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

The On Being Project is a 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 what we’re making now and next — in this booklet: What is The On Being Project?

Lennon Flowers and Rev. Jennifer Bailey embody a particular wisdom of millennials around grief, loss, and faith. Together they created The People’s Supper, which uses shared meals to build trust and connection among people of different identities and perspectives. Since 2017, they have hosted more than 1,500 meals. In the words they use, the practices they cultivate, and the way they think, Flowers and Bailey issue an invitation not to safe space, but to brave space.

What does it mean to be good? What does it mean if we aren’t good? Whose fault is it? These are just some of the questions that animate Amadeus, a fictional portrayal of famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his musical rival Antionio Salieri. These questions also inspire Sue Phillips, a Unitarian Universalist minister. She first watched the movie in the late ’80s, just as she was coming out and understanding her place in the world.

Writer David Treuer’s work tells a story that is richer and more multi-dimensional than the American history most of us learned in school. Treuer grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. At the time of our conversation with him in 2008, he was part of an ongoing project to document the grammar and usage of the Ojibwe language. He says the recovery of tribal languages and names is part of a fuller recovery of our national story — and the human story. And it holds unexpected observations altogether about language and meaning that most of us express unselfconsciously in our mother tongues.

Career Girls is a love letter to the friendships that shape us in our formative years, and the nostalgia that accompanies us once we’ve grown out of them. The indie movie follows Annie and Hannah, college friends who reunite for the first time since they graduated six years ago. Karen Corday, a writer, was the same age as the characters when she first saw the movie. She says it helped her feel seen and comforted to know that her experiences “just living as a person in the world” were worth exploring.

We’d heard Derek Black, the former white-power heir apparent, interviewed before about his past, but never about the college friendships that changed him. After Derek’s ideology was outed at the New College of Florida, Matthew Stevenson (one of the only Orthodox Jews on campus) invited him to Shabbat dinner. What happened next is a roadmap for navigating some of the hardest and most important territory of our time.

The movie Brown Sugar is, at its heart, a tribute to hip-hop — complete with a soundtrack featuring artists like Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Mary J. Blige. It follows Dre and Sidney, childhood friends whose love of hip-hop is what connects them throughout their life. This coming-of-age story celebrates how love and music feed one another — an idea that spoke to Nick George. From the first time he picked up the DVD at Walmart as a college student to his life now as a spoken-word poet and community leader, Brown Sugar has accompanied him as a grown-up in life, in art, and in love.

James Baldwin said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Imani Perry embodies that prism. For the past few years, Perry has been pondering the notions of slow work and resistant joy as she writes about what it means to raise her two black sons — as a thinker and writer at the intersection of law, race, culture, and literature. This live conversation was recorded at the Chautauqua Institution.

Contact takes the sometimes opposing forces of science and religion and puts them in conversation. The movie is based on a 1985 novel by Carl Sagan about Ellie Arroway, a SETI scientist who discovers a radio signal that could suggest extraterrestrial life. During her search she encounters Palmer Joss, a Christian philosopher who challenges her convictions as a scientist. Ellie’s pursuit of meaning outside of religion — an oftentimes lonely endeavor — was an experience Drew Hammond had never seen portrayed in a movie before. A high school teacher, Hammond says the movie granted him permission to stay curious and pursue the questions he has about the world — and it continues to shape how he interacts with his students.

Science writer and reporter Erik Vance says today’s brain scientists are like astronomers of old: They’ve unsettled humanity’s sense of itself by redrawing our picture of the cosmos within our own heads. Vance has investigated the healing power of stories and the “theater of medicine” (white coats included). It turns out that the things that make us feel better are often more closely connected to what we believe and fear than to the efficacy of some treatments. In fact, most drugs that go to trial can’t beat what we’ve dismissively called the “placebo effect,” which is actually nothing less than an unleashing of the brain’s superpowers.

Black Panther made all sorts of history — as the first Marvel production to feature a primarily black cast and the first superhero movie to receive an Academy Award nomination. For Zahida Sherman, a writer and college administrator, taking her students to watch the movie in theaters felt like participating in a historical, cultural moment. “It was just black joy, all day long,” she recalls. In portraying a wide range of black identities — both superhuman and mortal — the movie offered Sherman permission to be herself and see that anything is possible.

Ta-Nehisi Coates says we must love our country the way we love our friends — and not spare the hard truths. “Can you get to a place where citizens are encouraged to see themselves critically, where they’re encouraged to see their history critically?” he asks. Coates is a poetic journalist and a defining voice of our times. He’s with us in a conversation that is joyful, hard, kind, soaring, and down-to-earth all at once. He spoke with Krista as part of the 2017 Chicago Humanities Festival.

Ratatouille is a Pixar feast. The tale of Remy, a rat who dreams of becoming an excellent chef, is a delight to experience in all five senses. One particular character — Anton Ego, the restaurant critic — brings A. O. Scott back to the heart of his own work as a New York Times’ chief film critic. He says Ratatouille changed how he understands the work of criticism. This conversation is not just about food; it’s a reminder to return to our love for our craft — whether that’s food, movies, or something else altogether.

The Civil Conversations Project

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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