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This is a strange, tumultuous political moment. With columnists David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, we step back from the immediate political gamesmanship. We take public theology as a lens on the challenge and promise we will all be living as citizens, whoever our next president might be. This public conversation was convened by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis, the day before the second presidential debate on that campus.

The civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander is one of the people who is waking us up to history we don’t remember, and structures most of us can’t fathom intending to create. She calls the punitive culture that has emerged the “new Jim Crow,” and is making it visible in the name of a fierce hope and belief in our collective capacity to engender the transformation to which this moment is calling.

There’s a kind of brilliance that flashes up in early adulthood: an ability to see the world whole. Nathan Schneider has been able to articulate and sustain that far-seeing eye of young adulthood. He’s also a gifted writer, chronicling the world he and his compatriots are helping to make — spiritual, technological, and communal. At the Chautauqua Institution, we explore the wisdom of a millennial generation public intellectual on the emerging fabric of human identity.

Chinese-American philosopher and civil rights legend Grace Lee Boggs turned 100 this summer. She has been at the heart and soul of a largely hidden story inside Detroit’s evolution from economic collapse to rebirth. We traveled in 2011 to meet her and her community of joyful, passionate people reimagining work, food, and the very meaning of humanity. They have lessons for us all.

She became a national figure as the face of the “Nuns on the Bus.” Sr. Simone Campbell is a lawyer, lobbyist, poet, and Zen contemplative working on issues such as “mending the wealth gap,” “enacting a living wage,” and “crafting a faithful budget that benefits the 100%.” She is a helpful voice for longings so many of us share, across differences, about how to engage with the well-being of our neighbors in this complicated age.

For over a decade, the French-American anthropologist Scott Atran has been listening to the hopes and dreams of young people from Indonesia to Egypt. He explores the human dynamics of what we analyze as “breeding grounds for terrorism” — why some young people become susceptible to them and others, in the same circumstances, do not. His work sheds helpful light on the question on so many of our minds as we watch horrific news of the day: How could this happen — and how could we possibly help transform it?

If journalism is a primary way we tell the story of ourselves and our time, Michel Martin is a person helping us tell that story — and take part in it — more completely. Her daily NPR program Tell Me More was often labeled as “diversity” or “minority” programming. But in fact, she and her journalism are about a more generous and realistic sweep of who we are now — and how we’re creating our life together anew. At the Chautauqua Institution, we mine her wisdom on the emerging fabric of human identity.

The third in a four-part series, “The American Consciousness.”

One of the world’s leading experts on torture, Iranian-American political scientist Darius Rejali discusses, in particular, how democracies change torture and are changed by it. In the wake of Wikileaks revelations about torture in U.S.-occupied Iraq, we explore how his knowledge might deepen our public discourse about such practices — and inform our collective reckoning with consequences yet to unfold.

Americans remain divided about how much religion they want in their political life. As we elect a new president, we return to an evocative, relevant conversation from earlier this year with journalist Steven Waldman. From his unusual study of the American founders, he understands why 21st-century struggles over religion in the public square spur passionate disagreement and entanglement with politics at its most impure.

The second part of our examination of religious energies below the surface of the 2008 presidential campaign. Conservative columnist Rod Dreher is an outspoken critic of mainstream Republican economic and environmental ideas and the conduct of the Iraq war, but he voted for George W. Bush twice. We explore the little-known story of religiously influenced impulses within the conservative movement that diverge from the Religious Right.

The Religious Right has gotten a fair amount of coverage in recent years, while the political Left has rarely been represented with a religious sensibility. Our guest, a national correspondent for Time magazine is a political liberal and an Evangelical Christian who has been observing the Democratic Party’s complex relationship with faith and the little-told story of its response to the rise of the Religious Right.