Robin Hamon: Paradise Revisited: Ecocriticism and the Eden Narrative

The Biblical story of the Garden of Eden is one of the most central narratives in Western civilisation (if not the central narrative). As part of the account of creation contained in Genesis, it is a cornerstone of both the Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Moreover, it has exerted a powerful influence on secular culture, ranging from the seventeenth-century epic Paradise Lost to modern-day advertisements. Yet scholarly critics have tended to overlook the significance of natural resources and the environment in the Eden narrative, choosing instead to focus on the agency of the human characters. While ecocriticism is gaining ground as a popular approach in contemporary literary studies, Biblical scholars have generally paid little attention to it and how it can be usefully applied to their field.

Today on The Provocateur I talk to Robin Hamon, a PhD student at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Bible Studies, to discuss the Eden narrative from an ecocritical perspective. We start by thinking about the origins of Biblical Studies and ecocriticism as separate disciplines, before looking in-depth at Genesis as an example of how the two fields can be fruitfully merged. We also touch on notions of paradise and wilderness and how these might have affected interpretations of the narrative, as well as the significance of trees in the text.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Primary text: Genesis 2:4b-3:24 (in the New Revised Standard version).

Secondary reading:

Glotfelty, C. and H. Fromm (eds.) (1996) The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.

Hamon, R. B. (2018) ‘Garden and “Wilderness”: An Ecocritical Reading of Gen. 2:4b-3:24’, The Bible and Critical Theory, 14.1.

Habel, N. C. and S. Wurst (eds.) (2000) The Earth Story in Genesis (The Earth Bible, vol. 2). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Zevit, Z. (2013) What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? London/New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Nick Mayhew: Russia’s Queer History (LGBT History Month Miniseries 2018)

In the first episode of The Provocateur‘s miniseries for LGBT History Month 2018, we travel to Russia to explore the country’s hidden history of sexuality. In contemporary Russia, the church and state have conspired to suggest that LGBT identities are not part of Russia’s supposedly ‘traditional’ culture. At best, they are seen as subversive and non-traditional; at worst, they are perceived as damaging Western imports, where progressive views on homosexuality are a form of moral neo-imperialism. These attitudes are most clearly expressed in the 2014 law forbidding the promotion of ‘gay propaganda’. However, new research is challenging the ‘otherness’ of Russian homosexuality, arguing that an undercurrent of same-sex desire has long been embedded in Russian culture.

To discuss the history of sexuality in medieval Russia, I’m joined today by Nick Mayhew, who has just finished his PhD in Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge. We open by talking about Nick’s initial interest in the subject, before moving on to discuss the kinds of same-sex relationships and identities that existed in pre-modern Russia and the medieval period in particular. We also touch on the difficulties Nick has faced in doing this kind of research in a society rife with state-sponsored homophobia.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Arthur Dudney: Languages of Everywhere and Nowhere: Persian as Premodern Lingua Franca

Home to more than a billion people, modern India is at once a thriving tourist destination, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a hive of social, religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity. Spend a few days in India and at various points you will probably encounter speakers of Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Bengali or perhaps even all of the above. Yet it would be practically unheard of to find a Persian speaker in India today, despite the rich cultural influence of Persian on the South Asian subcontinent. The forgotten story of Persianate India is part of a much bigger picture of the Persian-speaking world, which is far from being limited to just Iran. In its heyday, as the language of the Mughal Empire, Persian could be considered a lingua franca as much as Latin in the Renaissance or French in the 18th century. It united millions of people across a wide swathe of Central and South Asia, stretching from as far west as Turkey to as far east as the fringes of China.

On today’s episode of The Provocateur I talk to Arthur Dudney, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge, to help me piece together the history of Persianate India. We start by talking about the idea of a ‘mother tongue’ and its relationship to the concept of a lingua franca, before exploring the context of Persian and its role in Mughal India. We also discuss the place of Persian in the wider history of lingua francas and the implications for the ways in which we might think about lingua francas and the politics of language today.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Dudney, A. (2015) ‘Introduction’ and ‘Chapter 1: Beginnings’, in Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History. New Delhi: Hay House.

