Michael Rectenwald (born January 29, 1959) is an American scholar who has taught at several institutions, most notably at New York University (NYU). Although his scholarship has focused primarily on 19th-century British secularism, contemporary secularism, and the 19th-century freethought movement, he is best known as a critic of the contemporary social justice movement and its effects in the academy, as he describes in his memoir, Springtime for Snowflakes: Social Justice and Its Postmodern Parentage, published in 2018.
Early life and education
A graduate of North Catholic High School in 1977, Rectenwald's undergraduate studies in English included a close apprenticeship with Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg at Naropa University (formerly Naropa Institute) during the 1979–80 school year. He graduated cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 1983 with a B.A. in English literature. In 1997, Case Western Reserve University awarded Rectenwald a master's degree in English literature. In 2004, Carnegie Mellon University conferred upon Rectenwald a Ph.D. in literary and cultural studies. He was recognized by Carnegie Mellon as among its top-performing graduates, when in the span of one year, he published three books.
Rectenwald has taught at universities since 1993, including at Case Western Reserve University, Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, and New York University, where he was a Professor of Liberal and Global Liberal Studies for more than ten years before retiring in January 2019.
Rectenwald has authored numerous articles for popular magazines and scholarly journals, as well as eight books, including Springtime for Snowflakes: “Social Justice” and Its Postmodern Parentage (New English Review Press, 2018), Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), Academic Writing, Real World Topics (Broadview Press, 2015), and Global Secularisms in A Post-Secular Age (De Gruyter, 2015). His academic essays have appeared in The British Journal for the History of Science, Endeavour, and the Cambridge University Press anthology "George Eliot In Context," among others.
Rectenwald has written extensively on the origins of the movement called secularism, which was founded in London in 1851 by George Jacob Holyoake. Rectenwald's research has established that secularism was a significant cultural and philosophical source for agnosticism, and for the emerging new creed of "scientific naturalism” propounded by Thomas Henry Huxley, John Tyndall, Herbert Spencer, and others. Scientific naturalism is noteworthy for being the philosophical basis of the Darwinian circle," i.e., the 19th century scientists of note most responsible for their disciplines' general acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution via natural selection. Rectenwald argues in "Secularism and the cultures of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism," published in The British Journal for the History of Science in June 2013: "Not only did early Secularism help clear the way by fighting battles with the state and religious interlocutors, but it also served as a source for what Huxley, almost twenty years later, termed 'agnosticism'...In Holyoake's Secularism we find the beginnings of the mutation of radical infidelity into the respectability necessary for the acceptance of scientific naturalism, and also the distancing of later forms of infidelity incompatible with it. Holyoake's Secularism represents an important early stage of scientific naturalism."
In his book, Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature, Rectenwald applies the conception of secularity as developed by philosopher Charles Taylor in A Secular Age (2007) to 19th-century Great Britain. The book is interdisciplinary, with chapters treating the secular antipodes Richard Carlile and Thomas Carlyle, the geology of Charles Lyell, the significance of George Jacob Holyoake's secularism, the emergence of scientific naturalism, the religiosity and secularity of the Newman brothers (John Henry Newman, Francis William Newman and Charles Robert Newman), and the postsecularism of the novel Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. In Holyoake's Secularism, Rectenwald locates a precursor for Charles Taylor’s version of secularity as the immanent frame that structures the conditions of belief and unbelief in modernity. According to a review in Victorian Studies, "Rectenwald thus offers a revisionist interpretation that, rather than understanding Holyoake's leadership of the freethought movement as a failed rhetorical attempt to make society more secular, sees it as marking a distinct moment in modernity."
@antipcnyuprof Twitter account
On September 12, 2016, Rectenwald created the Twitter account @antipcnyuprof and began tweeting criticisms of perceived excesses of political correctness and social justice ideology on North American colleges and universities. He was discovered by a student reporter for the Washington Square News, New York University's weekly student newspaper. He subsequently gave an interview and revealed himself as the NYU faculty member behind the @antipcnyuprof Twitter handle. Within two days he was placed on a paid leave of absence and an open letter from the “Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group” denounced him in the Washington Square News. Following interviews with numerous media outlets, Rectenwald responded to the committee's condemnation after returning from leave in the 2017 spring semester. NYU administrators thereafter moved Rectenwald's office from the Liberal Studies Department to the area at NYU that also was home of the Russian Department. Rectenwald retired in January 2019.
NYU cancels Yiannapoulos event
On October 30, 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio requested that NYU cancel an in-class lecture on Halloween and political correctness that was to be delivered the next day by Rectenwald's guest, the controversial British polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos. The mayor cited concerns about the availability of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to perform security duties at NYU during the same time they would be needed to police New York's Village Halloween Parade. NYU complied with the mayor's request.
Springtime for Snowflakes
In 2018, the New English Review Press published Rectenwald's memoir, Springtime for Snowflakes: Social Justice and Its Postmodern Parentage. Rectenwald recounts his academic career and his intellectual evolution. He critiques the contemporary social justice culture in the academy, arguing that it is rooted in socialist and postmodernist thought and describing its constituent concepts such as deconstruction, toxic masculinity, social constructivism, and radical constructivism. Rectenwald concludes that such ideology has promoted an authoritarian and dogmatic culture in parts of the academy.
