Oct 222014
 October 22, 2014

Berlin-wallThe Wall

Walls are built for many purposes—to protect, to secure, to mark, to define.  No wall in modern history has left a greater mark than the Berlin Wall.  November 9, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of its fall.  Erected in 1961, it was a symbol of the Cold War, the dividing line between the worlds of American-style market capitalism and Soviet style one-party communism.

Living a stone’s throw away from the wall seemed perfectly normal.  The twelve-foot high concrete monstrosity that cut right through the heart of my beloved city, I thought, had little impact on my life.  I was a student at the university in West Berlin.  I moved around freely, had close friends around the world.

Most young West Berliners knew virtually nothing about people living right behind the wall—fellow Germans, yes, but people who might as well have been from Mars.  Neither did we recognize the wall for what it was: a gruesome result of power politics, and a prison for our own hearts and minds. The wall, somehow, had become a fact of life.

It divided families, friends, neighbors, and communities. Some 5,000 East Germans tried to get across the wall—climbing it, digging under it, attempting to fly over it.  At least 136 people died in such attempts, the last being shot in February of 1989, just 9 months before it fell.

The construction of the wall was virtually inevitable. Political maneuvers on the part of the occupying superpowers had left two unequal parts—a booming West Germany, a struggling East Germany.  As a result, some 4 million East Germans fled to the West between 1949 and 1961.  By the time soldiers of the East German People’s Army rolled out the barbed wire and put down cement blocs in streets and intersections, East Germany had hemorrhaged its most vital talent.  As a nation, its options boiled down to collapse or wall.

It was a high-stakes poker between the U.S. and the USSR.  American troops stationed in West Berlin were virtually defenseless against an overwhelming presence of Soviet forces in the East.  Had the Soviets opted for occupation rather than demarcation, only nuclear weapons could’ve deterred a Soviet takeover of the city.  Not surprisingly, President Kennedy responded to the events of August 1961 by saying “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”

The result was a massive experiment in political engineering.  A people with a common culture, history, and language were thrust into two separate worlds—hostile and unequal.

In hindsight, it was perhaps less of a historical aberration than it would seem.  We still build walls and segregate people—in Korea, in Israel, in the Middle East, in India, and, of course, on our own border with Mexico. Separating people with a common homeland, we also create classes of people, divided by privilege.  Indeed, the privileges tend to rest on the separation.

Walls, it turns out, never solve the underlying problems.  They also never last.  But they do leave human wreckage and truncated ways of seeing.

When I asked Eastern European dissidents in July of 1989 if they thought Soviet rule might ever come to an end, they looked at me as if pitying my political naïveté. “Certainly not in my lifetime,” was one typical response. Four months later, the wall crumbled.  Two years later, the Soviet Union dissolved.

When it comes to walls that protect privilege and narrow nationalist interests, perhaps we should join Ronald Reagan in his famous call to “tear down this wall!”

The memory of the Berlin wall is fading.  And yet, Germans are still struggling to grow back together.  Some three decades of segregated life have left deep marks.

“We had great restrictions on what we could say,” one East German dissident told me, “but what we said meant a lot. Now we can say anything we want, but it no longer means much.” Some commentators called reunification “annexation.”

On the surface, it is a success story.  Germany is back.  The world’s fourth largest economy, the country of Mercedes and Siemens and soccer world cup championship fame is proudly flying its unified black-red-gold flag.

Processing the tortured history of divided life will take longer.  Nobody was able to escape the shadows of the wall.  Above all, the demarcation between socialism and capitalism proved as facile as it was false.  Neither provides good answers to the most pressing problems of today.

Creating segregated and insular experiences, walls that divide people inevitably distort and diminish.  By shrinking the lives of those who endure in its shadows, walls promote simplistic ideologies.  So here we are:  still holding on to demarcations of nationality or religion or ideology while the world is catching a fever from our collective addiction to consumption and endless growth.

Walls exacerbate the problem.  They stand in the way of collective solutions.  Germany, for one, is much better off pooling resources and talent from both East and West.  Freeing ourselves from the suffocating presence of walls, both physical and mental, we could renew our exploration of what really ails us as inhabitants of a common planet.  In the words of a dissident, “We fought for a better alternative to both actually existing socialism and capitalism.” East Germany’s opposition movement was ahead of its time.

Dirk Philipsen, author of We Were the People – Voices From East Germany’s Revolutionary Autumn of 1989 and the forthcoming The Little Big Number – How GDP Came to Rule the World, is a Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.

Oct 152014
 October 15, 2014

campus-grants-400Every semester, the Kenan Institute for Ethics grants awards of up to $500 to projects at Duke University or Duke Medical Center that promote ethical or moral reflection, deliberation, and dialogue at Duke and beyond. Past projects that received support have included conferences and panels on issues such as sports and ethics and the legacy of Machiavelli’s writings, as well as events such as the Me Too Monologues and a performance at the intersection of public health and the arts. The grants may also support research projects, such as a recent study on well-being and college life, or an MFA student’s mobile food truck installation examining food workers’ rights.

