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July 13th, 2015

How Sex Came to Matter in U.S. Foreign Policy

The Hillary Doctrine

“Many regard international affairs as primarily a male realm, a subject that speaks principally to men about political, economic, and strategic interests largely defined by a male perspective…. [V]iolence against women and girls—and how it relates to national and international security—continues to be hidden in plain sight to this day.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this post, we have an excerpt from “How Sex Came to matter in U.S. Foreign Policy,” the first chapter of Hudson and Leidl’s book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

July 13th, 2015

My Killer Recipes for Two Sangrias — Natalie Berkowitz

The Winemaker's Hand

Now that we’re fully into summer what could be more timely than a recipe for sangria? And, who better to provide it than Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir. Here you go:

A Victorian summer dinner was a formal affair offering a plethora of substantial courses. When heat and humidity strikes, modern palates cry out for lighter fare. It’s time to throw out antediluvian constraints of white wine with fish and red with meat and step up to new ideas. Opting for grilled meats, salads, fish, paella, and shore dinners of lobster and raw crustaceans. Red and white Sangria are refreshing additions to the pantheon of summer beverages.

Sangrias of all stripes are delightfully refreshing. Its latitude of no-fail ingredients is its great appeal because there is no definitive recipe. I’ve tinkered with choices for years, adding a dollop of this and a soupçon.

My special recipe for red sangria starts with pouring a bottle of a full-bodied red into a large pitcher: A Côtes de Rhone, Chianti, or classic Spanish Rioja works. In fact, any hearty red wine fills the bill. The addition of a substantial dash of orange juice, a cup of good, inexpensive brandy such as E & J or Christian Brothers adds a special kick. To build up additional flavors, add a tablespoon or two of sugar, (don’t make it sweet), and 6 ounces of club soda for sparkle. Fruit is an indispensable requirement. Slices of stone fruit, like peaches, nectarines, and plums together with cantaloupe and/or honeydew soak up the wine. and make a great stand-alone treat or topping on vanilla ice-cream. Allow the ingredients at to meld least an hour before serving.

White Sangria is an equally delicious, if less well-known alternative to its bolder red sibling. It’s so cool and enticing in a clear glass pitcher that it practically lowers the surrounding temperature. Start with a Sancerre, a fruity Sauvignon Blanc from Chile or Napa, a Vouvray from the France’s Loire Valley, or an Auslese Riesling from Germany or Alsace. (Chardonnay is too heavy for my tastebuds.) Add a cup of brandy, (see above), two or three tablespoons of Grand Marnier, a slug of peach nectar, club soda, green grapes and diced honeydew melon or cantaloupe. Serve over ice cubes as an aperitif or as a divine complement to sushi, sashimi, and grilled fish.

Use your imagination to make these inventive wines suit your taste.

July 13th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy

The Hillary Doctrine

“From now on, no debate about national or global policy can proceed without reading The Hillary Doctrine by Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl. It is the first book about high level efforts to create a foreign policy as if women mattered.” — Gloria Steinem

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Hillary Doctrine. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 17th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

July 9th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: Henry George and Leo Tolstoy

A Portrait of Henry George, Owned by Leo Tolstoy

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week, in honor of our new series of Russian literature in translation, the Russian Library, editorial intern Beatrice Collison has delved into the fascinating connections between Leo Tolstoy and the subject of a recent Columbia UP book: Henry George.

Henry George and Leo Tolstoy
By Beatrice Collison

Last month’s feature on the book Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age, by Edward T. O’Donnell, emphasized the similarities between contemporary America and that of the “Gilded Age” of the late 19th century, an era marked by rapid progress at the same time as crippling poverty. In 1879, Henry George’s bestselling book Progress and Poverty called out this inequality as unjust, and went on to propose a solution. As 21st century America continues to face many of the same problems as the “Gilded Age,” some scholars and biographers find themselves looking back to Progress and Poverty and to its author for lessons, or even answers. As O’Donnell urges us to reexamine George, perhaps it is fitting to consider other great thinkers of that era, who dealt with persisting questions about inequality, individualism, and laissez-faire government, to name a few. Besides George, there are many American names of that age that come to mind, from Mark Twain (who coined the term “gilded age”) to John D. Rockefeller. As we were reminded earlier this month during a visit to Russia to promote our new series of Russian translations, another, somewhat unexpected name comes up in conjunction with George; this would be Leo Tolstoy, who owned a portrait of George. He also happened to be one of George’s most devoted supporters and admirers—and the admiration was mutual.

