Martha Nussbaum on “The New Religious Intolerance”

October 30, 2013

American philosopher gives a free public lecture on Monday, Dec. 2

TACOMA, Wash. — Martha Nussbaum, the renowned American philosopher who has enticed the public to think deeply about questions of goodness, humanity, intolerance, and the politics of fear, will speak at University of Puget Sound on Monday, Dec. 2.

The University of Chicago scholar and national commentator will give a talk titled “The New Religious Intolerance” at 7:30 p.m. event in Schneebeck Concert Hall. The lecture is free, but tickets are required. Ticket information is below.

Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at The University of Chicago, has authored numerous books and been awarded more than three dozen honorary degrees. Her talks and writing often challenge the direction of American thinking and cover ground that stretches from Aristotle, Plato, and poetic justice, to animal rights, the repression of women, and the failings of modern democracy.

Her two most recent books are The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (2012) and Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (2013).

The first, which forms the basis for her talk, is not entirely impersonal. Nussbaum grew up in the South as an Episcopalian and bonded to the church through her love of singing in choirs, she told The New York Timesin 2009. As a youngster she knew racism and anti-Semitism firsthand. Yet in the 1960s, when she got married, she converted to Judaism and embraced the religious traditions.

The New Religious Intolerance looks at post-9/11 America, with a focus on the anti-Muslim zealotry that followed the terrorist attacks. In this fearful public reaction the philosopher sadly recognizes the apparition of anti-Semitic movements across Europe and the United States during earlier centuries. The intolerance, she notes, is not so new after all.

Nussbaum sees such anti-Muslim sentiment—demonstrated in American protests against a mosque near Manhattan’s Ground Zero, and in French and Belgium laws banning Muslim women’s burqa headwear—as an assault on religious freedom. Her book describes double standards applied to religious minorities: for example, allowing a nun to teach in full habit, while a teacher cannot wear a headscarf.

“Nussbaum summons us not to abdicate responsibility in the face of programmed hysteria,” wrote Walter Brueggemann for The Christian Century.

“She pleads for the use of our ‘inner eyes,’ for that ‘curious and sympathetic imagination’ that is adept at ‘recognizing humanity in strange costumes,’” commented Timothy Garton Ash in The New York Review of Books.

Nussbaum received her doctoral degree from Harvard and has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford universities. From 1986 to 1993 she was a research advisor at the World Institute for Development Economics Research, Helsinki. She has chaired the American Philosophical Association’s committees on international cooperation, the status of women, and public philosophy. She also served as a co-president of the association.   

Her books, which also include Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997), Sex and Social Justice (1996), and Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004), have won numerous prizes. She was recognized for her contributions to social justice reform with the A.SK award from the German Social Science Research Council, and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Philosophical Society.

The lecture at Puget Sound is sponsored by the Swope Endowed Lectureship on Ethics, Religion, Faith, and Values. The Swope lectureship was established at Puget Sound through a gift from Maj. Ianthe Swope in honor of her mother, Jane Hammer Swope. It is intended to promote discussion, critical thinking, and ethical inquiry about matters of religion, including its role in public life and contemporary ethics.

FOR FREE TICKETS: order online at, or call Wheelock Information Center at 253.879.6013.

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For accessibility information please contact or 253.879.3236, or visit

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