You can contact me for a PDF of the above; Indian listeners may wish to purchase a hard copy via Amazon.in or Flipkart.com.

Brian Bird: Freedom of Conscience in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada 150 Miniseries)

Today we continue our Canada 150 miniseries with a look at perhaps the most significant piece of Canadian legislation since Confederation: the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section two of the Charter lists what are called the “fundamental freedoms,” including for example freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression and – importantly for our purposes – freedom of conscience. Many constitutional disputes in Canadian jurisprudence have tested the limits of freedom of religion. But as Canada becomes more and more secularized, the focus may well shift to freedom of conscience, which would thereby rise to greater prominence in Canadian politics.

In this installment of The Provocateur I talk to Brian Bird, a DCL student in the Faculty of Law at McGill University, to explore the history and theory of freedom of conscience, which he dubs “the forgotten freedom.” We discuss what freedom of conscience is and how it can be distinguished from freedom of religion; the nature of freedom of conscience before and after the Charter came into effect; the limits of freedom of conscience; and the future of “the forgotten freedom” in Canadian society.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Brownlee, K. (2012) Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waldron, M. A. (2013) Free to Believe: Rethinking Conscience and Freedom of Religion in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Vischer, R. K. (2010) Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space Between Person and State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ryan Nichols: The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Its Cultural Aftershocks

Lisbon is probably best known today as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, but it is also remembered as the victim of one of the deadliest and most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history. The disaster struck on 1st November 1755, registering an estimated 8.5-9.0 on the modern moment magnitude scale. It triggered fires and a tsunami, in the end claiming as many as 100,000 lives. The catastrophe was not just a literal earthquake, though; it was also a cultural earthquake, as it brought simmering religious tensions to the fore, threw Portugal’s imperial ambitions into disarray and even arguably changed the course of the Enlightenment in the latter half of the 18th century.

Today on The Provocateur I interview Ryan Nichols, associate professor of philosophy at California State University Fullerton, to discuss the cultural aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. We explore the historical context of Lisbon and Portugal before the earthquake; the immediate effects of the disaster on Portuguese politics and society; discussions of the earthquake by 18th-century philosophers including Voltaire and Rousseau; how Ryan’s research in the cognitive science of religion can help explain the aftermath of the quake; and the wider cultural reverberations of this episode for the history and philosophy of science.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Araujo, A. C. (2006) ‘The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 – Public Distress and Political Propaganda’, E-journal of Portuguese History 4(1), article 3.

Braun, T. and J. Radner (eds.) (2005) The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.

Chester, D. K. (2001) ‘The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, Progress in Physical Geography 25(3), pp. 363-383.

Dynes, R. R. (2000) ‘The Dialogue between Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake: The Emergence of a Social Science View’, International Journal of Emergencies and Disasters 18(1), pp. 97-115.

Festinger, L. et al. (1956) When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gutscher, M-A. (2004) ‘What Caused the Great Lisbon Earthquake?’ Science 305(5688), pp. 1247-1248.

Kelemen, D. (1999) ‘Why Are Rocks Pointy?: Children’s Preference for Teleological Explanations of the Natural World’, Developmental Psychology 35, pp. 1440-1453.

Marques, J. O. A. (2005) ‘The Paths of Providence: Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake’, Cadernos de Historia e Filosofia da Ciencia 3(15), pp. 33-57.

Neiman, S. (2004) Evil in Modern Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (For a critique see Nichols 2014, below.)

Nichols, R. (2014) ‘Re-evaluating the Effects of the Lisbon Earthquake on Eighteenth-Century Minds: How Cognitive Science of Religion Improves Intellectual History with Hypothesis Testing Methods’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82(4), pp. 970-1009.

Pereira, A. S. (2009) ‘The Opportunity of a Disaster: The Economic Impact of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, The Journal of Economic History 69(2), pp. 466-499.

Rousseau, J-J. (1967) ‘Letter to Voltaire, 18 August 1756’, in Correspondance Complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau, vol. 4, ed. J. A. Leigh, trans. R. Spang, 37–50. Geneva, Switzerland: Voltaire Foundation.

