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Modernity and the Jews

August 17, 2018
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Modernity and the Jews

     “Jews were good to think.” Borrowing a phrase from Claude Levi-Strauss, that’s how Chad Alan Goldberg sums up the crucial role played by ideas and ideologies about Jews in the conceptualization of the major themes of modernity by thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. In his book Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, Goldberg shows how social thinkers from France, Germany, and the United States, as they tried to understand the modern world taking shape around them, repeatedly invoked Jews as a touchstone for defining modernity and national identity in a context of rapid social change. In all three countries, intellectuals invoked real or purported differences between Jews and gentiles to elucidate key dualisms of modern social thought. The Jews, he shows, thus became an intermediary through which social thinkers discerned in a roundabout fashion the nature, problems, and trajectory of their own wider societies. The Center for Holocaust and Genocide recently interviewed Goldberg about his book, with particular attention to how it helps us better understand antisemitism: You claim that post-colonial theory has shown a very limited understanding of antisemitism, basically seeing only the reactionary . . .

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Chicago “Renaissance Woman” Eve L. Ewing on the great Chicago Public School Purge

July 27, 2018
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Chicago “Renaissance Woman” Eve L. Ewing on the great Chicago Public School Purge

The history of of the city of Chicago is one of massive investment in industrial, social, and architectural innovations. Yet, as is obvious to anyone who knows a bit about the town, the returns on these investments are not, and never have been, fairly allocated throughout all segments of society. Alongside, or perhaps in spite of, the city’s achievements, the history of Chicago is fraught with systemic racism and inequality that has engendered a deep-rooted distrust of its social and political institutions among its minority populations–a term which is itself a misnomer, really, as a quick look at the data on Chicago from the census bureau reveals that these minority populations comprise more than half of the total population. It is no wonder, then, that when in 2013 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced an unprecedented wave of school closings located mostly on the city’s heavily black and Latino south and west sides, the plan was met with a roar of protest from parents, students, and teachers. The Emmanuel administration pitched the closings as a solution to a budget problem, a response to declining enrollments, and a chance to purge bad schools that were dragging down the whole system. Years later, have . . .

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7 questions for Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve

July 27, 2018
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7 questions for Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve

Anthropology professor and science writer Barbara J. King has been writing about animals—and pushing the boundaries of what we know and can say about their minds and emotions—for years now. Chicago has been proud to share those discoveries through the books Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat, How Animals Grieve, and Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, all of which have found enthusiastic audiences of both general readers and scholars. Knowing that Barbara was deep into work on her next book (and could probably use a distraction!), we send her a fewquestions. It’s been a year since we published Personalities on the Plate, so I’ll ask that most-dreaded question: what are you working on right now? My writing life works best if I trade off among three speeds at once: banging out a short book review for NPR, the Washington Post, or the Times Literary Supplement; crafting a magazine-length piece that requires more in-depth research; and plugging away at a book manuscript. I’m pretty much always in the middle of three writing projects, as a result.  The book project that very much preoccupies me now–for Chicago, as you know—plunges me into thorny issues related . . .

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Nature reviews Henry Gee’s “Across the Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates”

July 9, 2018
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Nature reviews Henry Gee’s “Across the Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates”

The story of the evolution of life on earth is an incomplete one, with many ellipses in the narrative of how simple organisms, some of which seem like little more than spontaneous experiments in organic chemistry, somehow grew to become the massively complex organisms that we see around us today. Interestingly, one of the gaps that has both confounded and fascinated scientists the most is the origin of the vertebrates—the origins of us. Over the past few decades there has been an abundance of research done on the subject, so much so that distilling it into a clear picture of our current understanding of the subject could be a daunting task.  Though daunting it may be, there is perhaps no one more suited to it than paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Henry Gee, whose new book, Across the Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates draws on his many years as senior editor at Nature to comb through the research to help us to see how far the field has come in crossing the invertebrate-to-vertebrate divide—and how far we still have to go. But you don’t have to take our word for it. A recent review penned by one of Gee’s . . .

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Barbara J. King Discusses her Provocative View on the Origins of Religion at the 2018 World Science Festival

June 21, 2018
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Barbara J. King Discusses her Provocative View on the Origins of Religion at the 2018 World Science Festival

In the wake of the this year’s World Science Festival, which took place at the beginning of June in New York City, Robert Lamb, host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind Podcast has posted a series of interviews he conducted with some of the speakers at this year’s festival, including anthropologist Barbara J. King, whose research focuses on animal emotion and cognition, as do her many books, including How Animals Grieve, Personalities on the Plate, and her latest, Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, Expanded Edition. For the festival, King participated in a panel moderated by physicist Brian Greene exploring the evolutionary origins of religious thought in human beings and other primates titled “The Believing Brain: Evolution, Neuroscience, and the Spiritual Instinct.” In the interview Lamb revisits the topics discussed in the panel, exploring the vital function that religious or spiritual thought has played in the development of primate social interactions, from apes to people. The conversation with King starts about 53 minutes in, but the other interviews are interesting as well and segue nicely into King’s discussion. Check it out on the Stuff to Blow Your Mind website or find out more about Barbara . . .