It is not too difficult to see some basic similarities in both men’s lives and experiences that may have contributed to this reciprocal fondness. Though they lived through the “Gilded Age” in different countries—George in the US, and Tolstoy in Russia—both George and Tolstoy were highly attuned to similar forms of social and economic inequality in their respective societies; the same hypocrisy appeared to them, though different events. George lived through some of the United States’ greatest feats of the century (the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, the completion of the Atlantic Cable, and the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, for instance), but also saw the extreme poverty that lay just beneath the surface, a poverty that the privileged attempted to justify by arguments ranging from religious to scientific (social Darwinism comes to mind). Tolstoy lived through similar times of inequality, including many years of political, economic, and social unrest in Russia. He was alive when serfdom was still legal, as well as when it was outlawed—though many of the same injustices persisted even after the emancipation of serfs in 1861. Tolstoy in fact writes about George’s political philosophy in relation to the politics and immorality of serfdom. Clearly, he believed that Russia experienced many similar problems to the US, and that George’s philosophy could be useful not just to Americans. Read the rest of this entry »

July 7th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Ballots, Bullets, and Bargains

Ballots, Bullets, and Bargains, by Michael H. Armacost

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Ballots, Bullets, and Bargains: American Foreign Policy and Presidential Elections
Michael H. Armacost

July 3rd, 2015

The Father-Daughter Relationship in Early China

Exemplary Women of Early China

“Referring to the prevailing concept of the ruler as fulfilling a parental role, ‘How indeed,’ [the Emperor] asked when contemplating the cruelty of corporal punishment, ‘can I be called the father and mother of the people?’ He then declared, ‘Let the corporal punishments be abolished!’” — Anne Behnke Kinney

The following is a guest post from Anne Behnke Kinney, author of Exemplary Women of Early China: The Lienü zhuan of Liu Xiang:

If Fathers’ Day cards are any indication of how Americans idealize the father-daughter bond, we honor our fathers as wise, strong, and encouraging, extolling these virtues in verses set against images of golf clubs, neckties, and for some reason, mallard ducks. The cards are purchased by sons and daughters alike. But in early China, daughters were afforded a status well beneath their brothers because, as females, they could not carry on the family line or the sacrifices necessary to nurture ancestors in the other world. Read the rest of this entry »

July 2nd, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner — A New Perspective on Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

As Anne Fernald suggests in her very thoughtful review of Virginia Woolf: A Portrait, by Viviane Forrester, we don’t suffer from a lack of books on or biographies of Virginia Woolf. However, Forrester’s work, which won the Prix Goncourt award for biography, in its distinct approach to Woolf’s life does offer something new and important in our understanding of Woolf’s life and work. Fernald writes:

[Virginia Woolf] offers unexpected insights and useful challenges to settled ideas about Woolf, her friendships, her marriage, and her imagination. Progressing in sections through five key relationships in Woolf’s life—her husband, her family of origin, her sister Vanessa Bell and Bloomsbury, other writers, and death itself…. Bad or lazy biographers draw straight lines, linking historical figures to fictional characters. Forrester never does that. Instead, she shows patterns of imagery, suggestive links, taking up seldom-quoted diary entries and juxtaposing them against less-familiar passages from the novels to illuminate something that, at its best, seems both fresh and apt.

Much like her subject, Forrester’s own life was both accomplished and complicated. As Fernald writes, these similarities color and strengthen Forrester’s book:

In short, Forrester’s life contained many of the key elements of Woolf’s, but arranged differently: haute-bourgeois family, close acquaintance with painters (a husband, a sister), intellectual background, a mixed Jewish-Protestant marriage that saw strains but endured, and suicide. These personal connections, these experiences, similar but different, add poignancy and authority to her several meditations on living in an atmosphere of anti-Semitism, the artist’s life, and the complex factors that lead to suicide.

