In the monthly "Ethical Inquiry" series, we examine ethical questions, highlighting a broad array of opinion from journalism, academia, and advocacy organizations. Our intent is to illuminate and explore the complexity of some of the most vexing ethical questions of our time.

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Ethical Inquiry: December 2014

Recommended Books From the Year

For the December installment of "Ethical Inquiry" we are taking the opportunity to recommend some books published in the last year on topics related to the work of the Ethics Center and by people affiliated with the Center, as well as a few selections not as closely tied to our work that have impressed members of our staff.
(See our 2009 recommendations, our 2010 recommendations, our 2011 recommendations, our 2012 recommendations, and our 2013 recommendations.)

The following are selections from works published in 2014:

from the Center

Acting Together I and IIActing Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, Volumes I and II edited by Cynthia E. Cohen, Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, and Polly O. Walker

Edited by Cynthia E. Cohen, director of the Center’s Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts; Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, Associate Professor of Performing Arts and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco; and Polly O. Walker, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, this two-volume work describes peacebuilding performances in regions beset by violence and internal conflicts. First published in 2011, it is now available in an e-book version from Alexander Street Press as part of their new Human Rights collection, and ultimately will be part of an Acting Together mini-collection. [E-book link pending. More info.]

by Ethics Center Board members

MetzlGenesis Code by Jamie Metzl

In the United States of 2023, a journalist uncovers a juicy story that involves murder, religion, genetics and politics. What more could a reader want? It's thriller of ideas from the multi-talented Ethics Center board member whose previous novel, The Depths of Sea, drew on his experiences working with refugees on the border between Cambodia and Thailand. []

on International Justice and Society

Fran Quigley

How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers, and the Grassroots Campaign by Fran Quigley

A cataclysmic earthquake, revolution, corruption, and neglect have all conspired to strangle the growth of a legitimate legal system in Haiti. But as How Human Rights Can Build Haiti demonstrates, the story of lawyers-activists on the ground should give us all hope. They organize demonstrations at the street level, argue court cases at the international level, and conduct social media and lobbying campaigns across the globe. The work that Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph have done in Haiti over the past two decades is detailed. Brian Concannon was a fellow of the Ethics Center and has spoken frequently at Brandeis under the Ethics Center's auspices. []

on Peacebuilding and the Arts

James ThompsonHumanitarian Performance: From Disaster Tragedies to Spectacles of War by James Thompson

Humanitarian Performance argues that the humanitarian project – from its history and rationale to its contemporary practice – can be productively explored through the critical lens of performance studies. With the peculiar focus and international audiences that the media brings to local tragedies, contemporary disasters including as the Asian tsunami, the War in Kosovo, and the crisis in Darfur – and the humanitarianism that they elicit – become performance on the world stage. []

by Brandeis faculty

Harleen Singh

The Rani of Jhansi by Harleen Singh

Professor Singh, who teaches literature and South Asian studies at Brandeis, examines the enduring depictions – in fiction, film, and beyond – of a 19th century warrior queen forever associated with India's 1857 rebellion. Singh cleverly demonstrates how writers and public figures across the ideological spectrum – from diehard colonialists to advocates for the dalit community – have managed to shape the memory of the Rani to serve their own ends. []

ChaeRan Y. Freeze and Jay M. Harris

Everyday Life in Imperial Russia: Select Documents, 1772–1914 – Edited by ChaeRan Y. Freeze and Jay M. Harris

Edited by Brandeis professor ChaeRan Freeze with Jay Harris, Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies and dean of undergraduate education at Harvard University, this book makes accessible – for the first time in English – declassified archival documents from the former Soviet Union, rabbinic sources, as well as previously untranslated memoirs, illuminating everyday Jewish life as the site of interaction and negotiation among neighbors, society, and the Russian state, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to World War I. Focusing on religion, family, health, sexuality, work, and politics, these documents provide an intimate portrait of the rich diversity of Jewish life. [Brandeis University Press – Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry]

fiction (and beyond)

Marjorie N. Feld

Nations Divided: American Jews and the Struggle over Apartheid by Marjorie N. Feld

Starting in the 1950s, shows Feld, who received her Ph.D. in history from Brandeis, American Jews were often active in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  But as Israel formed an alliance with the apartheid regime in the 1970s, and as the opposition parties in South Africa formed alliances with the Palestinian resistance, fissures developed as American Jews sought new ways to honor commitments to universal social justice and support for the state of Israel. [Palgrave Macmillan]

Boris Fishman

A Replacement Life: A Novel by Boris Fishman

A young would-be writer stumbles into the business of creating memoirs of the Holocaust for elderly Russian Jews in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. A first novel that skillfully blends family dynamics, issues of identity, and questions of personal ethics. []

Ian McEwan

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The latest novel by one of the modern masters of British fiction follows a London family court judge through two crises, one involving her husband, the other involving one of her cases.  Among other things, McEwan deftly explores the pain as his protagonist is forced to confront the gap between her personal fallibility and her impossibly high standards for her performance on the bench. []

Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

The tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City in 1914 is a centerpiece of this novel, which brings together a girl whose father operates a down-on-its-heels collection of oddities in Brooklyn with a young Jewish immigrant who has broken away from his Orthodox father to become a photographer. Multiple narrations add depth and richness to this compelling volume. []

Timothy Phillips

Beyond Conflict: 20 Years of Putting Experience to Work for Peace – Edited by Timothy Phillips

How do wars end? Why are some societies capable of peaceful political transitions while others descend into violence? Phillips draws from 20 years experience on the front lines of peace negotiations around the world to offer lessons for our current foreign policy challenges. He relates stories of six individuals from South Africa, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Israel, Chile and Czechoslovakia who stood up to dictatorship, sat down with their enemies and confronted their greatest fears to pave the way for lasting peace and reconciliation. [Kirkus Reviews]

 volumes featuring contributions from the Ethics Center

Farrell, Schonmann and Wagner

International Yearbook for Research in Arts Education – Edited by Larry O’Farrell, Shifra Schonmann and Ernst Wagner

This edition focuses on questions of research in the field of cultural and arts education from a global perspective, and features an entry by Cynthia Cohen on "Linking Arts Education with the Field of Peacebuilding and the Arts" [Waxmann].

Romano, Alter and Avgerou

The Oxford Handbook of International Adjudication – Edited by Cesare P. R. Romano, Karen J. Alter, and Chrisanthi Avgerou

The Oxford Handbook of International Adjudication offers a comprehensive study into the development, proliferation, and functions of international adjudicative bodies. Research on international judges by Leigh Swigart and Dan Terris appears in this volume, published online in 2014. [Oxford Handbooks]

What do you think?

Suggestions for other selections from 2014 that we missed in our list?  Let us know.

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