrman describes the appeal of The Secular City:

The book, simple in style and comprehensive in scope, posits that secularism is not necessarily the negative force it has often been considered, but has positive outcomes as well, including preventing religion from becoming too powerful and allowing people to choose from a wide variety of worldviews. God, Cox maintained, can be just as present in the secular as in the formally religious realm of life. By emphasizing social justice and questioning the authority of not only religious but also social and political institutions, the slim volume resonated with civil rights and antiwar protesters, incipient feminists, politically involved students, and post-Vatican II Catholics.

For many years at Harvard, Cox taught the extremely popular undergraduate course "Jesus and the Moral Life," which engaged students in theological and philosophical debate on the main ethical issues of our time. This course demonstrated his intense concern with religion, faith, and philosophy as integral to our practical and embodied efforts to create good lives and just and peaceful societies. And it is this concern that makes his voice such a good fit with the values and pursuits of Daisaku Ikeda and the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue. We are grateful that Professor Cox has been a part of our network for two decades now.

Read about the Harvard Symposium here.

Read Ikeda's founding lecture here.

Learn about Dr. Cox's published dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda here.

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