Lectures and Speeches
As a book author and New York Times “Beliefs” columnist, writing about religion, faith, and ethics, I am a frequent speaker on campuses, in houses of worship, and at professional associations. As a former champion debater and public speaker at Yale, I love talking and am comfortable in front of a wide range of audiences. Recent appearances have included:
• University of Mary Washington, 2012
• Congregation Sukkat Shalom, Chicago, 2012
• The 2011 Dallas Festival of Ideas
• The 2010 National Forensic League Policy Debate championships (Kansas City, MO)
• The 92d Street Y in New York City
• The Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY
• Southern Methodist University (Dallas)
• Luther College (Decorah, IA)
• Westminster College (Pennsylvania)
I also frequently appear and host on the radio. I wrote and hosted this documentary about David Blankenhorn, a famous same-sex-marriage opponent who changed his mind. I have given NPR commentaries about Quaker summer camp and the demise of the hippy, and I was featured in an NPR segment about Portnoy’s Complaint. I have guest-hosted NPR’s Colin McEnroe Show. You can also see footage of my appearances on TV: here I am on the CBS Early Show talking about Tom Cruise and Scientology, and I am on MSNBC’s Morning Joe here.
I have spoken on a variety of topics, and am always eager to tailor my speeches to suit the audience. I especially like speaking on campuses, to students and faculty. The topics I most often speak about are:
• Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Ethics: Making ethical choices using the major Western traditions. Whether you are deeply devout or totally atheistic, traditionally “religious” or individualistically “spiritual,” a businessperson or a doctor or unemployed, you will confront choices that have no easy answers. Writing about religion, faith, and ethics for The New York Times, I have seen how different religious faiths draw on their unique traditions to find answers to tough questions in business ethics, medical ethics, or family life. I share some inspiring stories — and some more complex stories, with no easy answers — in helping audiences think about how their own traditions and heritage can help them make tough choices.
• Belief vs. Atheism: Is there a middle road? As a writer for The New York Times Magazine and a regular religion columnist for the Saturday Times, I specialize in coverage of the “New Atheists” and their debates against believers. As a journalist, I take pride in my ability to make the debate clear and understandable to all audiences. You can read some of my most important articles here, here, and here, and my debate with famous atheist Sam Harris (in which he and I agreed on a great deal, but disagreed, too) here.
• How do young Americans find a spiritual path — and do they even want one? This speech draws on my first two books, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture and Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah in America — you can see me talking about this subject on MSNBC’s Morning Joe here.
• Religious pluralism in America, from Plymouth Rock to the “Ground Zero Mosque” (drawing on my biweekly religion column in the Times).
• The power of oratory to change one’s life ... drawing on my years as a champion debater and later coach of the Yale team, and on my 2010 book, Wisenheimer: A Childhood Subject to Debate — you can see me talking about that book at Harvard Bookstore here. And here I am talking a bit more about it: