Any student of philosophy will be able to tell you about Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza, and indeed, the name probably seems vaguely familiar to non-scholars as well. Yet, as is the case with other renowned philosophers, most lay-people don’t know much about these famed thinkers, other than their names.

Spinoza was born in Amsterdam on November 24, 1632, to Manuel and Ana Débora Spinoza, Spanish/Portuguese conversos, Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity but secretly practiced Judaism. When the family settled in Amsterdam, they were able, once again, to resume living as Jews, and young Spinoza received a proper Jewish education. As a youth, he studied Talmud, Jewish philosophy, and kabbalah, as well as a full range of secular studies.

Spinoza soon began espousing radical theories on God, discrediting Divine revelation and organized religion while embracing the doctrine of pantheism, in which God and nature are identical. As a pantheist, he believed that there was no Divine intervention and that all events were pure chance. Spinoza is also considered the father of Biblical criticism, maintaining that the Bible is to be read only as an allegory.

At the age of 24, Spinoza was asked by the Jewish community to withdraw his writings and to cease any further publication. When he declined, he was put in cherem, excommunication. The excommunication was meant to not only block his heretical thoughts from spreading within the Jewish community, but to also protect the community from the reaction of the church to his radical thoughts. As it is, Spinoza also angered many government and church leaders by emphasizing the need for the state to encourage free thought.

While Spinoza did some teaching and publishing, he earned his living as a lens grinder and died at the age of 44. Spinoza is considered the father of modern philosophy.