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?

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.

Movies can be whimsical, terrifying, life-altering, culture-changing experiences where the big ideas we take up at On Being show up in the heart of our lives. This hour we experience this through seven lives and seven movies — from The Wizard of Oz and Black Panther to The Exorcist. Get out the popcorn for this upcoming flavor of the new season of our On Being Studios podcast This Movie Changed Me — a love letter to movies and their power to teach, connect, and transform us.

Groundhog Day is a classic movie for two groups of people: Bill Murray fans and anyone who was alive in the ’90s. But writer Naomi Alderman falls into a wholly different category of fandom. The author of The Power first watched Groundhog Day when she was 18 and has seen it dozens of times since then. She says the movie has offered her solace in moments of existential angst and helped her devise a routine for the times when she’s stuck in a rut.

Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton collects sounds from around the world. He’s recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, thunder in the Kalahari Desert, and dawn breaking across six continents. An attentive listener, he says silence is an endangered species on the verge of extinction. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound but an absence of noise. We take in the world through his ears.

We were made and set here, the writer Annie Dillard once wrote, “to give voice to our astonishments.” Katy Payne is a renowned acoustic biologist with a Quaker sensibility. She’s found her astonishment — and many life lessons — in listening to two of the world’s largest creatures. From the wild coast of Argentina to the rainforests of Africa, she discovered that humpback whales compose ever-changing songs and that elephants communicate across long distances by infrasound.

Spiritual border-crossing and social creativity were themes in a conversation between Shane Claiborne and Omar Saif Ghobash, two people who have lived with some discomfort within the religious groups they continue to love. Ghobash is a diplomat of the United Arab Emirates and author of Letters to a Young Muslim. One of his responses to the politicization of Islam has been to bring a new art gallery culture to Dubai, creating spaces for thought and beauty. Claiborne is a singular figure in Evangelical Christianity as co-founder of The Simple Way, an intentional neighborhood-based community in North Philadelphia. One of the things he’s doing now is a restorative justice project inspired by a Bible passage — to transform guns into garden tools. This conversation took place at the invitation of Interfaith Philadelphia, which hosted a year of civil conversations modeled after the work of On Being’s Civil Conversations Project.

Darnell Moore says honest, uncomfortable conversations are a sign of love — and that self-reflection goes hand-in-hand with culture shift and social evolution. A writer and activist, he’s grown wise through his work on successful and less successful civic initiatives, including Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to remake the schools of Newark, New Jersey, and he is a key figure in the ongoing, under-publicized, creative story of The Movement for Black Lives. This conversation was recorded at the 2019 Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England.

Forms of religious devotion are shifting — and there’s a new world of creativity toward crafting spiritual life while exploring the depths of tradition. Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie is a fun and forceful embodiment of this evolution. Born into an eminent and ancient rabbinical lineage, as a young adult he moved away from religion towards storytelling, theater, and drag. Today he leads a pop-up synagogue in New York City that takes as its tagline “everybody-friendly, artist-driven, God-optional.” It’s not merely about spiritual community but about recovering the sacred and reinventing the very meaning of “we.”

There is a question floating around the world right now: “How can we be joyful in a moment like this?” To which writer Ross Gay responds: “How can we not be joyful, especially in a moment like this?” He says joy has nothing to do with ease and “everything to do with the fact that we’re all going to die.” The ephemeral nature of our being allows him to find delight in all sorts of places (especially his community garden). To be with Ross Gay is to train your gaze to see the wonderful alongside the terrible, to attend to and meditate on what you love, even in the work of justice.

Applied philosopher Jonathan Rowson insists on holding a deeper appreciation for how our inner worlds influence our outer worlds. His research organization, Perspectiva, examines how social change happens across “systems, souls, and society.” “If we can get better and more nimble and more generous about how we move between those worlds, then the chance of creating a hope that makes sense for all of us is all the greater,” he says. We engage his broad spiritual lens on the great dynamics of our time, from social life to the economy to the climate.

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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Starting Points are thoughtfully curated collections of audio, essays, and poetry from The On Being Project’s deep archive. Revisit old favorites and find new ones.

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Our Libraries are thematic collections of writings and episodes from the On Being archive dating back to 2003. Wander the rows and scan the shelves.

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