- The Eros of the Baby Boom Eras. Bethesda, MD: Apogee Books (1991).
- The Thief and Other Stories. Apogee Publishing (2013).
- Breach: Collected Poems. Apogee Publishing (2013).
- Rectenwald, Michael, and Lisa Carl. Academic Writing, Real World Topics. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press (May 28, 2015).
- Rectenwald, Michael, Rochelle Almeida and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (September 25, 2015).
- Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK; New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2016).
- Rectenwald, Michael and Lisa Carl. Academic Writing, Real World Topics. (Concise Edition). Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press (July 20, 2016).
- Springtime for Snowflakes: Social Justice and Its Postmodern Parentage. Nashville. TN; London, UK: New English Review Press (2018).
- Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom. Nashville, TN; London, UK: New English Review Press. (Reportedly under contract, in process).
- "Reading Around the Kids." In Constance Coiner and Diana Hume George, eds. The Family Track: Keeping Your Faculties while You Mentor, Nurture, Teach, and Serve. University of Illinois Press, (1998): 107–13.
- "Local Histories, Broader Implications." College Composition and Communication 60, no. 2 (2008): 448.
- Smythe, Thomas W. and Michael Rectenwald. "Craig on God and Morality." International Philosophical Quarterly. 51.3. 203 (September 2011): 331–38.
- "Secularism." In Margaret Harris, ed. George Eliot in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2013): 271–78.
- "Secularism and the Cultures of Nineteenth-century Scientific Naturalism." The British Journal for the History of Science. 46.2 (June 2013): 231–54.
- "Mid-Nineteenth-Century British Secularism and its Contemporary Post-Secular Implications." In Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post- Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (2015): 43–64.
- "Introduction: Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age." In Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post- Secular Age. Boston and Berlin: De Gruyter (2015): 1–24.
- "Secularism as Modern Secularity." In Ryan T. Cragun, Lori Fazzino, Christel Manning, eds. Organized Secularism in the United States. Boston and * * Berlin: De Gruyter (November 2017): 31–56.
- "'Social Justice' and Its Postmodern Parentage." Academic Questions. 31.2. (April 10, 2018): 130–139.
- Springtime for Snowflakes, (Nashville, TN: New English Review Press), 31
- "A Dangerous Minds exclusive: Previously unpublished interview with Allen Ginsberg". DangerousMinds. March 2, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- "Interview with Michael Rectenwald ('97) – Department of English". Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- "Michael Rectenwald - Department of English - Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University". Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- "Three Books, One Year - Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University". Carnegie Mellon University. September 28, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- Holyoake, G.J. (1896). English Secularism: A Confession of Belief. Library of Alexandria. pp. 47−48. ISBN 978-1-465-51332-8. ISBN 1-46551332-9.
- Stanley, Matthew. (2015) Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press); Lightman, Bernard V. and M. S. Reidy (eds.). The Age of Scientific Naturalism; and G. Dawson (eds) (2014) Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press).
- Rectenwald, Michael (June 2013). "Secularism and the cultures of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism". The British Journal for the History of Science. 46 (2): 231–254. doi:10.1017/S0007087412000738. ISSN 0007-0874.
- Rectenwald, Michael. (2016). Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 106.
- Reagles, David G. Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion, and Literature by Michael Rectenwald (review). Victorian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Summer 2017), pp. 681–682.
- Siu, Diamond Nago. "Q&A With a Deplorable NYU Professor.” Washington Square News. October 24, 2016.
- Members of the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group. "Letter to the Editor: Liberal Studies Rejects @antipcnyuprof’s Faulty Claims." October 26, 2016.
- Licea, Melkorka (November 13, 2016). "'Deplorable' NYU professor gets a promotion". New York Post. New York, New York. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Rectenwald, Michael (November 3, 2016). "Here's what happened when I challenged the PC campus culture at NYU". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
- "'Deplorable NYU Professor' on PC culture". Fox Business. 2016-11-11. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
- "Ep. 808 Deplorable NYU Professor Wins Victory Over SJWs | Tom Woods". tomwoods.com. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
- Rectenwald, Michael. “Reply to LS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group.” 6 February 2017.
- Maharishi, Meghna (January 28, 2019). "'Anti-PC' Professor Rectenwald Has Retired". Washington Square News. New York, New York. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Fearnow, Benjamin (January 29, 2019). "'Fox & Friends' Warns Socialist Hijacking US Colleges, Students Subject To Mass Indoctrination". Newsweek. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Tacopino, Joe; Gonen, Yoav (October 30, 2018). "Milo Yiannopoulos' Halloween speech at NYU postponed over security concerns". New York Post. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Kanno-Youngs, Zolan (October 21, 2016). "Some Students Frustrated After NYU Cancels Milo Yiannopoulos Speech". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Messenger, Stephen (July 30, 2018). "Springtime for Snowflakes: "Social Justice" and Its Postmodern Parentage: A Review". Areo. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Vigo, Julian (August 2, 2018). "Springtime for Snowflakes: An NYU Professor Takes On Academia's "Social Justice Warriors"". Public Discourse. Princeton, New Jersey. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Tapson, Mark (July 27, 2018). "Springtime for Snowflakes; professor's memoir of the closing of the American mind". FrontPage Magazine. Sherman Oaks, California. Retrieved February 21, 2019.