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A poet and self-described literary activist, E. Ethelbert Miller attended Howard University in 1968 — the age in which Black Power was finding its voice. He has remained there ever since, observing and making sense of the trajectory of black history and culture. He pushes at the parameters within which mainstream America routinely sees what he calls “blackness.”

British activist Ed Husain was seduced, at the age of 16, by revolutionary Islamist ideals that flourished at the heart of educated British culture. Yet he later shrank back from radicalism after coming close to a murder and watching people he loved become suicide bombers. He dug deeper into Islamic spirituality, and now offers a fresh and daring perspective on the way forward.

Karen Armstrong speaks about her progression from a disillusioned and damaged young nun into, in her words, a “freelance monotheist.” She’s a formidable thinker and scholar, but as a theologian she calls herself an amateur — noting that the Latin root of the word “amateur” means a love of one’s subject. Seven years in a strict religious order nearly snuffed out her ability to think about faith at all. Here, we hear the story behind Armstrong’s developing ideas about God.

One of today’s most influential spiritual teachers shares his youthful experience of depression and despair — suffering that led him to his own spiritual breakthrough, and ultimately, freedom and peace of mind. He also explicates his view of what he calls “the pain body” — the accumulated emotional pain that may influence us and our relationships in negative ways. And Tolle talks about spirit and God, and what those concepts mean to him.

Nine Muslims, in their own words, reveal a creative convergence of Islamic spirituality and American identity that is unfolding, largely unnoticed, in the United States. A lawyer turned playwright, a teacher who’s a lesbian, a retired federal prosecutor — all giving shape to the nature and meaning of Muslim identity, and sharing how tricky it can be to unravel Islamic religious tradition from the many cultural traditions.

Our guest has grappled with large moral and religious questions on and off the page. We discover what she discerned — in the act of creating a new universe — about God and about dilemmas of evil, doubt, and free will. The ultimate moral of any life and any event, she believes, only shows itself across generations. And so the novelist, like God, she says, paints with the brush of time.

James Prosek is an artist, fly-fisher, author, and environmental activist who has always, as he puts it, found God “through the theater of nature.” From a young age he has been fascinated by trout and now eel – which he sees as “mystical creatures” – and he’s captured them literally and artistically, by way of both angling and paint. We explore the sense of meaning and mystery he has developed along the way, including his concern with how we humans limit our sense of other creatures by the names we give them.

As the global economic crisis began to unfold this past fall, we wanted to respond immediately, in our way. We began to conduct an online conversation parallel to but distinct from our culture’s more sustained focus on economic scenarios. For in each of our lives, whoever we are, very personal scenarios are unfolding that confront us with core questions of what matters to us and what sustains us. We made a list of our guests across the years who we thought might speak to this in fresh and compelling ways.

We explore human and spiritual aspects of economic downturn with a wise public intellectual of our time, the Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer. He works with people from all walks of life at the intersection of spiritual, professional, and social change, and stresses the need to acknowledge the inner life of human beings as a source of reality and power.

Diane Winston appreciates good television, studies it, and brings many of its creators into her religion and media classes at the University of Southern California. In what some have called a renaissance in television drama, we examine how TV is helping us tell our story and work through great confusions in contemporary life. And, we play clips from The Wire, House, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica.

In a few breathtaking months, we’ve culturally moved from seeing Wall Street as an icon of thriving civil society to discussing its workings with book titles like House of Cards and Animal Spirits. As part of our ongoing Repossessing Virtue series, we look at what science is learning about trust, fair play, and empathy — and what these qualities have to do with human character and economics.

The very words “faith-based” became controversial during the Bush administration, yet Barack Obama has retained the faith-based centers in 11 federal agencies that his predecessor created. And within weeks of assuming the presidency, he announced priority areas for his own White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships — including economic recovery and poverty reduction, abortion reduction, responsible fatherhood, and global interfaith dialogue. In a live, public conversation, we meet the 26-year-old political strategist, Pentecostal minister, and trusted associate of the president who will lead this charge.