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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Re-reading Camus’s The Plague in pandemic times

Sometime in the 1940s in the sleepy colonial city of Oran, in French occupied Algeria, there was an outbreak of plague. First rats died, then people. Within days, the entire city was quarantined: it was impossible to get out, and no one could get in. This is the fictional setting for Albert Camus’s second most famous novel, The Plague (1947). And yes, there are some similarities to our current situation with the coronavirus.  First, […]

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The impeachment illusion

The best barometer of political anger is how often the word “impeachment” appears in news stories, editorials, and Congressional rhetoric. These days, the references have grown exponentially, despite the House Speaker’s efforts to keep her members focused on legislation. The constitutional definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is vague enough to have encouraged members of […]

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The ethics of the climate emergency

During the last few days of February we experienced the warmest Winter day since records began, with a high of 20.6 degrees (Celsius) at Trawscoed in mid-Wales. As if that was not enough, the record was broken again the next day with 21.2 degrees at Kew Gardens.

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The continuing life of science fiction

In 1998 Thomas M. Disch boldly declared in The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World that science fiction had become the main kind of fiction which was commenting on contemporary social reality. As a professional writer, we could object that Disch had a vested interest in making this assertion, but virtually every day news items confirm his argument that SF connects with an amazingly broad range of public issues.

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Plato’s mistake

It started innocently enough at a lunch-time event with some friends at the Randolph Hotel in the centre of Oxford. ‘The trouble with Islam …’ began some self-opinioned pundit, and I knew where he was going. Simple. Islam lends itself to fanaticism, and that is why Muslims perpetrate so much violence in the name of religion. The pundit saw himself as Christian, and therefore a man of peace, so I had my cue. ‘Look out of the window. Over there in the fork of the road you see the Martyr’s Memorial. In 1555 the Wars of Religion were in full spate, Catholics were burning Protestants at the stake, Protestants were no less fanatical when their turn came, and things got even worse with the Civil War. So why are Muslims any worse?’

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The history of The Declaration of the Rights of the Child

Virtually every news cycle seems to feature children as victims of military actions, gun violence, economic injustice, racism, sexism, sexual abuse, hunger, underfunded schools, unbridled commercialism—the list is endless. Each violates our sense of what childhood ought to be and challenges what we believe childhood has always been. But the ideas that shape our notions of childhood emerged less than a century ago. Reformers and policy-makers had struggled toward creating a modern childhood since the 1830s.

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The ever-evolving US Supreme Court

Justice Byron R. White, who served on the Supreme Court for 31 years (1962-1993), once observed that every time a new justice joins the court, it’s a new court. His observation may sound counter-intuitive: after all, a new justice joins eight incumbents. Can a single new member make such a difference?

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Global Health Days – immunity and community

24 April marks the start of World Immunization Week – an annual campaign first launched in 2012. The week is one of 8 WHO international public health events, which include those targeting major infectious diseases – World AIDS day, World Tuberculosis (TB) day, World Malaria day, and World Hepatitis Day. These infections share a few features with each other which mean they all will continue to be global health threats.

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Learning to live in the age of humans

A new “great force of nature” is so rapidly and profoundly transforming our planet that many scientists now believe that Earth has entered a new chapter in its history. That force of nature is us, and that new chapter is called the Anthropocene epoch. Will the Anthropocene become a story of awakening and redemption, or a story of senseless destruction? At this point in Earth history, the Anthropocene is still young and the jury is still out.

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What is biblical archaeology? [Extract]

“These were some of the original questions in biblical archaeology that intrigued the earliest pioneers of the field. They still resonate today but are far from being answered.” In the following excerpt from Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, Eric H. Cline explains the interests of biblical archaeologists, and explores the types of questions that those in the field set out to answer.

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Facts about Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems

Of all Shakespeare’s great plays his most frequently published work in his lifetime his erotic poem, Venus and Adonis. Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems may often feel less familiar than his plays, but they have also seeped into our cultural history. Within them, they reveal much about the Bard himself and include a number of surprises. Here are a few lesser known facts about Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems.

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Freemasonry and the public sphere in the UK

Freemasonry once again hit the headlines of UK media on New Year’s Eve 2017, revealing the contentious nature of the place of secrecy in public life. Just having concluded the celebration of its tercentenary anniversary year, the United Grand Lodge of England found itself at the center of controversy. How far can membership in a masonic lodge be regarded as incompatible with the exercise of a public office?

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The Jewish experience in the United States [extract]

To a great extent, Jews have realized the promise of Washington’s America. They have been much admired, in no small part because of the belief that they are the progenitors of the biblical spirit on which America was built. It was this recognition that prompted Washington’s successor, John Adams, to declare of the Jews in 1808: “They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth.”

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How many ‘Earths’? Rich findings in the hunt for planets of other stars

Ever since it was realised that the stars are other suns, people have wondered whether any of them are accompanied by planets, or ‘exoplanets’ as we now call them. Speculation along these lines were among the charges that led to Giordano Bruno being burned at the stake in the year 1600. It is only since the 1930s that astronomers seriously thought they had the observational tools to be able to find out.

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Brexit versus UK higher education

Higher education has generally been reckoned to be one of the UK’s success stories, competing with the best American universities and setting the standard against which universities in other European countries measure themselves. UK universities receive roughly €1bn a year from European programs, as well as scooping up many of the brightest students from around Europe who want to study in Britain.

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Why do so many people believe in miracles?

Belief in miracles is widespread. According to recent surveys 72% of people in the USA and 59% of people in the UK believe that miracles take place. Why do so many people believe in miracles in the present age of advanced science and technology? Let us briefly consider three possible answers to this question. The first possible answer is simply that miracles actually do take place all the time.

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