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Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah offers hope for quiet, sustained culture shift through the “endless shared conversation” of friendship. The writer of the New York Times “Ethicist” column studies how deep social change happens across time and cultures. “If you have that background of relationship between individuals and communities that is conversational, then when you have to talk about the things that do divide you, you have a better platform.”

A prolific writer on sociology, history, economics, and politics, W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the most extraordinary minds of American and global history. His life traced an incredible arc; he was born three years after the end of the Civil War and died on the eve of the March on Washington. In 1903, he penned the famous line that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” Du Bois was a formative voice for many of the people who gave us the civil rights movement and for all of us navigating the still-unfolding, unfinished business of racial justice now. We bring his life and ideas into relief through three conversations with people who were inspired by him.

One of the voices many have been turning to in recent years is Arlie Hochschild. She helped create the field of the sociology of emotion — our stories as “felt” rather than merely factual. When she published her book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, in the fall of 2016, it felt like she had chronicled the human dynamics that have now come to upend American culture. It was based on five years of friendship and research in Tea Party country at that movement’s height, far from her home in Berkeley, California. Her understanding of emotion in society and politics feels even more important at this juncture. So does the reflective, self-critical sensibility this experience gave Arlie Hochschild on her own liberal instincts. Caring, she says, is not the same as capitulating.

“People believe things that are mutually contradictory; I think we all do. I know I do.” — Erick Erickson

Earlier this year, the University of Montana invited On Being to attempt an outside the box civil conversation between two political pundits on contrasting ends of the U.S. political spectrum. It became a sold-out, public event in the spirit of Montana’s Senator Mike Mansfield, who famously modeled integrity, courage, and humility across the partisan aisle in the tumult of 1960s and 70s. Sally Kohn and Erick Erickson are both controversial, lightning-rod figures, yet neither of them fits neatly into a partisan mold. The reaction of the youngest people in the room is what compelled us to put this on the air. They said they had not witnessed or imagined a political conversation like this possible: one marked at once by bedrock difference — and good will, humor, and a willingness to bring our questions as well as our arguments, our humanity as well as our positions, into the room, if only for an evening.

“If there isn’t the crack in the middle where there’s some people on both sides who absolutely refuse to see the other as evil, this is going to continue.”

The focus of our national fight over abortion may change, but this hasn’t changed for decades: we collapse this most intimate and complex of human dilemmas to two sides. We’ve been looking yet again for wisdom away from the turbulent news cycle and keep returning to this conversation Krista had with Frances Kissling. She is a “bridge person” in the abortion debate: a long-time pro-choice activist who has sought to come into relationship with her political opposites. Now she’s controversial on both sides, but speaks from a place that many of us would like to map out between the poles. She has experienced something more powerful, as she tells it, than defining common ground — and this has lessons for other issues in our common life and our struggles with people with whom we disagree the most.

We don’t really reward or allow our politicians, good or bad, to be searching, or to change their minds and grow — to admit their human frailty. So it’s surprising to hear Cory Booker say that the best thing that’s happened to him is “being broken, time and time again.” He’s taken flack for talking about politics as “manifesting love.” He speaks with Krista about the inadequacy of tolerance, strengthening the “muscle” of hope, and making your bed as a spiritual practice.

To reassert the liveliness of ordinary things, precisely in the face of what is hardest and most broken in life and society — this has been Michael Longley’s gift to Northern Ireland as one of its foremost living poets. He is a voice for all of us now, wise and winsome about the force of words in a society that has moved away from sectarianism in living memory. The Good Friday Agreement was signed 20 years ago this month, and social healing is ongoing work to this day.

“When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers. And that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” A singular writer and thinker, Rebecca Solnit celebrates the unpredictable and incalculable events that so often redeem our lives, both solitary and public. She searches for the hidden, transformative histories inside and after events we chronicle merely as disasters, in places like post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

No challenge before us is more important — and more potentially life-giving — than that we come to see and know our fellow citizens, our neighbors, who have become strangers. Journalist Anand Giridharadas and Whitney Kimball Coe of the Rural Assembly have two very different histories and places in our life together. But they are both stitching relationship across the ruptures that have made politics thin veneers over human dramas of power and frailty, fear and hope. We spoke at the Obama Foundation’s inaugural summit in Chicago.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a poetic journalist and a defining voice of our times. He’s with us in a conversation that is joyful and hard and kind, soaring and down-to-earth all at once. He spoke with Krista as part of the 2017 Chicago Humanities Festival before an audience of over 1,500 people, black and white, young and old. To a teacher in the audience who asks how to speak to the young now about the complexity of our world, he says, “Give me the tools. Arm me. Allow me to be able to understand why. That’s not hope, but I think that’s the sort of perspective I would’ve come from, at that age.”

“When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.” The surprising psychology behind morality is at the heart of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research. He explains “liberal” and “conservative” not narrowly or necessarily as political affiliations, but as personality types — ways of moving through the world. His self-described “conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular liberal instincts” have been challenged by his own studies.

In life, in families, we shine a light on the past to live more abundantly now. In this conversation at the Citizen University annual conference, historian Annette Gordon-Reed and painter Titus Kaphar lead us in an exploration of that as a public adventure. She is the historian who introduced the world to Sally Hemings and the children she had with Thomas Jefferson, and so realigned a primary chapter of the American story with the deeper, more complicated truth. He collapses timelines on canvas, and created iconic images after Ferguson. Both are reckoning with history in order to repair the present.

Glenn Beck is a complicated person in American life, and he is acknowledging his role in the damaged state we’re in. To create the world we want our children to inhabit, we all need to be ready to let others surprise us, to offer forgiveness, and to ask hard questions of our own part in this moment. This doesn’t happen often in politics, but it is essential in life, and it must be part of common life, too. As part of our ongoing Civil Conversations Project, Krista draws out Glenn Beck in this spirit.

It’s hard to imagine honest, revelatory, even enjoyable conversation between people on distant points of American life right now. But in this public conversation at the Citizen University annual conference, Matt Kibbe and Heather McGhee show us how. He’s a libertarian who helped activate the Tea Party. She’s a millennial progressive leader. They are bridge people for this moment — holding passion and conviction together with an enthusiasm for engaging difference, and carrying questions as vigorously as they carry answers.

To be Evangelical is not one thing, even on abortion. This conversation about Christianity and politics with three generations of Evangelical leaders — Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, and the late Chuck Colson — feels more relevant in the wake of the 2016 election than it did when we first recorded it. We offer this searching dialogue, which is alive anew, to a changed political landscape.

We take in the extraordinary wisdom of Congressman John Lewis on what happened in Selma on Bloody Sunday and beyond — and how it might inform common life today. A rare look inside the civil rights leaders’ spiritual confrontation with themselves — and their intricate art of “love in action.”

In an unsettled political moment, at the end of a divisive campaign, the late, great civil rights elder Vincent Harding is a voice of calm, wisdom, and perspective. He was wise about how the civil rights vision might speak to 21st-century realities. Just as importantly, he pursued this by way of patient yet passionate cross-cultural, cross-generational relationship. He reminded us that the Civil Rights Movement was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society. He posed and lived a question that is freshly in our midst: Is America possible?

This political season has surfaced our need to reimagine and re-weave the very meaning of common life and common good. We take a long, nourishing view of the challenge and promise of this moment with former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and interfaith visionary Eboo Patel. This is the second of two public conversations convened by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis on the eve of the 2016 presidential debate on that campus.

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