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 2012

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 here, our 2010 recommendations here, and our 2011 recommendations here.) The following are selections from works published in 2012:

by Ethics Center faculty

ShavariniDesert Roots: Journey of an Iranian Immigrant Family by Mitra Shavarini

A memoir by Mitra K. Shavarini (WGS), of her family’s immigration to the United States and eventual return to Iran. Shavarini is a lecturer in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies Lecturer and in Women's and Gender Studies, and teaches PAX 89a – Internship in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies, a component of the Ethics Center’s Sorensen Fellowship. The Ethics Center sponsored a Desert Roots book launch event at Brandeis this fall, featuring a reading by Prof. Shavarini, student performances, and a Playback Theatre performance. More info, and video footage of the event – including a reading from Desert Roots by Prof. Shavarini. []

by Ethics Center Board members


Venezuela: La Hora de la Verdad (Venezuela: The Hour of Truth) by Diego Arria

(in Spanish) Former Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations Diego Arria discusses the current state of politics in Venezuela. []

by Brandeis faculty


Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine by Wendy Cadge

Through a combination of interviews with nurses, doctors, and chaplains across the United States and close observation of their daily routines, Wendy Cadge, Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies, takes readers inside major academic medical institutions to explore how today’s doctors and hospitals address prayer and other forms of religion and spirituality. Cadge shifts attention away from the ongoing controversy about whether faith and spirituality should play a role in health care and back to the many ways that these powerful forces already function in healthcare today. [University of Chicago]

Feiman-NemserTeachers as Learners by Sharon Feiman-Nemser

In this collection of essays, Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Mandel Professor of Jewish Education at Brandeis and Director of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education,  argues that serious and sustained learning by teachers is a necessary condition for ambitious student learning, as she examines the process and methods by which teachers gather, create, and utilize knowledge in their careers. []

SarnaWhen General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna

Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the new National Museum of American Jewish History, paints a moving portrait of how a great leader atoned and compensated for an action he came to regard as an enormous mistake. []

SohrabiTaken for Wonder: Nineteenth Century Travel Accounts from Iran to Europe by Naghmeh Sohrabi

Naghmeh Sohrabi, Assistant Professor of Middle East History, explores the travelogue as a rhetorical, unbiased text, particularly through the framework of travel writings from Iran to Europe which were used to position Qajar Iran within a global context and question the idea that Iranian modernity was the primary outcome of Iranian travel in and writing about Europe. []

by Brandeis Alumni

Sandel '75

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel '75, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University

What happens when everything is for sale, including parts of our bodies, or the right to immigrate, or even love? Sandel asks us to think about the costs of commodification to our core values as individuals, as a society, and as a human family. What Money Can’t Buy was recently featured as part of the JustBooks First-Year Seminar Program of the Division of Humanities at Brandeis, which featured a visit to Brandeis by Sandel. []

about Brandeis University

Dor Guez

Dor Guez: 100 Steps to the Mediterranean

Dor Guez: 100 Steps to the Mediterranean is the catalogue for the exhibition of videos and photographs at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis of the same name, which was on view from September 20 through December 9, 2012. Guez, an artist whose heritage is both Christian Palestinian and Jewish Tunisian, takes as his overt subject the Christian Arab minority in Israel, a community marginalized by the prevailing metanarratives of both Israelis and Arabs. Guez’s art installations address the gaps in those narratives, while exploring the role of contemporary art in raising questions about history, nationality, ethnicity, and personal identity. During this exhibition the Ethics Center collaborated with the Rose on a number of events related to peacebuilding and coexistence. []

on justice

DreierThe 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame by Peter Dreier

A history of the most influential progressive leaders of the twentieth century and beyond, featuring brief profiles. []

SchefferAll the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals by David Scheffer

An account from a United States perspective of the efforts to establish a system of accountability for war crimes. []

AnnanInterventions: A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan, Nader Mousavizadeh

The former Secretary-General of the United Nations reflects on his time in with the UN, as well as the organization’s missed opportunities and ongoing challenges. []

on peacebuilding and the arts


Undesirable Elements: Real People, Real Lives, Real Theater by Ping Chong

This four-piece volume of Undesirable Elements, the community-specific theater works series, examines the lives of those born into one culture but living in another. Each production grows out of an extended residency, during which theater director, playwright, choreographer, and video and installation artist Ping Chong and his collaborators conduct interviews of community members and then create a script that explores both historical and personal narratives. []

Acting Together volumes I and II

A reminder: the second volume of Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, was published late last year, 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. Volume I emphasizes the role theater and ritual play in both the midst and in the aftermath of direct violence. Volume II focuses on the transformative power of performance in regions fractured by "subtler" forms of structural violence and social exclusion, and offers resources, tools, and recommendations to help educators, artists, students, policymakers, and funders alike to become involved with, and contribute to, the emerging field of peacebuilding performance. [Details and ordering information] An award-winning documentary and an accompanying toolkit, "Tools for Continuing the Conversation," are also available.

on Higher Education


College: What it Was, Is, and Should be by Andrew Delbanco

An elegant and inspiring case for why institutions of higher education (like Brandeis University) should hold fast to their commitment to the liberal arts and the study of the human past, in an era when practicality and presentism are running rampant. []

from Brandeis University Press


Religion and Jewish Identity in the Soviet Union, 1941-1964 by Mordechai Altshuler, Saadya Sternberg (trans)

This study examines the complex situation of the period of the 1940s through the 1960s in the former Soviet Union for Jewish identity, particularly the conflicting roles of religious institutions and the government’s anti-religion policies during that time frame. []

Joffee and Neil

Gender, Religion, and Family Law: Theorizing Conflicts between Women's Rights and Cultural Traditions by Lisa Fishbayn Joffe and Sylvia Neil, eds.

Scholars and activists embarking in innovative work in Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and African customary law interrogate recent theoretical models for engaging with gender and multicultural conflicts, and explore ideas of the relationship between the law – religious and civil – and gender equality. Gender, Religion, and Family Law  is based on a 2008 conference cosponsored by the Ethics Center, “Untying the Knots: Theorizing Conflicts between Gender Equality and Religious Laws”. []


Israel: a History by Anita Shapira

This one volume publication, by one of Israel’s finest scholars, promises to be an authoritative and accessible account of the nation’s story. Due out in December 2012. Part of the Schusterman Series in Israel Studies. []

fiction (and beyond)


Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright

The former United States Secretary of State sets her personal childhood narrative against the backdrop of the history of the Czech people. []


Telegraph Avenue: A Novel by Michael Chabon

A lively tale of fathers and sons, men and women, blacks and whites, big business and small business, set in Oakland, California in the summer Barack Obama (who has a cameo role) first emerged as a national political figure. []


No Time Like the Present: A Novel by Nadine Gordimer

The Nobel Prize winner explores the link between personal and communal history, the moral ambiguities of daily life, and political and racial tensions that persist in South Africa through the lives of an interracial couple living in newly free South Africa. []

What do you think?

Suggestions for other selections from 2012 that we missed in our list?  Let us know.

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