Blog Archives

The Ideology of Evolution, or the Evolution of Ideology

September 9, 2010
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The Ideology of Evolution, or the Evolution of Ideology

Press author Denis Alexander, director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, has a piece up at the Huffington Post, as part of their new series of op-eds and commentaries, Religion and Science: A Contemporary Discussion. In considering the ideological uses of science, Alexander makes a striking point about how certain biological ideas have been put to quite opposite ideological tasks throughout history, by different nations and at different times. As he explains: The ideological uses of science very often become tangled up in the debate between science and religion. Theories that for the scientist do practical work in the laboratory to make sense of certain data, and help map out the direction for future research, can be deployed in the world outside for or against various political, social, religious or anti-religious agendas. In the process the science becomes socially transformed, the original meanings of words in scientific discourse conveying quite different connotations. Though Alexander makes use of the example of evolution, the world wide web has been agog with recent instances of this intertwining: philosopher Tim Crane’s post on The Stone blog at the New York Times, biologist Ursula Goodenough’s review of Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design at . . .

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Jonthan Franzen, Political Scientist?

September 2, 2010
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Jonthan Franzen, Political Scientist?

For those geeked on all things IT or your favorite ’90s aficionado, the big news is that 90210 Day has finally arrived—but we’re busy ringing in 09-02-10 at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting. A big part of scholarly publishing focuses on the conferences, colloquia, and symposia whose panels and poster sessions are a rite of passage for academics—and a captive audience for booksellers and acquisitions editors alike. The Wardman Park Marriott is aflutter with bow ties and smart suits and I’m trying to sneak away private moments with my copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (purchased during a mechanical flight delay at O’Hare—how many times can a writer described as our modern day Tolstoy refer to War and Peace in his own book, I dare to ask? But I kid, I kid—this one’s a keeper!), which has turned out to be perfect reading. Franzen’s hot in pursuit of the ghostly affective presences of globalization, consumption, and stewardship that hang, specter-like, over our contemporary moment. It turns out that the theme of this year’s APSA—”The Politics of Hard Times: Citizens, Nations, and the International System under Economic Stress”—couldn’t be more pitch-perfect for the concerns of current political science studies or . . .

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

August 27, 2010
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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

John Simon is off and running in the New York Times with a review of Czech novelist-in-exile-now-French-citizen and perpetually rumored Nobel Prize nominee Milan Kundera’s new “essayistic” book Encounter. The collection of 26 pieces, ranging in size, provides commentary on the twentieth-century artists, writers, philosophers, filmmakers, and other cultural luminaries that Kundera champions—those who “keep beauty alive,” as Simon aptly states. The review includes some juicy bits from the book itself, including reference to the great Czech writer and advocate of the long sentence, Bonhumil Hrabal: “A world where a person can read Hrabal is utterly different from a world where his voice could not be heard! One single book by Hrabal does more for people, for their freedom of mind, than all the rest of us with our actions, our gestures, our noisy protests!” Kundera’s lingua franca has always been, well, a lingua franca (albeit one of disappearance and return, both somberly and stubbornly poetic in its redefinitions)—Alfred Thomas, author of Prague Palimpsest: Writing, Memory, and the City, captures Kundera’s reinvention of Franz Kafka as the prophet of a city of political forgetting in his magisterial tome The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979): “The point is that Kundera . . .

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Of Memorials and Mistrials

August 26, 2010
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Of Memorials and Mistrials

Fresh on the heels of the White House, the National Park Service announced this morning that Laura Bush and Michelle Obama will join together to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks at a memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania—site of the United Flight 93 crash. The service will mark the first meeting of the two women since their informal tea at the White House during the Bush-Obama transition and will include them among the million plus visitors who have made a pilgrimage to the temporary memorial dedicated to the flight and its victims. American studies professor Erika Doss examines the often spontaneous offerings that materialize at sites of tragic and traumatic death, like this one—as well as the powerful public feelings of loss and the politics of representation that often accompany them—in the recently published Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. The United 93 memorial site, which was moved across the street from its original location alongside the crash field in 2008, has been widely documented on the web, spawning sites that have become their own mini-memorials, dedicated to archiving the religious items, hand painted rocks, hat collections, flowers, memorial wall, and 40-foot chain fence that dot . . .

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