Read the rest of this entry »

July 2nd, 2015

Sheldon Krimsky on What’s at Stake in Our Use of Stem Cells

Stem Cell Dialogues

“Regenerative medicine is … where science and technology can surpass the limits of natural human evolution … in the process, it is breaking new ground in dealing with the moral issues raised by medical science and technology.”—Sheldon Krimsky

We conclude our week-long feature on Stem Cell Dialogues: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry Into Medical Frontiers, by Sheldon Krimsky, with an excerpt from the epilogue. In the epilogue Krimsky discusses what’s at stake in our future discussions about and application of stem cell research:

While I was researching the ethical and scientific debates on stem cells for Stem Cell Dialogues, I was acutely aware of the polarized positions. However, I became more interested in the middle ground of controversy, where honest, nuanced discussion and disagreement take place. The Dia­logues were created to illustrate how evolving science can reframe the debate and create a realignment of positions.

The stem cell controversies represented in this book exhibit some uniquely American ideas about the role of the state, the right to engage in research, and the cultural divide between science supported by public funds and science supported by private funds. It was certainly not the first time that the public and private sectors were allowed to resolve ethi­cal issues on their own terms. During the recombinant DNA controversy in 1975, the NIH established guidelines for transplanting genes from one organism to another that applied exclusively to federal grant recipients. Scientists in the private sector were ostensibly unregulated. The issues at stake were the potential risks of broadening the range of an infectious agent or introducing animal cancer genes into the human gut bacteria. Congress did not see fit to create a single system of regulation or oversight.

A similar situation occurred with human gene therapy, for which a federal oversight committee reviewed research protocols funded by the NIH. The private sector was under no legal obligation to follow the same procedures. This bifurcated model was repeated with respect to stem cells. George Bush’s stem cell policy applied exclusively to federal grant­ees. Others funded by states or the private sector could use any available embryonic stem cell lines.

I have tried to capture in the Dialogues the excitement and optimism within the scientific community about the role stem cells would someday play in treating human disease. Whether it was through embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, or nuclear transfer, the enthusiasm among cell biologists was palpable. For example, in 2009 Amabile and Meissner wrote, “Recent developments provide optimism that safe, viral free human iPS cells could be derived routinely in the near future. . . . The approach of generating patient-specific pluripotent cells will undoubtedly transform regenerative medicine in many ways.” Their only caveat is that it may take years before all the obstacles to applying stem cells safely and effectively for therapeutic uses are addressed. One of the leading stem cell scientists, Shinya Yamanaka, wrote in 2012, “I believe that iPSC technol­ogy is now ready for many applications including stem cell therapies.”

Scientists know the stakes are high. Consider just one area—end-stage liver disease, which can be caused by cancer (heptacellular carcinoma) or cirrhosis (most commonly caused by alcoholism, hepatitis B, and hepati­tis C). Other than liver transplants, most treatments are not very effective. There are about 18,000 patients in the United States on the waiting list for a liver transplant and only about 4,000 donated cadaver livers avail­able for transplant per year. If part of the damaged liver is removed and replaced by stem cell-derived liver cells (hepatocytes), the liver can be regenerated and victims of end-stage liver disease will have a chance to survive without transplants.

Read the rest of this entry »

July 1st, 2015

The President’s Stem Cells — A Dialogue from the “Stem Cell Dialogues”

Stem Cell Dialogues

“You put your finger on one of the peculiarities of the bifurcated sys­tem of ethics in our country—one set of principles for public funding and another for private funding. Embryo ethics straddles two moral universes, and scientists have had to navigate through that thorny divide. They must establish a firewall between publicly funded and privately funded laboratories.”

In the following dialogue from Stem Cell Dialogues: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry Into Medical Frontiers, the book’s central character Dr. Franklin talks with Bernard Stein about different president’s policies regarding stem cells:

Scene: The White House. Bernard Stein, M.D., is an ethics advisor to Presi­dent George W. Bush, head of a national bioethics think tank, and a lead­ing scholar on reproductive ethics. Dr. Franklin obtained an appointment with Dr. Stein to discuss President Bush’s policies on human embryonic stem cells.