Voltaire (2000 [1759]) ‘Candide, or Optimism’, in Candide and Related Texts, ed. and trans. D.Wootton, 1–83. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Kristy Leissle: The Cultural Politics of Chocolate

From its mysterious origins deep in the rainforests of Central America to the gluttonous foodstuff we all know and love today, chocolate (not to mention its parent cocoa) has been an integral part of human society for centuries. The Aztecs used cocoa in rituals and as a form of currency as well as for nourishment. In early modern Spain, Catholic theologians argued over whether drinking chocolate could be seen to break the ecclesiastical fast. Chocolate pioneers in the nineteenth century promoted it as an alternative to alcohol, in keeping with the temperance movement that was all the rage at the time. Even in the modern world it has provoked strong emotional perceptions, from innocent treat to sexualized indulgence to junk food. Chocolate is a symbol of global inequality, cultural mores and social anxieties about health, religion, morality, sexuality, race and gender.

This week on The Provocateur we are joined by Kristy Leissle, a lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, to discuss the cultural politics of chocolate. We talk about the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to the present, the politics of chocolate branding (using some rather tasty examples) and the future of the chocolate industry in an age of global climate change. Hopefully after listening to this episode you will never look at a chocolate bar in the same way again!

You can listen to the podcast here: 

These are images of the chocolate bars discussed during the show, for reference:

Further Reading:

Allen, L. L. (2009) Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Beckett, S. T. (2008) The Science of Chocolate. Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Coe, S. D. and M. D. Coe (2013) The True History of Chocolate, third edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Forrest, B. M. and A. L. Najjaj (2007) ‘Is Sipping Sin Breaking Fast? The Catholic Chocolate Controversy and the Changing World of Early Modern Spain’, Food and Foodways 5(1-2), pp. 31-52. [See also the rest of this journal issue.]

Jones, C. A. (2013) ‘Exotic Edibles: Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Early Modern French How-to’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43(3), pp. 623-653.

Leissle, K. (2018) Cocoa. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Mintz, S. (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking-Penguin.

Norton, M. (2006) ‘Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics’, American Historical Review 111(3), pp. 660-691.

____ (2010) Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Richardson, B. (2015) Sugar. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Robertson, E. (2009) Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Ryan, O. (2011) Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed Books.

Satre, L. J. (2005) Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Laura Madokoro: The History of Humanitarianism in Canada (Canada 150 Miniseries)

This episode of The Provocateur kicks off a special month-long miniseries to coincide with Canada 150: a series of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. While it is frequently derided as the backyard of the United States, Canada possesses a rich, complex and colourful history; today it is rightly celebrated as an outward-looking and multicultural nation. Yet its spirit of progressive pluralism belies the stinging legacies of both indigenous dispossession and the oppression of racial and ethnic minorities. Some of the darkest episodes of Canada’s recent past can be found in the Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as Japanese internment during WWII. Though Canada sought to establish itself as a humanitarian power in the postwar period, it continues to be haunted by the injustices of history.

To discuss the history of humanitarianism and immigration in Canada, The Provocateur is joined today by Laura Madokoro, who is assistant professor in the department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University. We explore the history of anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese sentiment in nineteenth and early twentieth century Canada, the relationship between humanitarianism and settler colonialism, the significance of the Indochinese refugee crisis for Canadian foreign policy and the amazing story of the first official refugees from China to Canada in 1962. Finally we bring our discussion up to the contemporary moment, with the provocative question of whether Islamophobia is the new yellow peril.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Correction: The episode is mentioned as being the second in the Canada 150 miniseries, as it was still scheduled as such at the time of recording. However due to unforeseen circumstances, it will now be broadcast as the first episode. Apologies for the oversight.

Further Reading:

Gatrell, P. (2013) The Making of the Modern Refugee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Madokoro, L., F. McKenzie and D. Meren (eds.) (2017) Dominion of Race: Rethinking Canada’s International History. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Mar, L. (2010) Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885-1945. New York: Oxford University Press.

Roy, P. (2010) The Triumph of Citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Yu, H. (2015) ‘Conceptualizing a Pacific Canada Within and Without Nations’, in Dubinsky, K. et al. (eds.) Within and Without the Nation: Canada’s History as Transnational History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.