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In this personal exchange between a Jewish rabbi and Islamic scholar, host Krista Tippett explores the integrity of religious faith and openness to the faiths of others. In a world in which religious experience is implicated in violence, two thinkers discuss how it is possible to love their own traditions and honor those of others.

This program was recorded live at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in June 2003.

The American public supports the principle of capital punishment, but there is a growing consensus among Jewish and Christian thinkers — across traditional liberal/conservative lines — that it should be abolished in this country or suspended while the system for imposing it is made more just. Reflections on justice, forgiveness, and the nature of God shed new light on America’s death penalty debate.

We explore the human and religious implications of natural disasters through the eyes of two scientists steeped in the workings of the natural world. We approach the morality of nature from a non-theological angle, tracing how natural disasters have sometimes fueled religious agendas and movements and how strictly scientific perspectives can both challenge and illuminate religious questions.

During the past decade, there has been an explosion of films and television programs containing religious and spiritual themes. Mel Gibson’s The “Passion of the Christ” was only the tip of the iceberg. As new generations of Americans work out their spiritual and religious questions, they are increasingly turning to fantasy. We’ll explore the deeper appeal of films like “Harry Potter” and “The Matrix,” and we’ll ask how fantasy in media reflects a changing spiritual imagination, especially in younger Americans.

We deconstruct the phrase “moral values,” which has confused and divided Americans since November’s election. As the second term of George W. Bush commences, political analyst Steven Waldman helps explore what these words do and do not convey to liberals and conservatives, and why they still matter. What is at stake when both sides fail to understand the moral convictions of the other?

We experience the religious thought and the spiritual vitality of two Muslims—male and female—both American and both with roots in ancient Islamic cultural, intellectual, and spiritual traditions. Their stories and ideas, music, and readings, evoke a sense of the richness of global Islamic spirituality and of some of its hidden nuances and beauty. They reveal how sound, music, and especially poetry offer a window onto the subtleties and humanity of Islamic religious experience.

Maria Montessori, the great 20th-century educational pioneer, observed that children have an intuition for religious life at an early age that is matched only by their capacity to acquire language. During this holiday season, Speaking of Faith explores the spiritual wisdom and intelligence of children—including their ability to process the difficult realities of life.

In this show, we speak with an African American Christian and an American Muslim and explore the perspectives of two religious communities which defy the broad stereotypes of this election year. We’ll seek to gain a deeper understanding of the way in which they are thinking through the mix of religious ideas that have come to the forefront of this campaign. These religious people see complex choices between competing religious ideals, and they are making their decisions in ways that challenge the intuition of pollsters and pundits.

In our time, some associate the word “religion” with rigid dogma and the excesses of institutions. The word “spirituality” on the other hand can seem to have little substance or form. The word “faith” can appear as a compromise of sorts, pointing to the content of religious tradition and spiritual experience. The truth is, all of these words are vague in the abstract. They gain meaning in the context of human experience.

In this show, we’ll explore the connotations of the word “faith” in four traditions and lives: Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We’ll speak with Sharon Salzberg, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Anne Lamott, and Omid Safi.

Many Americans received a violent introduction to Islam in September 2001. And yet, only one quarter of Americans told pollsters then that they considered Islam itself to be more likely than other religions to encourage violence in its believers. In the last two years, that figure has almost doubled. The specter of violence committed in the name of Islam has become as routine as it is shocking, especially at present in Iraq.

In this hour, we take a critical look at what is happening in Islam from inside a practice of that tradition. Krista discusses the present escalation of violence in the name of Islam with a practicing Muslim and leading scholar of Islamic studies, Vincent Cornell. He paints a bleak picture of chaos and drift within Islam which may presage renewal or the continued decay of the religion he loves.

Many of history’s greatest scientists considered their work to be a religious endeavor, a direct search for God. Pioneers like Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo believed that their discoveries told humanity more about God’s nature than had been known. Beginning in the early 18th century, science and religion came to be at odds — the gap widening most famously with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

In recent years, a new dialogue has begun, driven by leading scientists across the world. Host Krista Tippett explores with three scientists, each of whom is working in a field that’s rapidly advancing our understanding of what it means to be human. From very different perspectives, they suggest that our most sophisticated 21st-century discoveries may be driving us back to questions of faith.

The theory of the “God gap” — often broadly suggesting that religious Americans are conservative and will vote Republican while non-religious Americans are liberal and will vote Democratic — has been prominent in press reporting and political maneuvering in the 2004 presidential race. At their recent conventions, both parties seemed to grapple with faith dynamics and respond to the perceived God gap in interesting, unexpected ways.

Krista speaks with Steven Waldman, who covered the 2004 Democratic and Republican conventions for religious messages, images, and language. He says that, strictly speaking, the God gap is a myth. We’ll look beyond the headlines about the political gulf that reportedly separates religious and secular Americans.

Religious fundamentalism has reshaped our view of world events. In this show, host Krista Tippett explores the appeal of fundamentalism in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, as experienced from the inside. Three accomplished men, who were religious extremists at one time in their lives, provide revealing insight into the spiritual and cultural dimensions of fundamentalism. They also discuss religious impulses which counter the fundamentalist world view and helped them break free.