FRANKLIN: [To Dr. Stein] Thank you for inviting me to your office. As you know from our correspondence, I am an editor of the Journal of Bioethics and Medicine, and we are preparing a special issue on stem cells. Dr. Stein, can we begin by you helping me understand how U.S. policy on stem cells evolved? Did it arise in the Bush administration?

STEIN: The federal policy on human embryos was catalyzed largely after two events: first, the Supreme Court decision on abortion in 1973 and the first baby (Louise Brown in England) born after in vitro fertiliza­tion in 1978. After the Roe v. Wade decision, which made early stage abortions legal, a moratorium was placed on government funding for embryo research. Then in 1979 an Ethics Advisory Board to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued a report on the ethics of research involving human embryos. This advisory board said it was ethically acceptable to do research on embryos used for IVF pur­poses but postponed any recommendations on research involving the collection and culture of early human embryos fertilized naturally— not used for IVF. But they had one major caveat: the embryos could not be sustained in vitro beyond fourteen days after fertilization.2

FRANKLIN: Why did they set the boundary at fourteen days? That sounds quite arbitrary. stein: At the fourteenth day of its development, an embryo exhibits a “primitive streak”—a faint white trace that is the first evidence of the embryonic axis. It is a precursor of the neural tube and the nervous system. Without a neural tube, there is no spinal cord, and the embryo cannot have feelings or exhibit any level of consciousness.

FRANKLIN: So the primitive streak is some kind of Maginot Line for bio­ethicists and shouldn’t be crossed.

STEIN: In 1979 the hope was that establishing a moral boundary would allow scientists to continue with their embryo research, as long as they stayed within that limit.

FRANKLIN: Between 1979 and 1980 there was a change in administration. Jimmy Carter had lost the election to Ronald Reagan. Were the advi­sory board’s recommendations adopted?

STEIN: Hardly. By 1980, the charter of the advisory board ran out and was not renewed. As you point out, Ronald Reagan was elected president. He and his administration opposed any research on embryos of any age. Republicans were, on the whole, more critical of research involv­ing embryos than Democrats. But there were many Democrats who supported the moratorium.

FRANKLIN: Dr. Stein, let me see if I get this. The Supreme Court ruled that embryos are not persons, and therefore abortion was not murder, and established a fundamental right of women over their bodies, at least for the first trimester of pregnancy. And then a president opposed any federal funding for embryo research on the grounds that embryos could not be harmed. Why didn’t Congress get into the act?

STEIN: Well, Congress did act, but not until another advisory committee was convened. In 1994, during the administration of President Bill Clinton, a federally appointed nineteen-member Human Embryo Research Panel issued its report. The panel concluded that embryos do deserve some moral consideration, but do not have the same moral status as persons because they lack specific capacities such as con­sciousness, reasoning, and sentience—at least, early embryos. The panel approved the use of federal funds for research on early embryos under specific guidelines.

FRANKLIN: Did that clinch it for President Clinton? After all, he is a Demo­crat and not doctrinaire on the issue. So he must have been receptive.

STEIN: No, it didn’t work out that way. In 1994 NIH convened a Human Embryo Research Panel to draft guidelines on the use of federal funding for research on human embryos. The panel recommended that funding for creating embryos for research be permitted.3 Clinton disagreed, but he was personally in favor of funding for scientific studies of embryos left over from IVF procedures. Nevertheless, responding to the political climate, Clinton wanted more deliberation and chose not to allocate federal funds to support research on leftover embryos until he could get a recommendation from a presidential ethics advisory committee. Perhaps he was anticipating congressional action.

FRANKLIN: Well, did Congress act then?

STEIN: Soon after the president made his preliminary decision to withhold funds, Congress closed the door on any research involving the destruc­tion of a human embryo. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment (sponsored by Representative Jay Dickey, House Republican from Arkansas, and Roger Wicker, Senate Republican from Mississippi), which Clinton signed into law, has been attached to appropriations bills every year, starting in 1996. It essentially prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from using appropriated funds for the creation of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which human embryos are destroyed.

