Religion

“Who knew Camus had something to say about gardens?”

December 8, 2008
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“Who knew Camus had something to say about gardens?”

If you’re living in the northern U.S. it is likely that your garden is presently covered under several inches of snow, but as a recent article in the New York Times demonstrates, through the long winter months many gardeners never cease thinking about them. Writing for yesterday’s “Sunday Book Review” Dominique Browning offers a list of a few of her favorite gardening books for midwinter reading that includes Robert Pogue Harrison’s new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Browning writes: The year’s most thought-provoking, original and weighty garden book (though the lightest in heft) is Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, by Robert Pogue Harrison. Here the author of Forests: The Shadow of Civilization and The Dominion of the Dead, a book about cemeteries and burial practices, turns his thoughts to the garden as “sanctuary of repose.” Making a garden fulfills, as Harrison puts it, “a distinctly human need, as opposed to shelter, which is a distinctly animal need.” Burrowing into a more refined issue than what makes a garden, he meditates on why we garden. It’s impossible to summarize the answer, overflowing as his book is with eccentric connections and voracious readings, ranging over centuries and . . .

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Press Release: Shulman, Spring, Heat, Rains

November 13, 2008
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Press Release: Shulman, Spring, Heat, Rains

It’s a fairly common experience: before you visit a place, you read up on it, study its history and culture, plan ahead and prepare … and then when you get there, you realize that no amount of study could have prepared you for the reality that confronts you, the glorious surprises of travel at its best. But what happens when a true scholar, with peerless knowledge of a place and its people, arrives for a lengthy visit in a place he’s studied for decades? Well, if he’s as open and alive to wonder as David Shulman, the result is a travel diary like no other. Spring, Heat, Rains chronicles a seven-month sojourn in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, marrying Shulman’s lifetime of learning with his joyful astonishment at the details of daily life in one of the world’s most ancient societies. With Shulman, author of the critically acclaimed Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine, as our guide, we meet betel-nut vendors, hear singers and epic poets, and clamber over ancient temples. We endure the crippling heat of summer and the desperately desired—but frustratingly inescapable—monsoon rains that follow. And we fall deeply, completely in love with an . . .

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Press Release: Lopez, Buddhism and Science

November 3, 2008
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Press Release: Lopez, Buddhism and Science

Could the Buddha possibly have understood the theory of relativity, centuries before Einstein explained it? What about quantum physics? The Big Bang? If you read enough popular writing on Buddhism and science, you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking so. While Christianity and science have traditionally been viewed as opposing forces, Buddhism and science have been inextricably linked in Western culture for well over a century. With Buddhism and Science, Donald S. Lopez Jr., an expert on the history of Buddhism, offers a fresh look at the question of why the religion has long been viewed as so compatible with—and adaptable to—new scientific discoveries. From the Buddhist conception of the design of the universe to the Dalai Lama’s vocal support of scientific inquiry, Lopez reveals a tradition that has deftly managed to sidestep debates on science and religion. As new discoveries continue to reshape our understanding of mind and matter, Buddhism and Science will be indispensable reading for those fascinated by religion, science, and their often vexed relation. Read the press release. . . .

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Iran’s nuclear capabilities have been exaggerated

July 17, 2008
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Iran’s nuclear capabilities have been exaggerated

William O. Beeman, whose book The Great Satan vs. the Mad Mullahs: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other was reprinted last year by the press, teamed up with nuclear scientist Dr. Behrad Nakhai to write an interesting commentary on Iran’s nuclear activity posted yesterday to the New American Media website. In the article Beeman argues against rumors in the media about Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities, saying that while “Iran is engaged in peaceful nuclear research” it is still far from being able to produce a nuclear weapon, and suggests that claims to the contrary have been fabricated to bolster Israeli official’s “requests for the Bush administration’s blessing to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.” Read the full article on the New American Media website or find out more about Beeman’s book here. . . .

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The garden as a cultural institution

June 25, 2008
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The garden as a cultural institution

Last week in the June 16 New York Times cultural critic Edward Rothstein had an interesting commentary on the New York Botanical Garden drawing on Robert Pogue Harrison’s new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, to help him place the concept of the garden in the wider context of western history and demonstrate its enduring cultural and historical importance. Rothstein writes: From medieval cloisters, botanical gardens made their way into universities, beginning with the University of Pisa in 1544. Later the garden’s terrain expanded with botanical expeditions, oceanic trade and imperial adventures. Victorian botanical gardens could be encyclopedic in scope, arranging their displays according to Latin classifications of species by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. Now, in our humid, dry, cooled or heated greenhouses, we shun such systematic display. Instead we replicate ecological niches, miniature worlds that supposedly show nature at work: the desert, the rainforest, the tropical pool. But peel back the environmental stagecraft, and the scientific cultivation continues with even greater passion… There is something moving about the entire enterprise. In a remarkable new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, Robert Pogue Harrison (who wrote similar meditations on cemeteries and on forests) elicits some . . .

