What is The On Being Project?

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

It’s a question we hear often. The On Being show is the tip of an iceberg that’s been evolving for nearly two decades — with new depth and velocity in the post-2020 world.

Every crisis of our age runs through fault lines of human hearts and well-being — pain and fear and dreams and hope. Work once imagined as “soft” is urgently pragmatic. Calming fear. Expanding imaginations. Resourcing social courage and creativity. Opening the moral questions of humanity hospitably to the seeker, the atheist, and the devoutly religious. Attending to the wholeness of every person: the life of the mind, the truth of the body, and the wild mystery of the human spirit.

This is what we do. Through content, experiences, accompaniment, and practical tools, The On Being Project tends the human change that makes social transformation possible.

The On Being radio show and podcast was created by Krista Tippett inside a legacy media organization (American Public Media) in 2003. It began with a controversial idea for a public radio conversation (Speaking of Faith) that would treat the religious and spiritual aspects of life as seriously as we treat politics and economics. On Being, as it has evolved, takes up the great questions of meaning in 21st-century lives and at the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and the arts. What does it mean to be human, how do we want to live, and who will we be to each other? 

The show launched on two public radio stations. It remained fairly hidden on the old-fashioned dial, consigned, as The New York Times wrote, to the “God ghetto” timeslot of Sunday mornings. But it grew quietly year upon year, and gained a new cultural imprint when podcasting came along.

Numbers don’t measure everything that matters, but we have numbers we’re proud of.

What started on two public radio stations is now heard on 400 across the U.S. The On Being podcast has been downloaded and played over 350 million times. We chart extraordinary engagement with our content as measured by figures like “time spent listening” and “open rates.” We’ve received the highest honors in broadcasting, digital media, and podcasting – including a Peabody, multiple Webbys, and an Ambie. On Being has been named a best podcast by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Atlantic, iHeart Radio, and more. 

In 2014, President Obama awarded Krista the National Humanities Medal for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence. On the air and in print, Ms. Tippett invites people of every background to join her conversations about faith, ethics, and moral wisdom.”

People tell us every day that they have “discovered” On Being, and not by buzz, but by passage from one human being to another — sometimes as a lifeline, often across generations. The impact of this content has always felt less like that of an interview show and more like that of a social enterprise (with a radio show at its heart).

A few years in, audience research began to document what we had been anecdotally tracing and have continued to see: our media space gathers people together across boundaries of age, race, geography, politics, and religion — at the same time that these boundaries have been calcifying in the culture at large.

Today we understand our work as a “media and public life organization” with social healing as the overarching impulse in everything we make and do. The Civil Conversations Project was the first expression of this, beginning in 2011. It has become an ongoing, ever-evolving offering of conversations and public events that is woven throughout our core body of work.

In 2013, Krista and a team of three colleagues (Trent Gilliss, Chris Heagle, and Liliana Maria Percy Ruiz) took On Being and The Civil Conversations Project into independence as a nonprofit enterprise.  

Scaling, for us, is about going deeper and not just bigger. We’re emboldened as On Being continues to inspire initiatives analog and digital, national and hyper-local, around the world. We’re honored by the countercultural array of people and organizations who have drawn on our work and sought our collaboration as a leader and convener of conversations that matter.

“When it comes to cultural change we excessively fixate on the critical mass and underestimate the catalytic quality of the improbable few. The ‘critical yeast’ – these small, unlikely, combinations of persistent people and partnerships committed to a new quality of relationship – dwell before and behind every instance of social change that truly shifts what is possible and transformative across generations.
“(Krista Tippett) has created, over decades, something rare in American life: spaces where people of different faiths, disciplines, and ideologies discuss divisive questions without becoming more divided, without losing sight of each other’s humanity.”
“On Being is a quiet force fostering thought and conversation among America’s various and intertwined publics.” 

The vitality of The Civil Conversations Project in an increasingly fractured world called us to build out a new capacity for social healing. In 2019, Lucas Johnson joined us to lead and expand this new world of initiative within our project.

Lucas was previously the global coordinator of the 100-year-old International Fellowship of Reconciliation. He has been mentored by Civil Rights elders, especially Dorothy Cotton and the late Vincent Harding, who first introduced him to us. He possesses the rare combination of a millennial view of life and change with a long sense of history and global experience as a teacher, mediator, and pastor in settings of deep conflict. The talented team he has built inside The On Being Project became integrated at the heart of our work across 2020. Now they are formulating a national strategy designed for long-term, generational presence and impact, centered in accompaniment where social ferment is already taking hold below the radar of fracture – communities and initiatives where we can offer resourcing, deepening, and belonging in a larger web of social repair. Our strategies are oriented toward the long-term creation of resilient relationships across differences, and towards wholeness in lives and communities. 

“The best community organizers know that relationships provide the deepest impetus for the lasting transformation of the roots of alienation and violence so that something truly new can be sustained. But relationship is hard to scale. Our work is rooted in a media project whose audience is deeply invested and expanding, giving us the potential to bring the impact of relationships to scale. This human aspect of culture shift is an indispensable foundation if the best policy outcomes are to have any possibility of meaningful success.”
Lucas Johnson 
On a regular basis I get notes from the most unexpected places — Kazakhstan, Wichita, Uganda, Nepal, Washington, D.C. — about how the conversations of On Being have touched and lifted forward a sense of connection. On Being stirs hearts and imagination, the two indispensable sources of courage and creativity that nurture persistent patience and improbable power to transform and to heal.”

Alongside the destructive narrative of our time, we see new realities emerging. The humans who gather around On Being are part of what we call this generative narrative of our time. They are social creatives across disciplines and class and place. At human pace, they are part of a constellation of people stitching relationship across rupture in the context of their own lives and communities. 

We seek to make the generative narrative of our time more visible through a media platform that touches millions and that we are poised to continue to grow.

We replenish, nourish and enliven, connect and convene, and equip the people and communities that are part of it.

Along the way, always asking ourselves how we can make goodness and complexity riveting?

Our intention is to offer hope, beauty, and courage in everything we make — for an hour, a lifetime, or across generations. 

We elevate voices of wisdom and models of wise thinking, speaking, and living. 

We nurture virtues that make new realities and new relationships possible — including generous conversation, embodied presence, and sustained relationship across backgrounds and lived experience.

We value questions and poetry that open new imaginative possibility. 

We accompany work of activism and justice by equipping for reflection, resilience, and repair.

We understand love as the most reliably transformative muscle of human wholeness, and we investigate the workings of love as public practice.

We envision a world that is more fluent in the highest capacities and gifts of its own humanity — and thus able to rise to the great challenges and promise of this century.

Engage With Us

There are many ways to keep up with what happens next – and join our far-flung and ever growing community of listeners, readers, and social creatives. Subscribe to The Pause e-mail, our weekly e-mail newsletter. Follow us, as they say, on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can support our work by visiting our giving page. To learn more about our funding and financials, please visit our funding page.