FRANKLIN: It seems to me there could be ways around the amendment. Suppose private money is used to create and destroy embryos and public funds are used to experiment on the cells removed from them. In many countries, like Germany, when a moral decision on embryo research is reached, it applies to everyone, not only those receiving funds from the government.

STEIN: You put your finger on one of the peculiarities of the bifurcated sys­tem of ethics in our country—one set of principles for public funding and another for private funding. Embryo ethics straddles two moral universes, and scientists have had to navigate through that thorny divide. They must establish a firewall between publicly funded and privately funded laboratories.

Read the rest of this entry »

July 1st, 2015

The New York Times on New York Books from Columbia University Press

Race and Real Estate

The New York Times Sunday edition includes a regular feature by Sam Roberts on books about New York City. We’ve been fortunate to have three of our own titles reviewed, each of which explores a distinct period in New York City’s nineteenth and early-twentieth-century history.

This past Sunday, Roberts wrote about Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, by Michael Rosentahal and now available in paperback:

In 43 years as president, Dr. Butler transformed Columbia into a first-class research university, downgrading undergraduate liberal arts programs in the process. Yet he considered himself primarily a “publicist,” whose every thought was not only spoken but also disseminated, including his compelling early opposition to Prohibition as an unenforceable government intrusion on private behavior. Few people, one observer wrote, “can leap to the front pages with the agility Dr. Butler has exhibited for so long.”

Like Butler, Henry George played an important role in the world of ideas with his surprising bestselling work of economics Progress and Poverty. George, who also became an important labor organizer and a candidate for mayor of New York City, is the subject of Edward T. O’Donnell’s new book, Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age. In drawing some contemporary parallels, Roberts writes:

In 1886, 127 years before Bill de Blasio successfully invoked his “tale of two cities” metaphor to address income inequality, Henry George almost won the mayoralty of New York by juxtaposing the economic gains of the Gilded Age with the growth of poverty.

Strikes by streetcar workers and a bribery scandal over securing franchises (akin to the railroads’ land grab in the West) galvanized workers during the era rekindled in Edward T. O’Donnell’s timely and accessible Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 30th, 2015

Sheldon Krimsky on the Use of Dialogue in “Stem Cell Dialogues”

Stem Cell Dialogues, Sheldon Krimsky

The following post is by Sheldon Krimsky, author of Stem Cell Dialogues: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry Into Medical Frontiers

In 1998 cell biology and medical research had entered a new stage of development. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin isolated and cultured the first human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from donated early stage human embryos. These cells have the potentiality of becoming differentiated into any other cells in the human body. The implications of this discovery are profound. ESCs could be harvested to regenerate damaged tissue, which cannot repair itself. Strokes, heart attacks, spinal cord damage, brain injury, and Alzheimer’s are but a few medical conditions that could potentially be treated with ESCs.

I first became aware of the promise of stem cell research in a class I co-taught with a colleague from the Tufts medical school who had been using stem cells to produce healthy skin. The class focused on the possibilities of human enhancement—covering the science as well as the social and ethical implications. The more I read about the science, the more I realized that medical research and therapy had embarked on a new voyage with new signposts of moral cautions. I did not have to wait very long before stem cells became an issue for presidential politics, feminist politics, right to life politics and even gender politics.

By the first decade of the millennium there were already dozens of books on the market. I could of course have taken a standard approach to combining a scientific narrative with ethical questions and bringing the issues up to date, that is, to 2015. By that point my wife had been immersed in playwriting. I also had been attending some of the plays performed in Cambridge at the Central Square Theater—a collaboration between MIT and two theater companies—that addressed scientific themes. I began thinking of an alternative way to investigate ideas in science and ethics for general readers. The works of Plato and Galileo, which I had read as a student of philosophy of science, came to mind. Could I present the complex issues of stem cell research and therapeutic applications as a set of dialogues?

Read the rest of this entry »

June 30th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Postmodernism and Film

Postmodernism and Film, Catherine Constable

Our weekly listing of new titles (just one this week!):

Postmodernism and Film: Rethinking Hollywood’s Aesthestics
Catherine Constable

June 29th, 2015

Columbia University Press to Publish New Translations of Russian Literature

Columbia University Press  Russian Flag

We were very excited to read today’s New York Times included an article on our ambitious and very exciting new series of Russian literature in translation. The series, tentatively titled the Russian Library (on Twitter at @RusLibrary) will publish dozens of works in modern Russian literature as selected by the Press and a committee of Russian and American scholars.