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The Messiah can wait

June 10, 2008
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The Messiah can wait

Jonathan Rosen, editorial director of Nextbook, wrote an appreciative review of Robert Pogue Harrison’s Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition for the June 7 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Paradox Among the Petals,” the review begins: The rabbis of the Talmud counseled that if you are planting a tree and someone tells you that the Messiah has come, you should finish planting your tree and then go out to investigate. Robert Pogue Harrison implies something similar in his rich and beguiling Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Gardens, though they offer peace and repose, are islands of care, he writes, not a refuge from it. That is why they are important, since care is what makes us human. This is the third book by Harrison that we have published and each has been a meditation on humanity and the natural world. As a professor of Italian literature, Harrison’s work is steeped in classical and modern literature, but as the quote above suggests, he also draws deeply from the religious and philosophical traditions. His previous books include The Dominion of the Dead and Forests: The Shadow of Civilization. Update June 11: Gardens was also reviewed in today’s . . .

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Press Release: Harrison, Gardens

June 2, 2008
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Press Release: Harrison, Gardens

Nothing banishes winter’s lethargy more quickly than that first sight of the green of spring, as trees bud and our gardens, once again, burst into glorious bloom. For Robert Pogue Harrison, it’s not just the depths of winter that gardens help us escape: throughout human history, gardens—both real and imagined—have been essential places of refuge and comfort in the face of a harsh, often violent world. Employing the richly learned and allusive approach that he brought to his classics, Forests and The Dominion of the Dead, Harrison explores here the central importance of the human urge to nurture and cultivate gardens. Beginning with ancient conceptions of the garden as a place for the quiet work of self-improvement that is crucial to serenity and enlightenment, Harrison then travels widely through the history of Western culture. Enlisting such varied thinkers and writers as Voltaire and Calvino, Boccaccio and Arendt, Harrison profoundly demonstrates the role the garden has long played as a necessary, humanizing check against the degradation and losses of history. Read the press release. . . .

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Press Release: Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

May 5, 2008
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Press Release: Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Each of the major candidates vying to be the next President of the United States—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain—has cited Reinhold Niebuhr’s political philosophies as among their most profound influences. Written during the cold war era when America came of age as a world power, The Irony of American History is now back in print and more relevant than ever. Niebuhr’s masterpiece on the incongruity between personal ideals and political reality is both an indictment of American moral complacency and a warning against the arrogance of virtue. Impassioned, eloquent, and deeply perceptive, Niebuhr’s wisdom will cause readers across the political spectrum to rethink their assumptions about right and wrong, war and peace. Read the press release. . . .

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What do they do after High School?

January 30, 2008
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What do they do after High School?

The Chronicle of Higher Education is running an article by James M. Lang on the current state of undergraduate education titled “The Myth of First-Year Enlightenment.” In the article Lang cites Tim Clydesdale’s recent book, The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens after High School to explore modern students’ reactions to their first introduction to academe: You’ll recognize this story: Intelligent but naïve high-school graduate heads off to college… discovers how limited her worldview has been. Her consciousness is awakened. She emerges from her first year of college a changed human being, with more thoughtful views on religion, politics, and her own identity. Our institutions… hawk the tale to prospective students and their parents on Web sites, in brochures, and on campus tours: You will come back from your first year a changed man or woman. You will be on the path to your new and more enlightened life. You will have had the best four years of your life. Not so, according to Tim Clydesdale, an associate professor of sociology at the College of New Jersey, and author of The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School.… “Most of the mainstream American teens I spoke with . . .

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A groovy pad in Bombay

December 27, 2007
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A groovy pad in Bombay

William Grimes reviewed Kirin Narayan’s memoir of growing up in India, My Family and Other Saints, in yesterday’s New York Times: Families can be so embarrassing. Imagine the agonies of an adolescent girl whose house has become infested with India-besotted hippies from all over the globe, whose sarcastic father stumbles around in an alcoholic haze and whose mother kneels at the feet of every swami she meets. And let us not forget grandma, who holds long conversations with her cow and once met a 1,000-year-old cobra with a ruby in its forehead and a mustache on its albino face. Gods, gurus and eccentric relatives compete for primacy in Kirin Narayan’s enchanting memoir of her childhood in Bombay (present-day Mumbai). The title, which alludes to Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, originated as an act of revenge. Ms. Narayan, fed up with the family penchant for ashrams and spiritual quests, turned to her mother and warned, “When I grow up I’m going to write a book called My Family and Other Saints and put you in it.” And so she did. Narayan’s memoir captures a time and place when nearly everyone, it seemed, was embarked on some sort of spiritual . . .

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