Simone Weil: Philosopher, Mystic, Activist (55+)

Simone Weil (1909–1943) was a French philosopher, mystic, teacher, writer and activist, who followed a unique intellectual and spiritual path through the rise of socialism and the Second World War. Weil’s identification with the suffering of occupied France led to her death at 34 in London. Albert Camus helped to publish, posthumously, many of Weil’s writings. T.S. Eliot wrote about her, “In the work of such a writer we might expect to encounter paradox.”

We will listen to Simone Weil’s wisdom, uncanny for a woman so young, in the context of her time in history, and will thoughtfully compare it with our lives and times by sharing ideas in class and by generating our own creative expression, such as writing, art and photography.

Note: This course involves active participation, group discussion and required reading.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Introduction to Simone Weil

We will look at the life and work of Simone Weil in the context of philosophical, theological, and socio-political thought in the first half of the 20th century. Simone Weil’s extraordinary empathy with those who suffer was evident at a very young age. Author Simone de Beauvoir, a university classmate of Weil’s, said that Weil had “a heart that could beat right across the world.” We will find reflective links to our own life journeys.

Week 2: Simone Weil as Philosopher

We will learn about Weil’s emergence as a young socio-political philosopher, educator and ethicist, as informed by past and current European history, Greek philosophy, Cartesian, Kantian and Platonic thought, socialist theory, Christian theology and supernatural “mystery.” We will uncover connections to our own lives, through sharing memories, stories, poetry and reflective writing.

Week 3: Simone Weil as Mystic

We will reflect on Weil’s unique writings on the mystical and paradoxical relationship between affliction, suffering and a benevolent God, with reference to Pythagorean theory. We will explore her notions of “attention,” “void” and balance, the relationship between self and collectivity, as well as the mystical poetry of George Herbert. We will continue to share meaningful forms of creative expression, such as writing, photography and art.

Week 4: Simone Weil as Activist

Simone Weil was influenced by Marx and Plato, as well as Christian theology on socio-political theory regarding moral contradictions, labour issues, injustices, war and violence. She stood up to Trotsky, Marxian thought and Nazism. Although she refused baptism, Weil’s unique lens of mystical faith and intellectual freedom inspired her identification with those suffering from affliction, such as factory workers, farmers and soldiers. We will discuss meaningful links to current social justice issues, as well as to our own values, life journeys and in creative expression.

Week 5: Further Studies on Simone Weil

We will take a reflective look at Simone Weil’s writing, wisdom and legacy, in the context of critiques and perspectives of other authors such as Albert Camus, T.S. Eliot, Hannah Arendt, Gustave Thibbon, W.H. Auden and Flannery O'Connor. We will continue to share ideas from our own life journeys, and in creative expression.

Week 6: Reflections on Simone Weil’s Life and Work

Our final session will focus on further readings about Simone Weil’s life and work. We will share the discovery of insightful links to our lives. We will look again at questions of balance regarding inner spiritual journeys, empathy and social responsibility. We will share forms of creative expression collected over the past few weeks, such as meaningful writing, poems, photography, art and artifacts.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion
  • Active participation
  • Required readings
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.

A course pack will be available on the first day of class.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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