While the first books are unlikely to be published until after 2017, the books will include some modern classics in need of new translations with a majority of the titles being contemporary and post-Soviet works. In addition to bringing these works to the attention of English-language readers, the hope is that the series will also contribute to improving relations between the United States and Russia. Stephanie Sandler, a professor in the Slavic Department at Harvard University and one of several American professors to travel to Moscow for the conference, commented:

Think about the good work that can be done by making available a wide variety of perspectives on Russia both from the past and the present. For many of us, the reason to be involved in the project and have it happen precisely at what would seem this inauspicious, high-tension political moment, is that we can start to find bridges between the two cultures and ways to talk to each other.

The series will also help develop a canon for more recent Russian literature, a project that’s not without its challenges as Caryl Emerson, a professor of Slavic Literature at Princeton University, explains:

Part of the problem is the delicacy of trying to define a future canon. The past is established. The Russians take their identity from what they read. What happens when you have a traumatic regime shift? People want things out there that are not known in the West but at what point are they worthy of being known?

Read the rest of this entry »

June 29th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Stem Cell Dialogues, by Sheldon Krimsky

This week our featured book is Stem Cell Dialogues: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry Into Medical Frontiers by Sheldon Krimsky.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Stem Cell Dialogues to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 3 at 1:00 pm.

Here’s what Jonathan Garlick at Tufts University says about Stem Cell Dialogues: “This book presents a wonderful new approach to learning about stem cells and thinking about their broader impact at the interface of society, policy, religion, and ethics. Stem Cell Dialogues is highly novel, very engaging, and will open readers to new ways of thinking about the public stem cell debate.”

For more on the book you can read the chapter “Why Is This Cell Different From All Other Cells”:

June 26th, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?

Between a Man and a Woman?

“Romantic love is thus not only a widely shared cultural idea, from Disney to Honey Maid commercials. It is a political idea: the freedom to chose one’s life-partner echoes and reinforces the freedom to bond together as a nation of equals, despite the fissures of class, race, or ethnic background.” – Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

Following today’s Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution of the United States guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, Professor Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, author of Between a Man and a Woman?: Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, offers his thoughts on the decision and discusses where he thinks public debates about marriage equality go from here.

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?
By Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

The Supreme Court has ruled and marriage equality is now the law of the land. Yet I doubt that we have the luxury of sitting back, toasting our entry into the marriage industry, and delegating conversations about religion, marriage, and the law to the uncomfortable privacy of the Thanksgiving table.

American Evangelicals and their rumblings on marriage equality will stay with us. This resilience is not simply because of the impact of their networks and numbers but because their resistance reflects a general uneasiness with the value of equality, one that is profoundly embedded in American political culture. Evangelical marriage theology only highlights and baptizes a wider American desire for a complicated mixture of both equality and inequality in shaping our body politic.

The history of marriage in the U.S. is indeed an excellent place to study this complicated union of equality and hierarchy.

In its history and in popular culture, marriage is in fact an institution allowing for the fulfillment of romantic equality while simultaneously promoting a stratified society. On the one hand we tell the story of romantic love by imagining that we could just marry anyone and that love is blind to status, class, or race. On the other hand, we police what counts as respectable marriages and who is allowed to have them. If anyone wishes to promote marriage as a particularly traditional American institution, they would need to focus on this tension between equality and inequality. Read the rest of this entry »

June 26th, 2015

Be Good and Enjoy

Happiness and Goodness

“Whether one decides, in essence, to be a beaver like Pat or a bear like Lee is a personal choice. After all, a life devoted to simple pursuits may yield as much satisfaction as one given to complex undertakings. That insight doesn’t imply that arduous tasks are to be avoided, only that those who engage in them may not live better than those who don’t.” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In this final post of the week’s feature, we have an excerpt from the concluding chapter of the book, “Concluding Questions.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Be Good and Enjoy

Let us now return to the two fictional cases with which our discussion began: Pat and Lee. Pat, you may recall, is a successful philosopher who is happily married and enjoys playing bridge and the cello. Lee did not attend college, is single and financially independent, makes philanthropic gifts, and enjoys sunbathing, swimming, and surfing, along with freely spending money on a variety of luxurious items, including homes, cars, and golfing holidays. Both treat others with respect and are satisfied with their lives.

