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Is the search for meaning a luxury of the modern world or have human beings always struggled to find meaning in the human condition – in the face of suffering, injustice and the finality of life? In Ecclesiastes and the Meaning of Life in the Ancient World (Cambridge UP, 2022), Arthur Keefer offers a timely assessment of Ecclesiastes and what it ha…
 
Chris Webb's The Belzec Death Camp: History, Biographies, Remembrance (Ibidem, 2016) is a comprehensive account of the Belzec death camp in Poland, which was the first death camp to use static gas chambers as part of the Aktion Reinhardt mass murder program. It covers the construction and the development of the mechanisms of mass murder. The story …
 
The Varieties of Atheism: Connecting Religion and Its Critics (University of Chicago Press, 2022), edited by Professor David Newheiser reveals the diverse nonreligious experiences obscured by the combative intellectualism of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, contributors contend that narrowly defining atheism as the be…
 
This episode of How To Be Wrong is about humility, beauty and the ways in which our society dictates the nature and boundaries of what is deemed beautiful. We talk with philosophy professor and Pulitzer Prize finalist Chloé Cooper Jones about desirability and the ways in which difference is constrained through our social interactions, as well as he…
 
When late eighteenth-century New Spanish viceregal administrators installed public lamps in the streets of central Mexico City, they illuminated the bodies of Indigenous, Afro-descended, and plebeian Spanish urbanites. The urban patrolmen, known as guarda faroleros, or “lantern guards,” maintained the streetlamps and attempted to clear the streets …
 
From the 1940s to 1960s, Iran developed into the world's first “petro-state,” where oil represented the bulk of state revenue and supported an industrializing economy, expanding middle class, and powerful administrative and military apparatus. In Petroleum and Progress in Iran Petroleum and Progress in Iran: Oil, Development, and the Cold War (Camb…
 
The idea of brotherhood has been an important philosophical concept for understanding community, equality, and justice. In Gendering Modern Jewish Thought (Indiana UP, 2021), Andrea Dara Cooper offers a gendered reading that challenges the key figures of the all-male fraternity of twentieth-century Jewish philosophy to open up to the feminine. Coop…
 
Today I talked to C. P. Lesley about Song of the Storyteller (Five Directions Press, 2023). It’s 1546, and Ivan the Terrible is about to be coronated and married off. Government nobles are given 6 weeks to choose the most beautiful, highborn, fertile, and politically expedient brides from around the country. Before Tsar Ivan makes his choice, 16-ye…
 
Archaeologist Ilka Knüppel discusses her master's thesis—The Search for Jesus's Final Steps: How Archaeological and Literary Evidence Reroutes the Via Dolorosa—and how she came to write it. To use both ‘archaeological and literary evidence’ requires digging in both the earth and in books, and to ‘reroute’ the Via Dolorosa reveals that many of the t…
 
Nicole Archambeau, associate professor of history at Colorado State University, talks about her book, Souls under Siege: Stories of War, Plague, and Confession in Fourteenth-Century Provence (Cornell University Press), with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. The book explores how the inhabitants of southern France made sense of the ravages of succe…
 
Many of the earliest time technologies were used to mark sacred time -- time set apart for the divine. But with the Industrial Revolution, efficient time use became its own sacred value. We now live in the age of capitalist time, where time is money and must be spent as productively as possible. As we struggle with a global pandemic, it’s time to r…
 
The massive and foreboding Great Dismal Swamp sprawls over 2,000 square miles and spills over parts of Virginia and North Carolina. From the early seventeenth century, the nearly impassable Dismal frustrated settlement. However, what may have been an impediment to the expansion of slave society became an essential sanctuary for many of those who so…
 
Adorno and the Ban on Images (Bloomsbury, 2022) upends some of the myths that have come to surround the work of the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno – not least amongst them, his supposed fatalism. Sebastian Truskolaski argues that Adorno's writings allow us to address what is arguably the central challenge of modern philosophy: how to picture a world…
 
A century after being expelled from Portugal, cryptoJews in Mexico, false converts to Christianity, could not speak of their beliefs for fear of becoming embroiled in the imprisonment, torture, and death in flames that characterized the Inquisition. Without written texts, the Jewish liturgy lost, clans of cryptoJews created a unique body of religio…
 
Hannah Zeavin, lecturer in the department of History and member of the executive committees of both the Center for New Media and the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society at University of California, Berkeley, talks about her book, The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy, with Peoples & Things host, Lee Vinsel. The book tracks t…
 
Virginia Woolf’s 1938 provocative and polemical essay Three Guineas presents the iconic writer’s views on war, women, and the way the patriarchy at home oppresses women in ways that resemble those of fascism abroad. Two great Woolf experts, Professor Anne Fernald, editor of two editions of Mrs. Dalloway which she movingly discusses on another Think…
 
Angela Vanhaelen's The Moving Statues of Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam: Automata, Waxworks, Fountains, Labyrinths (Penn State University Press, 2022) opens a window onto a fascinating and understudied aspect of the visual, material, intellectual, and cultural history of seventeenth-century Amsterdam: the role played by its inns and taverns, specifi…
 
Kimon and Richard speak with Cormac Russell, Managing Director at Nurture Development. Cormac focuses on helping institutions, NGOs, governmental organizations, and companies interested in improving their communities. The biggest issue that Cormac encounters in these organizations is a problem with disconnection. In this interview, Cormac discusses…
 
Change is not about grand statements and sweeping gestures. It is about chipping away, a bit at a time, at the habits that hold us back. Dr Rebecca Ray knows about the power of small habits to make big changes. By introducing small changes into her own life, she transformed her career as a clinical psychologist to become one of Australia's most eff…
 
For many residents of Western nations, COVID-19 was the first time they experienced the effects of an uncontrolled epidemic. This is in part due to a series of little-known regulations that have aimed to protect the global north from epidemic threats for the last two centuries, starting with International Sanitary Conferences in 1851 and culminatin…
 
We have usually relied on public intellectuals to provide facts, ideas, and cultural leadership--though not all have lived up to the ideal of “speaking truth to power.” Today, however, online networks and social media mean we are all public intellectuals, and we have new responsibilities that come with this role. Guests: Cornel West, professor at U…
 
What kinds of tools do we need to make big decisions, and why aren't our universities training us to make them? Are universities doing students a disservice by occupying them with myriads of boxes to tick? Are students right to prefer money to meaning? Madison Program alumni Ben and Jenna Storey discuss the philosophy of making choices and of restl…
 
M. R. Sharan is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, studying questions centred around development economics and political economy. He obtained his PhD from Harvard University in 2020 and was previously at the Delhi School of Economics and Hansraj College. His novel, Blue, was published in 2014. His writings have appeared across va…
 
Sanaë Lemoine is the author of The Margot Affair and a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow. She was born in Paris to a Japanese mother and French father, and raised in France and Australia, and now live in New York. She received an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Book Recommendations: Meera Sodha, Made in India Jes…
 
Professor Cathleen Chopra-McGowan examines some the incongruities of our Bible in the context of the Ancient Near East, showing how the stories and traditions of Israel resembled and borrowed from those of Babylon and Assyria. She compares the Genesis narrative to two others, the epics of Gilgamesh and Atra-Hasis, especially discussing the universa…
 
This week, RBI director John Torpey interviews Prof. Enrique Desmond Arias, a professor of political science at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, about recent developments in Latin American politics. Arias delves into Peru's recent political unrest and how it resembles the times of Fujimori's authoritarianism and discusses the origins of pola…
 
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