For more information on requirements and past recipients, visit the Campus Grants page. For Fall 2014 consideration, please submit the application (PDF or Word doc) by 11:59pm November 1 via email to Michaela Dwyer.

Oct 062014
 October 6, 2014

brainA recent grant from the John Templeton Foundation will bring philosophers together with neuroscientists to learn each others’ fields and then design and perform experiments together.

The project, headed by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Felipe De Brigard, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, will hold three annual two-week summer seminars for emerging scholars in both neuroscience and philosophy. Both Sinnott-Armstong and De Brigard are members of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS).

While neuroscientists and philosophers are separated by different methods of study in the sciences and humanities, both groups are trying to answer many of the same big questions about free will, morality, perception, memory and consciousness.

“I am thrilled at the support Walter and Felipe have drawn from the Templeton Foundation for the summer institute in neuroscience and philosophy,” says Michael Platt, director of the DIBS. “This project builds upon growing interactions between neuroscience, philosophy, ethics and law, supported and encouraged by DIBS and the Kenan Institute for Ethics over the past few years. This award clearly marks Duke as a leader in this interdisciplinary effort.”

In addition to funding the summer seminars and a selection of the resulting research proposals, a public conference will be held each year, bringing together project fellows and key researchers. Papers that emerge from the seminars and conferences will be collected together with classic essays on the subject in the form of an anthology to be used in undergraduate and graduate courses, further bridging science and philosophy in higher education.

This project will build on the existing work of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Moral Attitudes and Decisions Laboratory (MADLAB), an interdisciplinary group for research conducted by undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty.

Kenan Institute for Ethics director Noah Pickus says that the grant “further enhances our investment in the MADLAB as an explicit strategy to more realistically account for how people make ethical decisions.”

Alex Rosenberg, chair of the Department of Philosophy, said “I am very enthusiastic about this project for the opportunities that it will afford young philosophers to integrate the findings and theories of neuroscience in their work on fundamental questions in the philosophy of psychology and the philosophy of mind as well as the nature of human behavior.”

Oct 032014
 October 3, 2014

Panel shot-400On October 2, the Kenan Institute for Ethics hosted a panel on food utopias with Ben Barker (Magnolia Grill), Josh Evans (Nordic Food Lab), Scott Howell (Nana’s Restaurant), Charlie Thompson (Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University), and moderated by Saskia Cornes (Duke Campus Farm). Nordic Food Lab, located in Copenhagen, has achieved worldwide reknown through its affiliation with Restaurant Noma, but it also serves a broader educational mission to highlight local, often marginalized or otherwise overlooked ingredients, by making them delicious. Issues explored included ethical supply chains and balancing a responsibility for public food education with a dedication to craft that leads to fine dining’s more elite audience.

The panel was co-sponsored by Humanities Writ Large and Duke Romance Studies, who are hosting Visiting Faculty Fellow Thomas Parker for this year’s Subnature and Culinary Culture project. Read our tweets from the panel via Storify.

Oct 012014
 October 1, 2014

Cultivating Community 400Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Duke Service Learning Program invite applications for an intensive three-day Alternative Fall Break program on food and inter-religious dialogue. Learn more about how food can be used to address some of the Triangle’s longstanding cultural and social divisions. Connect with faculty and religious leaders for a deep dive into the diverse, often complicated religious and social fabric of the city. At the same time, work with religious and secular organizations committed to building stronger communities.

The Triangle has become famous as an area that takes food seriously. From farmers’ markets and community gardens to its renowned restaurant scene, food brings people together here. Yet in the midst of this food renaissance, significant numbers of people continue to struggle with access to good food. For many newcomers to this consciously Southern community finding the right food can also be a challenge. This is particularly true for many of the religious communities that now call the Triangle home.

Productive engagement among people with fundamentally different beliefs is hard work. The program will take a serious approach to inter-religious dialogue, working to understand the profound differences of perspective and belief that characterize different faiths, while appreciating the food traditions and approaches of various religions. The program will give both religious and secular students an opportunity to cultivate a common community interested in making space for everyone at the table.

Applications for priority consideration are due by October 5th.

For more information contact christian.ferney@duke.edu. Click here for the online application form.

Sep 302014
 September 30, 2014

Reg-RR-capThe Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics invites graduate and professional students to apply for small research grants to fund the costs of research related to the analysis of regulatory governance, either for a pilot study that might turn into an eventual dissertation topic, or for an already formulated dissertation project. The Institute will furnish up to $2,000 per award, which must be used for research expenses (travel, purchase of research materials, etc.). In addition to the funding, the awardees will have the opportunity to engage with the Rethinking Regulation program’s interdisciplinary community of scholars and visiting professionals.

For more information and application requirements and instructions, visit the Graduate Research Awards page.

Sep 292014
 September 29, 2014

Biss EulaThe Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Center for Documentary Studies are excited to announce the establishment of a joint visiting writers series in ethics, society, and documentary art, dedicated to presenting new, unique, and diverse voices in nonfiction literature.

​​The series will begin this fall on November 6 and 7 with National Book Critics Circle Award Winner Eula Biss​.

In ​her book ​On Immunity​: An Inoculation​just published by Graywolf Press, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.

​Biss’s visit will include a public reading and talk​ on Thursday, November 6, at 7 p.m. in the Nelson Music Room. Other activities include an undergraduate Team Kenan Do Lunch, staff book club visit, and a panel event at the Forum for Scholars and Publics. Stay tuned for more information.

The Visiting Writers Series will continue in the spring with a visit from Leslie Jamison, author of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Empathy Exams.

Sep 262014
 September 26, 2014

HR-FellowsThe Human Rights Fellows program at the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics (DHRC at KIE) is a new opportunity for thoughtful and innovative undergraduate students with a passion for human rights scholarship and engagement. The Fellows program aims to provide selected students greater access to resources that support their inquiry into and promotion of human rights issues at Duke and beyond.

Admission into the Fellows program gives accepted students the opportunity to:

  • Advise the DHRC at KIE on human rights programming
  • Collaborate more closely with faculty involved in human rights research
  • Network with visiting human rights scholars and professionals
  • Incorporate their own human rights research and projects into more public arenas for discussion
  • Receive up to $500 for human rights research

Fellows will be required to attend weekly meetings, as well as events hosted by the DHRC at KIE.

Applicants may be freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Applications will be accepted until October 6 at 11:59pm. Applicants may also be contacted for interviews. Approximately 10 students will chosen by a committee of faculty and staff at KIE. Applicants will be notified of their admission decision approximately by October 10. Any further questions about the Fellows program or the application process should be directed to Suzanne Katzenstein, Project Director of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics (suzanne.katzenstein@duke.edu).

The Human Rights Fellows program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics Application

Instructions: Please answer all questions, and do not exceed the word limit. Email applications to Suzanne Katzenstein, suzanne.katzenstein@duke.edu by October 6 at 11:59pm.

  1. What is your name, year at Duke, email, and phone number?
  2. The guiding motto at the Kenan Institute for Ethics is “Think and Do.” When it comes to human rights issues, are you more of a “think-er” or a “do-er”? Please provide specific examples. (max. 250 words)
  3. Describe your participation in a team setting. What is your typical role? How do you contribute to the team? Please provide specific examples. (max. 250 words)
  4. You are given free reign to design an event about a human rights issue at Duke. Describe your event conceptually and how you would implement it. (max. 250 words)
  5. What else would you like us to know about you? (max. 100 words)




Sep 252014
 September 25, 2014

Mastery2014Activities for this academic year have officially begun for KIE’s two student-organized projects in partnership with local refugee families to empower local refugee youth and women. Both programs are ongoing efforts begun by undergraduates as a way to continue community involvement initiated as part of the DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted program. The MASTERY program (Mentorship, Academics, and Self-esteem: Tutoring and Engaging with Refugee Youth) connects K-12 youth with Duke students who mentor and inspire younger students by sharing their own passion for learning. The SuWA program unites local refugee women in support of each other as well as providing skills and assistance such as English language tutoring. An acronym for Supporting Women’s Action, the program has grown quickly over the last year and is currently working toward helping establish local business enterprises. Each of the programs will be meeting regularly on Tuesday evenings.

How to get involved

Duke students interested in mentoring local youth or local refugee families who wish to register school-aged children should contact Cece Mercer: cecelia.mercer@duke.edu.

Local refugee women who wish to participate in SuWA may contact Leena El-Sadek: leena.el.sadek@duke.edu. Duke students interested in becoming English tutors should contact Leah Catotti: leah.catotti@duke.edu.

Sep 172014
 September 17, 2014

SuzanneDuke’s undergraduate curriculum was last revised in 2000, before programs like DukeEngage, DukeImmerse, and Bass Connections began to create new pathways and opportunities for so many undergraduates. After an initial informal inquiry, Arts and Sciences is launching a three-year exploratory committee aimed at revising the curriculum to reflect the changing educational landscape for Duke students. The committee is chaired by KIE Associate Director Suzanne Shanahan. The full scope of the project is outlined on Duke Today.

Describing it more as a “big tweak” than an overhaul, Arts and Sciences Dean Laurie Patton laid out three goals of the process: 1) Clarify and simplify the logic of the curriculum; 2) Create more opportunities for exploration and creativity in the curriculum; 3) Rethink Duke’s vision of disciplinary education.