Here are the questions we asked about Pat and Lee: Are both living well? Are both pursuing equally successful lives? Is either life wasted? We can answer now that both are living well, both are finding equal success in living, and the life of neither is wasted. We might admire one more than the other, but such a judgment would reflect our own preferences or purposes and not serve as an appropriate basis for determining whose life is well-lived.

We recognize, however, that others may not agree with us. Hence we shall raise and respond to their most likely questions.

First, do we claim that Pat and Lee are contributing equally to the welfare of society? No. Pat’s teaching, research, and service are unmatched by any activity of Lee, although Lee’s contributing money for worthy causes should be applauded. Thus if the question to be answered is which of the two is a more valuable member of society, the probable answer is Pat. The question, however, is not whose life is more useful to others but whose life is going better, viewing happiness from the perspective of the person being assessed. Because both individuals are acting morally and finding satisfaction, both lives are going well. Read the rest of this entry »

June 25th, 2015

Religion and Morality

Happiness and Goodness

“The lesson here is that might does not make right, even if the might is the infinite might of God. To act morally is not to act out of fear of punishment, nor to act as one is commanded. Rather, it is to act as one ought to act, and how one ought to act is not dependent on anyone’s power, even if the power be divine.” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have excerpted two chapters from Happiness and Goodness: “God and Morality” and “Heaven and Hell.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

June 24th, 2015

Robert Talisse’s Foreword to “Happiness and Goodness”

Happiness and Goodness

“[Cahn and Vitrano's] critical maneuvers often cut deeply, and their positive view is a formidable one. Their central thesis can be put succinctly: Morality is not necessary for happiness. The immoral person might be a completely happy person, and the moral saint might nonetheless be absolutely miserable.” — Robert Talisse

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have excerpted Talisse’s foreword, in which he discusses the value of Cahn and Vitrano’s project, and engages with the literature of happiness and morality.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

June 23rd, 2015

Wasted Lives?

Happiness and Goodness

“[Most philosophers] maintain that certain activities are more worthy than others, so lives spent engaged in those more worthy activities are more worthy lives. But which activities have more worth and which less? And on what bases should we decide such matters?” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have an excerpt from the second chapter of the book, “Wasted Lives.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Wasted Lives

In [Ronald] Dworkin’s posthumously published Religion Without God, he argues that an atheist can be religious. While this claim would come as no surprise to adherents of Jainism, Theravada Buddhism, or Mimamsa Hinduism, he has in mind not these Asian religious traditions but a viewpoint common to many Western thinkers who deny theism yet recognize “nature’s intrinsic beauty” and the “inescapable responsibility” of people to “live their lives well.” Dworkin considers such an outlook religious.

Leaving aside his curious line of thought that finds support for religious belief in such disparate phenomena as the Grand Canyon, prowling jaguars, and the discovery by physicists of the Higgs boson, let us concentrate on his view that we should all seek to live well so as to achieve “successful” lives and avoid “wasted” ones.

Does one model fit all? On this important point Dworkin wavers. He maintains that “there is, independently and objectively, a right way to live.” Yet he also recognizes “a responsibility of each person to decide for himself ethical questions about which kinds of lives are appropriate and which would be degrading for him.”

What sort of life did Dworkin himself find degrading? We are not told but suspect that for such a successful academic, a “degrading life” might have been one without intellectual striving, just as a famed athlete might find degrading life as a couch potato.

But of all possible lives, which are well-lived? To help answer this question, consider the following two fictional, though realistic, cases. Read the rest of this entry »

June 23rd, 2015

New Book Tuesday

Too Far For Comfort

New books now available:

Magical Realism in Postcolonial British Fiction: History, Nation, and Narration
Taner Can

Too Far for Comfort: A Study on Biographical Distance
Rana Tekcan