Philosopher and public intellectual Susan Neiman’s international eminence is attested by her large scholarly contributions and public engagement on issues of race, racism, and the memory of the Holocaust in Germany, as well as other works about good and evil. She became director of the Einstein Forum, a think tank in the former East Germany, in 2000 where she became a major public intellectual in the lively civic culture of post-Cold-War Berlin. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Neiman studied philosophy at Harvard University and the Freie Universität-Berlin, Germany. Neiman was a protégé of John Rawls at Harvard. Prior to assuming directorship of the Einstein Forum, she was professor of philosophy at Yale and Tel Aviv University.
The author of such celebrated works as Evil in Modern Thought (2002; 2015) and Moral Clarity (2008), Neiman is both an academic philosopher and widely published essayist. In Learning from the Germans (2019), she brings her celebrated mixture of personal reflection and analytical acumen to reflect on how the U.S. remembers its legacy of slavery and racism in comparison to the way Germany has sought to work through its Nazi past. Her childhood as a white Jewish girl in the segregated American south and then as an adult raising children in Berlin informs her sense of the way we narrate and symbolize the most difficult moments of our past through the over-simplifying lenses of perpetrator and victim, winner and loser. Rather than hardening these positions, Neiman seeks ways to imagine a future that moves beyond them. She interrogates how we can change conflict, misunderstanding, and ignorance about the injustices of our past into a moral vision for organizing our shared path into the future. Neiman’s way of thinking about paths to redemption include recalling historical episodes of slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and civil rights in the U.S. as well as the rise of antisemitism, political fracture, Nazi fascism, World War, and Cold War division in Germany. She is interested in the full range of commemorative practices—didactic, expressive, analytical and political—and those given shape in any media, from cast bronze to historical bricks and beams; and from the internet to the public library. Her book, Evil in Modern Thought, provides the conceptual underpinnings for her study into memory and memorials. Neiman’s Heroes for an Age of Victims is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in 2023.In recognition of her immense scholarship, Susan Neiman has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Cambridge and the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, the Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Michigan, the International Spinoza Prize, the American Academy of Religion Award, the Lucius D. Clay Medal for her contributions to German-American affairs, and the August Bebel Prize of the German Social Democratic Party. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Berlin-Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften.