Kwame Anthony Appiah - Mistaken Identities

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
The Reith Lectures20161025

The philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical, romantic view of nationhood, saying instead it should rest on a commitment to shared values.

He explores the history of the idea, born in the 19th century, that there are peoples who are bound together by an ancient common spirit and that each of these nations is entitled to its own state. He says this idea is a mistaken one, illustrating his argument through the life story of the writer who took the pen name Italo Svevo - meaning literally Italian Swabian. He was born a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became a citizen of the new republic of Italy, all without leaving his home city of Trieste. Appiah argues that states exist as a set of shared beliefs rather than membership of some sort of mythical and ancient group. "What binds citizens together is a commitment," he says, "to sharing the life of a modern state, united by its institutions, procedures and precepts."

The lecture is recorded in front of an audience at the University of Glasgow. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley. Future lectures will examine the themes of colour and culture.

The producer is Jim Frank.

01The Reith Lectures20161018
01The Reith Lectures2016101820161022 (R4)

Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah says we overestimate scripture in our view of faith.

Philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that when considering religion we overestimate the importance of scripture and underestimate the importance of practice.

He begins with the complexities of his own background, as the son of an English Anglican mother and a Ghanaian Methodist father. He turns to the idea that religious faith is based around unchanging and unchangeable holy scriptures. He argues that over the millennia religious practice has been quite as important as religious writings. He provides examples from Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Buddhist texts to show that they are often contradictory and have been interpreted in different ways at different times, for example on the position of women and men in Islam. He argues that fundamentalists are a particularly extreme example of this mistaken scriptural determinism.

The lecture is recorded in front of audience at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley. Future lectures will examine identity in the contexts of country, colour and culture.

The producer is Jim Frank.