Shipka speaker captivates campus with ‘Doubt’

On Tuesday, Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of “Doubt: A History” and professor of literature at The New School University, lectured at Youngstown State University on the concept of doubt throughout human history.
The speech was held in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center and was funded by the department of philosophy and religious studies. It was part of the Dr. Thomas and Albert Shipka Speaker Series at YSU, which brings two speakers each year to address issues central to modern living. The lecture Hecht presented focused on several different concepts from her book.
Hecht has authored three volumes of poetry and four books of history, and teaches creative writing at New York University and literature in the Masters of Fine Arts program at The New School University.
She started her lecture with an explanation on the beliefs of some of the ancient doubters throughout world history, focusing on the biblical stories of Ecclesiastes and Job.
“They were both taken as atheist tracts that could be read. Job was a story about fairness and the idea of a providential God, and a sense of right and wrong. He questioned human existence, how we all got here and how everything works. Ecclesiastes was dismissive of knowledge, and asked how a dog and a man die separately,” Hecht said.
She explained that Christianity was a “leap of faith” religion throughout the history of doubt.
“There is really no belief in Christianity. The idea is that you show up and do the right behavior. They call this the ‘leap of faith’ because you’re leaping over rational thought, and since the Christian religion has advanced, you never saw this in the ancient world,” she said.
Hecht also explained the concept of poetic atheism, and how it is not necessarily dependent on science.
“The climate in atheism right now has suggested a certain kind of tension. As I go around and give talks and meet different people, I’ve been talking about what I call poetic atheism. It’s an alternative, in a sense, to an atheism that rallies only to science. Science is profoundly cultural. It makes more sense to honor community,” Hecht said.
Hecht then focused on how Thomas Jefferson was one of the great doubters
in history.
“He was one of my favorites. Jefferson said ‘To fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion, and to question with boldness even the existence of a God,’” Hecht said.
Hecht concluded her lecture by explaining that people are not individuals, and require rituals in their lives.
“I don’t see a near end to faith. Our human experience is weird, and there are always going to be people who idealize that. Life requires some ritual; we don’t exist as individuals. In all contexts, doubt can be a good thing,” Hecht said.
The audience was captivated by Hecht’s lecture, and many stayed to ask her questions. Dr. Keith Lepak, professor of political science at YSU, said that he enjoyed the speaker and offered some of his own views on top of hers.
“She wasn’t what I would call a hard-boiled atheist because she made these distinctions about people at the beginning, and she also understands that doubt, even within a religious context, can be a way of engaging further in religion,” he said.