Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

On this date in 1950, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger was born in White Plains, N.Y. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in White Plains and attended a Jewish high school for girls (or yeshiva) in Manhattan. Overcoming her upbringing, she “was born into consciousness” at Columbia University and received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Barnard College in 1972, graduating summa cum laude. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton in 1977.

She was a philosophy professor at Barnard, taught in the MFA writing program at Columbia and the philosophy department at Rutgers. For five years she was a visiting professor of philosophy at Trinity University in Hartford, Conn. Goldstein has been a visiting scholar at Brandeis University, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a Guggenheim Fellow. She was the Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute in 2011, a  Franke Visiting Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University in 2012 and the Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College in 2013.  She was also appointed a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities in London, UK, in 2011 and a Visiting Professor at New York University in 2016. 

In September of 2015  she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President  Barack Obama. Previously she was named a MacArthur Fellow, known as the “Genius Award.” In 2005 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has two daughters, Yael and Danielle, with her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein. In 2007 she married Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker

Her novels and nonfiction writing have received many awards. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, which addresses philosophical themes, was published in 1983. Other novels include The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister, Mazel, and Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics. Her book of short stories is called Strange Attractors. In 2005 she wrote Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, and in 2006, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, a biography of the 17th-century thinker.

In 2010 she returned to novel writing with Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, a playful work with the timely theme of a protagonist who is author of a best-selling book on atheism. It concludes with a debunking of 36 arguments for the existence of God. In Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Just Go Away (2014), she imagines Plato’s take on the modern age with its technological wonders and argues that his philosophy is still relevant today. 

In 2008 she was designated a Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism. In 2011 she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association and a Freethought Heroine by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Her FFRF acceptance speech, “Strong resistance to God’s existence,” is here. Goldstein also serves on FFRF’s honorary board.

Freedom From Religion Foundation