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44 minutes | May 14, 2020
Episode 4: Mindfulness and the Politics of Eating a Raisin
Over the decades, Buddhist practice, with its own set of traditions, ethics and beliefs, has been transformed in the West to “mindfulness”, a therapeutic exercise that wields the power and authority of scientific studies and medical experts, as well as Human Resource specialists in some of the biggest companies in America and abroad.This story, a kind of bizarro companion-piece to Episode 3, presents the other side of Buddhism in the modern world. While Buddhism in Myanmar and Southeast Asia has become tribal and tied up with collective identity, Buddhism as it exists in the West has become highly individualized and divorced from any traditional practice.This episode explores the limits of mindfulness, uncovering its roots in a neoliberal and pro-capitalist ethos. Despite all its baggage, we ask if the deepest and most radical aspects of Buddhism, rooted in compassion and transformation, might find their way to the surface anyway. This is the last episode in our mini-series on religion, politics and borders. We’ll be returning with a new season sometime soon – stay tuned for updates on our Twitter page.
43 minutes | May 14, 2020
Episode 3: Eight Hairs of the Buddha
After the outbreak of violence and mass displacement of the Rohingya in western Myanmar in 2017, I travelled to the country, speaking to activists, Buddhist monks and Muslim leaders in Yangon and Mandalay. Over the months and now years since, the message I heard then began to filter out through various reports: that fake news and hate speech online had played a pivotal role in the campaign of expulsion and exclusion of the Rohingya. I decided to revisit this story as Myanmar’s authorities have recently been taken to the International Court of Justice over allegations of genocide against the Rohingya (a case that is ongoing), and as violence against Muslims in other South/Southeast Asian countries has erupted. This is a story not only of Facebook and the potential for social media to exacerbate religious and ethnic tensions, but also of the struggles of a nascent democracy. It’s also about the deeper roots of religious tensions, and the cultural anxieties unique to Buddhist culture. For more about the role of activists/interfaith leaders in promoting anti-Rohingya sentiment, I also wrote this piece back in 2017. As always, follow on Twitter @polaritiespod
38 minutes | Dec 21, 2019
Jesse Harvey: The Church of Safe Injection
Today’s Polarities interview is with Jesse Harvey, a harm-reduction advocate from Portland, Maine. Harvey founded the Church of Safe Injection in the face of the alarming rise in number of opiate-related deaths in the state of Maine, and the lack of access to safe syringes and other harm reduction material. Part of this conversation is about the role of religious framing for political and social causes and how the sanctity of life unites a wide range of religious beliefs. But we also talk about how the way we look at and talk about legal and illegal drugs is socially and politically prescribed. And we talk a lot about Jesse’s own history with drugs, which he is very open about. And however you feel about the dangers of drugs like opioids, I think the power of this conversation is to show how deeply ingrained our moral judgements about drug users are. And how that moral aversion often plays into the ways we enact policies that directly or indirectly lead to preventable deaths from drug use. As always, if you like the show, please rate/review on iTunes so others can find it. Thanks for listening!
29 minutes | Nov 5, 2019
David Frye: “The Walls Were Made of Mud and Men”
David Frye is the author of the book Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick. In our interview, we talk about the ancient but universal view of walls as something that made people soft, about how our own era might devolve into complacency, and the limitations of seeing walls as simply a symbol. As always, you can support us on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/polarities
54 minutes | Oct 3, 2019
Douglas Massey: The Invention of the U.S.-Mexico Border
I was honoured to speak with Douglas Massey, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Massey’s specialty is the U.S.-Mexico border, and back in 1982 he started the Mexican Migration Project, which tracks data on migration between the two countries. This is a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation, starting in the mid 19th century and right up to the present day. We cover everything from the foundation of the border as a means of colonizing Texas (as well as to spread and preserve the institution of slavery), to the shift towards a criminalization of border crossing along with the rapidly expanding (and shockingly ineffectual) U.S. Border Patrol, to Massey’s own struggles getting leaders to listen to both reason and conscience instead of political expediency. This interview is completely free and public, but our hope and plan is to make many more similar interviews available as bonus content to Patreon subscribers, as a way of funding our main work, which involves extensive research, travelling, interviews and editing. Any small monthly contribution helps. To subscribe, go here: https://www.patreon.com/polarities To see some of the data cited in this interview: https://mmp.opr.princeton.edu/ As always, thanks for listening!
68 minutes | Sep 3, 2019
Episode 2: Antigone
The Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles wrote a short tragedy about the daughter of Oedipus, who battled with the state over the right to bury her brother who had fallen in war. Episode 2 of Polarities examines a grim, real-life, meta-version of the story of Antigone, playing out in the deserts of southern Arizona. This episode covers a lot of ground: it’s about the work of volunteers from the organizations No More Deaths and Tucson Samaritans, who provide not only water and aid for migrants crossing the border from Mexico, but a continuous, persistent voice reminding the government of the human costs of a punitive approach to border control. It’s also about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a legal mechanism long used by right-wing Christian groups, but recently put into the service of more progressive and humanitarian causes. Finally, it’s about how the most seemingly-mundane and absurd criminal trials can create a sea change in civil rights. For more info about the organizations depicted here, including updates on the trial of Scott Warren: http://forms.nomoredeaths.org/en/ http://www.tucsonsamaritans.org/ An interactive map of all migrant deaths in Arizona: http://www.humaneborders.info/app/map.asp Keep Tucson Together, a free weekly, bilingual legal clinic for undocumented migrants: https://www.facebook.com/KeepTucsonTogether/ To find us on social media/donate: https://www.facebook.com/Polaritiespodcast https://www.patreon.com/polarities Tweets by Polaritiespod
42 minutes | Sep 3, 2019
Episode 1: “Lest We Be Scattered Over the Face of the Earth”
In the inaugural episode of Polarities, we look at that great foundational myth that tries to explain the origin of languages, borders, displacement, and the concept of human division itself: the Tower of Babel. While much hay has been made from interpretations of the story that attempt to claim it for everything from fundamental Christianity to…whatever it is Borges is doing here...the truth of the story might be a lot more local than we like to think. With that in mind, we take a brief (very brief) crash course in the history of Near Eastern civilization, with the vain and probably doomed attempt to use the myth’s enduring legacy to explain our present circumstances. How can we use a vague and contradictory text to understand our current reality of festering xenophobia and growing displacement? Featuring words and thoughts from: Gwendolyn Leick: Near East historian, urban design specialist, and weightlifting champion (really!) Marc Brettler: Professor in Judaic Studies at Duke University Brent Strawn: Professor of the Old Testament at Duke Divinity School If you want to check us out on Social Media, or donate to the Patreon, links below. And please leave a review on itunes if you like the show! http://www.facebook.com/Polaritiespodcast https://www.patreon.com/polarities Tweets by Polaritiespod Brueghel’s “The Tower of Babel” (1563)
2 minutes | Aug 12, 2019
Episode 0: a brief introduction
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