Face of the Other: Levinas, Postmodern Ethics, and Jewish Thought

Spring 2018 quarter

Taught by

American studies, folklore

This program will explore Emmanuel Levinas’ compelling ethics of responsibility for the other. Levinas forged his understanding in reaction to the Holocaust of World War II, critiquing the moral limitations of Western philosophy while finding an imperative for human conduct that is “pre-philosophy.” He locates the origins of ethical meaning in the face-to-face encounter: the experience of being called by, and responding to, another. For Levinas, responsibility to other persons is unlimited—and its realization, through acts of recognition, hospitality, fellowship, and justice, is the means of transcendence in human existence.   

This inquiry is for students who seek foundations for ethical action via philosophy, religion, politics, psychology, education, literature, and the arts—fields that are challenged and inspired by the implications of Levinas’ work. We will look closely at Levinas’ connection to Judaism, in particular his rich readings of the Talmud, which root his search for the universal values necessary to pursue ideals like justice and truth in ancient Jewish narratives, and, by implication, narratives of other religious/spiritual traditions. We will study Levinas’ philosophical writings, trace how he developed his worldview over the course of his career, and consider work by thinkers who influenced him and whom he has influenced.

The program will involve intensive reading, dialogue, and writing, with seminars, lectures, workshops, and guest speakers. Students will share responses in brief papers, journal entries, and oral presentations. They will undertake an individual exploration (their major piece of writing) to investigate, apply, or otherwise creatively engage with Levinas’ vision in relation to a topic that matters to them. We will fashion our own stories and models to engage contemporary cultural, political, and intellectual debates about what it means to lead an ethical life.

Program Details

Fields of Study

anthropology literature philosophy religious studies writing

Preparatory For

humanities, social sciences, arts, community work, theology, law, education, and writing.


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning