Reading Our Times

Reading Our Times

How do pandemics shape history? In conversation with Kyle Harper

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Covid-19 was not the first pandemic in history, and it won’t be the last. We have lived with disease throughout our history, and our history has accordingly been shaped, sometimes transformed, by disease. But how?

In the final episode of this series of Reading Our Times, Nick Spencer talks to the historian Kyle Harper about his new book Plagues upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History.

What actually is the Common Good? In conversation with Anna Rowlands

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The Common Good is a remarkably popular phrase, used widely by the left and the right, the religious and the secular. But does it actually mean anything? Is it so elastic as to have no real content?

In this episode, Nick Spencer talks to Anna Rowlands about her new book Towards a Politics of Communion, about what the Common Good means and what it offers a society like ours.

How on earth should we talk about God? In conversation with Janet Soskice

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Even as formal religious adherence wanes (at least in the West), people go on talking about God and spiritual matters. But how is that even possible? How can you talk about someone (or something) that is beyond language? Is all God-talk literally nonsense?

In this episode, Nick Spencer speaks to Prof. Janet Soskice about her classic 'Metaphor and Religious Language' and her forthcoming 'Naming God' about how on earth we can hope to talk about God.

Why is secularism failing? In conversation with Sumantra Bose

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Secularism is supposed to epitomise reasonableness and fairness – the refusal to favour one (non/religious) group over another. Yet, it is coming under fierce pressure across the world. Why?

In this episode Nick Spencer talks to Prof. Sumantra Bose about his book 'Secular States, Religious Politics' and looks at the future of secularism in the 21st century.

What’s underneath the trans debate? In conversation with Helen Joyce

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Debates around sex, gender and identity have emerged as some of the most important, and heated, of our time. But what are the issues – scientific, philosophical, ideological, anthropological – that lie beneath them?

In this episode, Nick Spencer talks to the journalist and author Helen Joyce about her book Trans, and the tensions underlying the debate.

What is “the matter with things”? In conversation with Iain McGilchrist

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Iain McGilchrist rose to public prominence with his book 'The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World'. Now, in his long–awaited follow up ‘The Matter with Things’, he develops his ideas about the divided brain into a remarkably detailed and comprehensive vision of reality, “a whole philosophy – … [with] new answers to the questions of what the world is and who we are.”

Nick Spencer talks to him about materialism, truth, humanity, and God.

What can animals teach us about ourselves? In conversation with Frans de Waal

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There was a time (and not so long ago) we thought animals were 'mere machines’, incapable of inner life or emotions. Now we know better and are beginning to understand the extraordinarily rich inner life of primates and some other species.

In the first episode of this series of Reading Our Times, Nick Spencer talks to the eminent primatologist Frans de Waal about his book 'Mama's Last Hug' which explores the moving and fascinating world of animal emotions and what they tell us about ourselves.

What comes after liberalism? In conversation with Adrian Pabst

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The last 30 years have seen liberalism fall from heights of triumph at the end of the Cold War to a place of genuine fragility. Both in Western countries and even more so elsewhere, liberalism appears to be in retreat.

What comes next? Some argue that liberalism will bounce back. Others that populism or authoritarianism are set to dominate things for the foreseeable future. But still others have argued for a ‘postliberal’ alternative, which spans the traditional left and right, and integrates the best of the liberal tradition but without its errors and problems.

In the final episode of series two of Reading Our Times, Nick Spencer speaks to Adrian Pabst, one of the leading thinkers of this movement about his book, Postliberal politics: The coming era of renewal:

What does “being spiritual” actually mean? In conversation with Rowan Williams

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People today often like to be considered “spiritual but not religious”. But what could that actually mean?

All too often, the spiritual is juxtaposed against the material. But in reality, the two are inseparably linked.

In this episode of Reading our Times, Nick Spencer talks to Rowan Williams about his latest book [Looking East in Winter](, in a conversation that covers the spiritual life, the potential for politics, and the need for Christian humanism today.

What do we owe each other? In conversation with Minouche Shafik

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Given how much richer we are today than, say, 50 years ago, it is remarkable how many people think ‘the system’ is not working for them. Particularly in high income countries, there is a pervasive sense that neither the market nor the state are providing citizens with the security and welfare that they could and should.

In this episode of Reading our Times, Nick Spencer talks to Minouche Shafik, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and current Director of the London School of Economics, about her book 'What We Owe Each Other' and the need to build “a new social contract” for the 21st century:

About this podcast

Reading Our Times is the podcast that explores the books and the ideas that are shaping us today. It is hosted by Nick Spencer, Senior Fellow at the think tank, Theos.

We’re going to be talking to some of the world’s leading authors about issues like meritocracy, justice, populism, human rights, the brain, liberalism, and religion.

Above all, we'll be exploring what these books have to say about the times we live in and about the people we are.

So listen with us, and we’ll introduce you to authors, books and ideas that illuminate ourselves and our world today.

For more information about the people and ideas behind the podcast, visit or follow us on Twitter @theosthinktank and @theosnick.

by Theos Think Tank


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