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A few years ago, journalist Pankaj Mishra pursued the social relevance of the Buddha’s thought across India and Europe, Afghanistan and America. He emerged with a startling critique of Western political economy that is even more resonant today as he pursued the social relevance of the Buddha’s core questions: Do desiring and acquiring make us happy? Does large-scale political change really address human suffering?

Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht says that as a scholar she always noticed the “shadow history” of doubt out of the corner of her eye. She shows how non-belief, skepticism, and doubt have paralleled and at times shaped the world’s great religious and secular belief systems. She suggests that only in modern time has doubt been narrowly equated with a complete rejection of faith, or a broader sense of mystery.

We remember Studs Terkel, who recently died at the age of 96. The legendary interviewer chronicled decades of ordinary life and tumultuous change in U.S. culture. We visited him in his Chicago home in 2004 and drew out his wisdom and warmth on large existential themes of life and death. A lifelong agnostic, Studs Terkel shared his thoughts on religion as he’d observed it in his conversation partners, in culture, and in his own encounters with loss and mortality.

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 current U.S. presidential election has illustrated how gender, race, and religion can become lightning rods, and may be seen as potential stumbling blocks to leadership. Vashti McKenzie is a pioneering figure on all these fronts. When she became the first woman bishop of the oldest historic black church in America, she declared, “The stained glass ceiling has been pierced and broken.” We offer her story, her wisdom, and her good humor as an edifying lens on the American past, present, and future.

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.

In this program we revisit a 2007 conversation with evangelical leaders Rick and Kay Warren — exploring where they came from and what motivates them. Rick Warren hosted the first post-primary joint appearance of Barack Obama and John McCain at his Saddleback Church in southern California, one of the largest churches in the U.S. This two hour event, broadcast live on CNN, is just one sign of the cross-cultural authority he and Kay have achieved in a handful of years.

The news has been marked in recent years, at regular intervals, by the moral and practical downfall of prominent businesses. Jonathan Greenblatt is among a new generation of entrepreneurs who want to lead a fundamental shift in corporate culture as well as philanthropy — a merger between making a profit and doing good. We explore his way of seeing the world and his economics of “ethical brand architecture” and “fiercely pragmatic idealism.”

In a recent Pew poll, 16 percent of Americans identified themselves as “unaffiliated” — atheist, agnostic, or most prominently “nothing in particular.” Greg Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard, described himself that way until he discovered the tradition of humanism. He is passionate about articulating an atheist identity that is not driven by a stance against religion but by positive ethical beliefs and actions.

Americans have been hearing a lot about Mormonism in the context of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. But much of the public discussion of this faith of 13 million people has focused on controversies in the church’s history. We’ll avoid well-trodden ground to seek an understanding of the lived beliefs and spirituality of Latter Day Saints, with a leading scholar of the church and a lifelong practitioner. Robert Millet describes a developing young religion with distinct mystical and practical interpretations of the nature of God, family, and eternity.