Pursuing deep thinking, social courage, moral imagination and joy, to renew inner life, outer life, and life together.

The On Being Project is a nonprofit media and public life initiative. We make a public radio showpodcasts, and tools for the art of living. Six grounding virtues guide everything we do. We explore the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, community, poetry, and the arts. Learn more about what animates us  and how we’re growing in this booklet: What is The On Being Project?

The Wiz is a reimagining of the classic Wizard of Oz tale, complete with an all-black, all-star cast and Quincy Jones-produced soundtrack. Diana Ross stars as Dorothy, a 24-year-old school teacher who has never set foot outside her neighborhood in Harlem. When a violent storm transports her to a faraway place, she’s taken out of her comfort zone and yearns to find a way back. Lawyer Michael Strautmanis had never seen a movie that offered a warm portrayal of his experience growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a tight-knit African American community. His love for every aspect of the movie — from the iconic casting to the costume design and music — speaks to the idea that movies help us feel seen.

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most watched films of all time. When a tornado whisks Dorothy and her dog Toto from their Kansas home to the magical Land of Oz, Dorothy has to seek out its wizard to find a way home. Along the way, she makes new friends and encounters all sorts of obstacles — all made delightful by the movie’s iconic original music and use of color, which was groundbreaking at the time. Entrepreneur Seth Godin says the movie made a strong impression on him as a child: Seeing a young person take action inspired him to do the same. “It’s up to us,” he says, “and we could do it if we wanted to.”

Serene Jones describes theology as the place and story you think of when you ask yourself about the meaning of your life, the world, and the possibility of God. For her, that place is a “dusty piece of land” on the plains of Oklahoma where she grew up. “I go there to find my story — my theology. I go there to be born again; to be made whole; to unite with what I was, what I am, and what I will become.” In her work as a public theologian, Jones explores theology as clarifying lens on the present — from grace to repentance to the importance of moving from grieving to mourning.

The Namesake, an adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, is a moving exploration of the immigrant experience told through the story of the Ganguli family. The parents, Ashoke and Ashima, marry in India and emigrate to New York state, where they raise their two children, Gogol and Sonia. In tracing the lives of two generations of a family, the movie examines not just the opportunity and promise gained from immigrating to a new country, but also all that is lost from one generation to the next. The wholeness of this depiction offered solace to writer Nishta Mehra after her father’s death. For her, the movie mirrored back the parts of her parents’ lives she did not understand as a young person.

As a longtime civil engineer by day and a poet by night, Cuban American writer Richard Blanco has straddled the many ways a sense of place merges with human emotion to form the meaning of home and belonging. In 2013, he became the fifth poet to read at a presidential inauguration (he was also the youngest and the first immigrant). The thoughtfulness, elegance, and humor of Blanco’s poetry and his person captivated the crowd for this live conversation at the Chautauqua Institution.

“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” So declares the title character in the 1958 comedy Auntie Mame. She introduces her Bohemian world to her nephew, Patrick, who comes under her care after he is orphaned. The movie’s celebration of individuality and independence inspired comedian Justin Sayre to embrace his own — whether as a gay person or a queer artist. “You don’t have to do anything you’re told,” he says. “You just have to be kind. And you just have to never stop looking. That’s it.”

Novelist Marilynne Robinson and physicist Marcelo Gleiser are both passionate about the majesty of science, and they share a caution about what they call our modern “piety” toward science. They connect thrilling dots among the current discoveries about the cosmos and the new territory of understanding our own minds. We brought them together for a joyous, heady discussion of the mystery we are.

Spike Lee’s Malcolm X paints a nuanced portrait of a historical icon — as a human being who was constantly searching for his truth and who was willing to change his mind in public, over and over again. The movie takes us through the various chapters of Malcolm X’s life: first as Malcolm Little, then, in his early 20s, as “Detroit Red,” to his rise as Malcolm X, the activist preserved in history books today — and beyond. Activist and poet Andrea Jenkins related to Malcolm X’s experience of transformation and evolution portrayed in the movie. She’s a city council member in Minneapolis and was the first openly transgender black woman elected to office in the United States. She joined us for a live recording and screening of the movie at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis.

Robert Macfarlane is an explorer and linguist of landscape. His newest book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, is an odyssey that’s full of surprises — from caves and catacombs under land, under cities, and under forests to the meltwater of Greenland. “Since before we were Homo sapiens,” he writes, “humans have been seeking out spaces of darkness in which to find and make meaning.” Darkness in the natural world and in human life, he suggests, is a medium of vision and descent, a movement toward revelation.

A League of Their Own is a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed during World War II. Geena Davis and Lori Petty play the competitive Hinson sisters, who are recruited to join the Rockford Peaches and play in the league. Since its release in 1992, the movie has inspired many young female athletes, including baseball commentator Jessica Mendoza. She grew up playing softball with her sister and went on to compete at the Olympics — including winning gold and silver. Jessica says one of the movie’s famous lines — “It’s the hard that makes it great” — inspired her to break records on the field and off.

For as far back as Joy Ladin can remember, her body didn’t match her soul. In her mid-40s, Ladin transitioned from male to female identity and later became the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution. She admits the pain this caused for people and institutions she loved. And she knows what it is to move through the world with the assumed authority of a man and the assumed vulnerability of a woman. We take in what she’s learned about gender and the very syntax of being.

Set in a coal mining community in Yorkshire, the movie Kes tells the story of 15-year-old Billy Casper, who is in many ways a victim of his environment: He’s picked on at school and at home, and the adults in his life have given up on him. But he begins to find freedom and refuge when he starts training a kestrel hawk. Podcast producer June Thomas, who grew up in a similar community to the one portrayed in Kes, says it’s this realism that helped her connect with her hometown in Northern England, even years after she left.

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Speaking together differently in order to live together differently.

We have always grown through listening to our listeners and the world. We have been building The Civil Conversations Project since 2011. We honor the power of asking better questions, model reframed approaches to debates, and insist that the ruptures above the radar do not tell the whole story of our time.

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