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Evolution of a Taboo

The power of pigs: tension and taboo in Haifa, Israel

It might be an exaggeration to say a boar broke the internet. But when someone posted an image of wild boar sleeping on a mattress and surrounded by garbage from a recently-raided dumpster in Haifa, Israel in March, Twitter briefly erupted. In a recent article in The New York Times, Patrick Kingsley documented the uneasy relationship, not only between people and pigs, but also between the people who want the animals eliminated and those who welcome them. But Kingsley curiously omits an important detail: the drama over the fate of Haifa’s boar plays out against a backdrop of taboo and religious law.

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Becoming Someone New

Transformative choice and “Big Decisions”

Imagine being invited by a trusted friend to a “life-changing” event. Should you go? The event could be a church service, self-help talk, concert, movie, festival, hike, play, dinner party, book club, union organizing meeting, etc. What sorts of considerations do you reach for in making your choice? The philosopher L. A. Paul has put problems like these, termed transformative choices, on the map for philosophical and scientific inquiry.

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Lyricism as activism: Sigurd Olson and The Singing Wilderness

Placing the reader in the poetic and ethical space is the first step toward direct action that affects the larger human community: a step toward activism. Activism formalizes the values that inspire and ultimately direct our will—and action—to preserve and protect. By opening new worlds, other spaces, and creating experiences for the reader—and, crucially, letting the reader explore those worlds for herself or for himself—the lyric writer has an opportunity to create a protected zone for significant communication.

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Spinoza

Was Spinoza a populist? [Long read]

Recent studies of Spinoza’s political theory in a contemporary perspective often place it in one of two categories, depicting him either as a defender of individual free speech and liberal democracy or as a champion of radical democracy and collective popular power. For some, he is something like a liberal supporter of the equal individual rights of all citizens to express whatever is on their mind, an early defender of “free speech.”

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Can skepticism and curiosity get along? Benjamin Franklin shows they can coexist

No matter the contemporary crisis trending on Twitter, from climate change to the US Senate filibuster, people who follow the news have little trouble finding a congenial source of reporting. The writers who worry about polarization, folks like Ezra Klein and Michael Lind, commonly observe the high levels of tribalism that attends journalism and consumption of it. The feat of being skeptical of the other side’s position while turning the same doubts on your own team is apparently in short supply. The consequences of skepticism about disagreeable points of view for the virtues of intellectual curiosity are not good.

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Appalling Bodies

Putting transphobia in a different biblical context

Right-wing and reactionary forces in the USA and UK are once again stoking panic about trans people and practices of gender and sexual variation. Their arguments, though, rely upon faulty assumptions about gender, particularly in relation to history and religion.

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Corona and the crown: monarchy, religion, and disease from Victoria to Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family have featured prominently in the British state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The expectation that the monarch should articulate a spiritual response to the threat of disease has deep roots. It took its modern form with Queen Victoria, whose reign decisively transformed the relationship between religion, the sovereign, sickness, and health.

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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt’s religious tolerance

Theodore Roosevelt is everywhere. Most famously, his stone face stares out from South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. One of the most important but least recognized aspects of Roosevelt’s life are his ecumenical convictions and his promotion of marginalized religious groups. Through Roosevelt’s influence, Jews, Mormons, Catholics, and Unitarians moved a little closer toward the American religious mainstream.

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Beer: A Global Journey through the Past and Present

Ten refreshing books to read for National Beer Day [reading list]

Beer is one of the world’s oldest produced alcoholic beverages and since its invention some 13,000 years ago, people across the globe have been brewing, consuming, and even worshiping this amber nectar. Whether you prefer a pale ale, wheat beer, stout, or lager, from the cask or a humble bottle, beer enthusiasts can agree that the topic of beer is as complex as its taste.

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Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

Margaret Mead by the numbers

The life of anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) spanned decades, continents, and academic conversations. Fellow anthropologist Clifford Geertz compared the task of summarizing her to “trying to inscribe the Bible—or perhaps the Odyssey—on the head of a pin.

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