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Islam and its Coat of Many Colors – with Ali Asani

Can a multi-faceted Islam be whatever you want it to be?
All things to all people?

To listen to the renowned Harvard Professor Ali Asani tell it, Islam is a religion of multiple dimensions, interpretations, and perspectives. It’s almost like an all-encompassing religion, whose core beliefs can serve to unite widely diverse cultural groups, which eventually combine to form a dazzling coat of many colors.
But with such a cornucopia of rules and rituals, might the basic tenets of Islam get lost? Could they become confused with ancient tribal codes, which existed prior to Islam, and are difficult to puzzle out, to separate from the Muslim doctrines of today?
This Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard Extension School, asks — but perhaps does not always answer — many of these questions. So take a look, see for yourself, and join Ali Asani, Harvard’s Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures,  in the debate!

Posted on January 30, 2013 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Ideas, Politics, Religion
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“Why Does the World Exist?” with Jim Holt

Note: this interview was broadcast on the WGBH public radio affiliate WCAI, on the Cape and Islands!

Jim Holt (photo: Michael Todd)
Jim Holt (photo: Michael Todd)

In this ThoughtCast interview, science writer Jim Holt takes us on a jaunty tour of being and nothingness, existence and emptiness, quantum tunneling and the uncertainty principle. The author of Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, Holt lends his wit to a dissection of the puzzle of existence, which happens to be the topic of his just-published book Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story!  A frequent contributor to The New York Times and other publications, Holt approaches his subject with a personal, philosophical and scientific point of view. But does he solve the puzzle?… You tell me!

Click here to listen (28 minutes.)

Posted on January 9, 2012 in Front Page, Ideas, Philosophy, Religion, Science
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James Carroll Takes On Jerusalem

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store

In this ThoughtCast, noted author James Carroll talks about his latest book, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, at the Harvard Book Store, in Cambridge Massachusetts. The city of course serves as both holy ground and flash point for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and at times during their tumultuous histories, these three monotheistic religions have turned their city into not a place of peace and prayer, but a violent battleground.

Carroll is also the author of the highly regarded book “Constantine’s Sword”, which examines the shocking tale of Christian anti-Semitism from the time of Christ through Nazism and the Second Vatican Council. Carroll’s personal fascination with religion has led him to be both a believer and a skeptic, a critical historian and a man of faith, which is an interesting combination in these unsettling times.

Posted on March 27, 2011 in History, Politics, Religion
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Faculty Insight: Islam in the West – a clash of civilizations?

Note: This interview was broadcast on WGBH radio, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture, on April 17, 2011!

Faculty Insight is produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard University Extension School. This third interview of the series is with Jocelyne Cesari, a level-headed yet astute specialist in contemporary Islamic society. Muslims who live in the Western world today face multiple challenges — suspicion, isolation, ignorance, fear. And post-9/11, of course, they carry the weight of that violent attack. So how are we to move forward, in an enlightened, inclusive manner? How ought we to apply our secular, humanist and individualistic values at such a time?

For starters, let’s listen to Jocelyne Cesari. She might not have all the answers, but as the director of the inter-faculty Islam in the West Program, she’s clearly the right person to ask. She is also an associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for European Studies at Harvard, and teaches in Harvard’s Department of Government, its Divinity School and its Extension School. This video of our interview is only an introduction, so….
Click here to hear the entire conversation! (16 minutes)

Posted on December 17, 2010 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Politics, Religion
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Rebecca Goldstein: the atheist with a soul

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture!

Rebecca Goldstein
Rebecca Goldstein

Rebecca Goldstein’s latest work, called 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, is perhaps best described as a hybrid. It is indeed a novel, with its share of psychology, mathematics and academic politics, but it concludes with an appendix outlining these 36 arguments, as well as their rebuttals, in the language not of fiction, but of philosophy. So, as in many of Goldstein’s earlier novels, this one manages to fold ideas into art.
ThoughtCast spoke with Rebecca in her home in the Leather District, in downtown Boston.
Click here (28 minutes) to listen.
Click here (90 minutes) to listen to a discussion with Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, sponsored by PEN New England.  It’s titled Mind-Body Problems: A Conversation About Science, Fiction and God, and focuses mainly on Rebecca’s latest novel.

Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
Rebecca Goldstein received her doctorate in philosophy from Princeton, and went on to teach philosophy before trying her pen at fiction. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, was a critical success, and she went on to write 5 other novels, including Properties of Light, Mazel, and The Dark Sister. She has also written non-fiction studies of the mathematician Kurt Gödel, and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

In addition to being Rebecca’s husband, Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and one of the world’s leading authorities on language and the mind. He’s written seven books (so far) including The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought.

Posted on January 30, 2010 in Front Page, Ideas, Literature, Philosophy, Religion
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Zen and the Art of Writing – with Natalie Goldberg

Note: This program was broadcast on WCAI, KZMU and WFIU. It also received a 5-star review on PRX!

Natalie Goldberg (self-portrait)
Natalie Goldberg, the well-known painter, writer and writing teacher, who wrote the best-seller on how to write called Writing Down the Bones, is also a Zen practitioner, who applies the lessons of Zen Buddhism to her writing, and her life.

This is a complex brew, but in this ThoughtCast interview, which took place in her home, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Natalie speaks frankly about her often painful but also at times transcendent experiences, and how she has turned these experiences into positive, life-affirming acts of self-expression — and of art.


Natalie paints her father

Natalie seeks the truth, about herself, her father (the charismatic Ben Goldberg), her Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi, and the swirling world around her. As those who know her will attest, Natalie’s quest has been a fruitful one. She’s the author of many books, including the novel, Banana Rose, and the memoirs Long Quiet Highway and The Great Failure, among many others.

Click here: to listen to our interview. (30 minutes)


El Rito, New Mexico

Natalie Goldberg is also featured in the documentary Tangled up in Bob: Searching for Bob Dylan, in which she ventures to his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, in search of – once more – the truth. At the moment, Natalie is at work on a new book, called “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir”, which will be published in February of 2008.

Click here: to listen to Natalie Goldberg read an excerpt (about her parents’ visit to Santa Fe) from “The Great Failure”. (4 1/2 minutes)

Posted on September 23, 2007 in Literature, Religion
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Faith and Philosophy with Harvey Cox and Simon Blackburn

Note: this program was broadcast on the WGBH public radio sister stations WCAI/WNAN, on the Cape and Islands, and on WRNC-LP!

Harvey Cox
Simon Blackburn
In this half-hour, ThoughtCast talks with two very different men, with one thing in common — a belief in humanism. Harvey Cox, the renowned Harvard Divinity School Professor and author of The Secular City and When Jesus Came to Harvard, talks with ThoughtCast about his faith, and the religious resurgence taking place here in America and abroad. Cox has a unique take on Christianity — while he doubts the Resurrection, he celebrates the life of Jesus, and urges us all to follow in his footsteps, and take his teachings to the streets, to enact them in our flawed, real, and secular world.
Simon Blackburn on the other hand rejects religion but embraces the wisdom of philosophy. He too is an author — of Truth: A Guide, Think and Being Good, among others — and he teaches philosophy at the University of Cambridge, in England. What he offers is a philosophy that’s not just for the educated elite, but for the rest of us!

Click here: to listen (29 minutes)

And to listen to a WGBH Forum Network lecture moderated by Harvey Cox, on the Boston civil rights movement, click here!

Posted on June 8, 2007 in Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Philosophy, Religion
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Poet Robert Pinsky takes on King David

Note: The WGBH sister stations WCAI and WNAN broadcast this interview, and it also received a 5 star review on PRX!

Robert Pinsky
Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky tackles King David of the Bible – the shepherd, poet, warrior and adulterer – in his “Life of David.”
Is David a legend? A real, flesh and blood warrior who killed Goliath, and united the 12 Jewish tribes into one nation? Robert Pinsky delves into these questions, and into David’s story, with relish.

David’s story has been told many times, and the tale has changed with each telling. There’s the David of the Hebrew Bible, and another version of his life in the Talmud. We know he slept with Bathsheba, but was this a sin? An act of love? Of violence? It depends on whom you ask.

David, who lived about 3000 years ago, was beloved of God, and as a result, he got away with more than his share. He was a seductive, wily politician, a doting father, a bitter old man. These contradictions in David’s character spur Pinsky on, and he adds his own twist to the tale, as you will hear, on ThoughtCast!
Click here: to listen (28:30 mins).
And click here to listen to a discussion with Robert Pinsky on Poetry and Democracy on the Forum Network.

Posted on March 22, 2006 in Literature, Poetry, Religion
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