Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at The University of Chicago
What impulse prompted some newspapers to attribute the murder of 77 Norwegians to Islamic extremists, until it became evident that a right-wing Norwegian terrorist was the perpetrator? Why did Switzerland, a country of four minarets, vote to ban those structures? How did a proposed Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan ignite a fevered political debate across the United States? In The New Religious Intolerance,Martha C. Nussbaum surveys such developments and identifies the fear behind these reactions. Drawing inspiration from philosophy, history, and literature, she suggests a route past this limiting response and toward a more equitable, imaginative, and free society.
Fear, Nussbaum writes, is “more narcissistic than other emotions.” Legitimate anxieties become distorted and displaced, driving laws and policies biased against those different from us. Overcoming intolerance requires consistent application of universal principles of respect for conscience. Just as important, it requires greater understanding. Nussbaum challenges us to embrace freedom of religious observance for all, extending to others what we demand for ourselves. She encourages us to expand our capacity for empathetic imagination by cultivating our curiosity, seeking friendship across religious lines, and establishing a consistent ethic of decency and civility. With this greater understanding and respect, Nussbaum argues, we can rise above the politics of fear and toward a more open and inclusive future.
Martha Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, appointed in the Law School and Philosophy Department. She is an Associate in the Classics Department, the Divinity School, and the Political Science Department, a Member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program.
Professor Nussbaum’s recent publications include The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future (2007), Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (2008), From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law (2010), Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010), Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (2011). Her current book in progress is Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice, which will be published by Harvard in 2013.
The World Beyond the Headlines lecture series is a project of the Center for International Studies. This program was cosponsored by the International House Global Voices Program, the Seminary Coop Bookstore, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the South Asia Language & Area Center.