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Jesse Bering on Religion and Suicide

June 12, 2018
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Jesse Bering on Religion and Suicide

In the wake of the high-profile suicides of chef and author Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, the media has turned an unusual amount of attention to the problem. But several insightful articles, including one penned by Jesse Bering, author of Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves, are now attempting to dissect the media response itself, exposing both popular misconceptions about the phenomenon as well as at least one outright attempt to appropriate it in the name of furthering an ideological agenda. In a recent post for the Skeptic blog Bering responds to a piece written by Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, in which Donohue argues that if Bourdain had been a religious man, he wouldn’t have taken his own life. Bering writes: Among the more obnoxious things I’ve read in the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s death is that if only he had been a man of faith, he wouldn’t have taken his own life. Consider the almost sneering commentary offered by Bill Donohue . . .  in a syndicated piece written less than a day after the rogue chef’s body was found hanging by the belt of his bathrobe in a Strasbourg hotel room. . . . . .

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Spiders are friends!

May 22, 2018
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Spiders are friends!

SO as long as they just hang out in the basement or garage or whatever I’m completely fine with spiders. Hey, they make great listeners! And (as far as I know), with the exception of two easily identifiable species – the brown recluse, and the black widow – North American arachnids are pretty much harmless to humans, but an absolute scourge to other nuisance insects like flies and mosquitoes and whatnot. It can get kinda gross when they start laying eggs all over the place though. Still, awesome little critters – in moderation. Knowing something about them is essential to their appreciation though – the rap they get in popular culture, as well as people’s perhaps innate fear of them, makes the majority of folks probably more likely to swat one than make a pet out of it, (though as a compromise you could always just catch it and toss it in the garden), which is where Christopher M. Buddle and Eleanor Spicer Rice’s new book, Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Spiders, comes in. Here Eleanor Spicer-Rice, renown science writer and entomologist by training (entomologists btw study insects, not arachnids), teams up with arachnologist Christopher Buddle to uncover the hidden . . .

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Forrest Stuart awarded 2018 Gordon J. Laing Prize

May 4, 2018
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The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce that the 2018 Gordon J. Laing Prize has been awarded to sociologist Forrest Stuart for Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row. Stuart’s book offers a fascinating look at the interactions between the criminal justice system and the low income residents of L. A.’s Skid Row. The result of years of fieldwork – not only with Skid Row residents, but with the police charged with managing them – Stuart’s book reveals an alarming decrease in support for our poorest citizens, accompanied by an increase in spending on policing and prisons that only serves to exacerbate the problems endemic to the nation’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Touching on some of his inspirations for the book as well as the historical role the University’s Department of Sociology and the Press have played in developing and disseminating the unique style of ethnographic study at the heart of Stuart’s work, the acceptance speech was hailed by Stuart’s acquiring editor Doug Mitchell as “one of the best Laing Prize speeches in memory.” And luckily enough, someone even managed to capture it in it’s entirety on their iphone! Check it out below, or find out . . .

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Lilliana Mason and the “Age of Mega Identity Politics” on the Ezra Klein Show

May 4, 2018
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Lilliana Mason and the “Age of Mega Identity Politics” on the Ezra Klein Show

Lilliana Mason is assistant professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park and also the author of a new book that Vox co-founder Ezra Klein calls “one of the most important published this year.” Her new book Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity takes a timely look at the growing social gulf across racial, religious, and cultural lines which has recently come to sharply divide the two major political parties. Dissecting the minutiae of group identification – how we come to associate ourselves with a group; how that group identity can can overrule our ability to make political choices in our best own interests; and how this works to undermine democracy – Mason ties political science to social psychology to provide an unprecedented view of the current political landscape in the U.S. On the April 30th edition of his podcast, Klein engages Mason in a fascinating discussion of her new book. As Klein writes for Vox: “If you want to understand the kind of identity politics that’s driving America in 2018, you should listen in.” Navigate to player.fm to stream or download the epidsode, “The age of ‘mega-identity’ politics”  or follow this . . .

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Book of Seeds featured on the Science Friday blog

April 20, 2018
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Book of Seeds featured on the Science Friday blog

So, maybe after you’re done listening to today’s show,head over to the Science Friday blog where the Science Friday team has collected a series of images taken from The Book of Seeds: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World to create a “yearbook of seeds” featuring all the coolest and most popular seeds in the class (spermatophyte I think?), posing awkwardly in front of cheesy ’80s backgrounds. With titles like “Biggest Beach Bum” (that one’s hilarious) or “Most Explosive,” as well as commentary by Kew botanist and editor of the book Paul Smith, it’s a humorous yet edifying segue into the weekend. Find out more about the book on the UCP website. . . .

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