With Professor Malcolm Bowie, Marshall Foch Professor of French Literature at Oxford University and Director of Oxford’s European Humanities Research Centre; Dr Nancy Wood, Chair of Media Studies, University of Sussex and author of Vectors of Memory.
Melvyn Bragg examines the spread of religious doubt over the last three centuries. With A N Wilson, novelist, biographer, journalist and author of God’s Funeral; Victoria Glendinning, author, journalist and biographer of Anthony Trollope and Jonathan Swift.
With Steven Rose, Professor of Biology and Director of the Brain and Behaviour Research Group, Open University, Dan Robinson, Distinguished Research Professor, Georgetown University and visiting lecturer in Philosophy and Senior Member of Linacre College, Oxford University.
The Consolation of Philosophy was read widely and a sense of consolation is woven into many philosophical ideas, but what for Boethius were the consolations of philosophy, what are they more generally and should philosophy lead us to consolation or lead us from it?
Diarmaid MacCulloch, David Bagchi & Charlotte Methuen
Nestled on a bend of the River Rhine, in the South West corner of Germany, is the City of Worms. It’s one of the oldest cities in central Europe; it still has its early city walls, its 11th century Romanesque cathedral and a 500-year-old printing industry, but in its centre is a statue of the monk, heretic and founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. In 1521 Luther came to Worms to explain his attacks on the Catholic Church to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and the gathered dignitaries of the German lands. What happened at that meeting, called the Diet of Worms, tore countries apart, set nation against nation, felled kings and plunged dynasties into suicidal bouts of infighting. But why did Martin Luther risk execution to go to the Diet, what was at stake for the big players of medieval Europe and how did events at the Diet of Worms irrevocably change the history of Europe?
This week we explore the mammoth undertaking that was the Encyclopédie – one of its editors, D’Alembert, described its mission as giving an overview of knowledge, as if gazing down on a vast labyrinth of all the branches of human knowledge, observing where they separate or unite and even catching sight of the secret routes between them. It was a project that attracted some of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment - Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot - striving to bring together all that was known of the world in one comprehensive encyclopedia. No subject was too great or too small, so while Voltaire wrote of “fantasie” and “elegance”, Diderot rolled up his sleeves and got to grips with trades and crafts, even jam-making.
The resulting Encyclopédie was a bestseller - running to 28 volumes over more than 20 years, amidst censorship, bans, betrayals and reprieves. It even got them excited on this side of the Channel, with subscribers including Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson and Charles Burney.
So what drove these men to such lengths that they were prepared to risk ridicule, prison, even exile? How did the Encyclopédie embody the values of the Enlightenment? And what was its legacy – did it really fuel the French Revolution?
Today we’re discussing the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order of priests who became known as “the school masters of Europe”. Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared. By the 17th century there were more than 500 schools established across Europe. Their ideas about a standardised curriculum and teaching became the basis for many education systems today.
They were also among the greatest patrons of art in early modern Europe, using murals and theatre to get their message across. However, their alleged influence over monarchs, their wealth and their adaptability to local customs abroad provoked suspicion, prompting their eventual suppression in the late 18th century. They were re-established in 1814 and now have more than twenty thousand members.
So why was education so important to the Jesuit movement? How much influence did they really have in the courts of Europe and in the colonies? And were they really at the heart of conspiracies to murder kings?
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of love. With Professor Roger Scruton, author of many books including Sexual Desire; Angie Hobbes, lecturer in philosophy at Warwick University; Thomas Docherty, Professor of English at the University of Kent.
One night in Baghdad, the 9th century Caliph Al-Mamun was visited by a dream. The philosopher Aristotle appeared to him, saying that the reason of the Greeks and the revelation of Islam were not opposed. On waking, the Caliph demanded that all of Aristotle’s works be translated into Arabic. And they were.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of mankind’s attempt to understand the nature of time. With Dr Neil Johnson, theoretical physicist at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford University and Royal Institution Christmas Lecturer 1999 on the subject of Time; Lee Smolin, cosmologist and Professor of Physics, Pennsylvania State University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of Utopia. With Dr Anthony Grayling, human rights campaigner, lecturer in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London and Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford; John Carey, distinguished critic, journalist, broadcaster, Merton Professor of English, Oxford University and editor of, The Faber Book of Utopias.
Frankenstein may seem an outlandish tale, but Mary Shelley wrote it when science was alive with ideas about what differentiated the living from the dead. This was Vitalism, a belief that living things possessed some spark of life, some vital principle that lifted them above dull matter. Electricity was a very real candidate.
How does the activity of the 100 billion little wisps of protoplasm - the neurons in your brain - give rise to all the richness of our conscious experience, including the "redness" of red, the painfulness of pain or the exquisite flavour of Marmite or Vindaloo?
Professor Ramachandran draws on neurological case studies and work from ethology (animal behavior) to present a new framework for understanding how the brain creates and responds to art. He will use examples mainly from Indian art and Cubism to illustrate these ideas.
Professor Ramachandran demonstrates experimentally that the phenomenon of synesthaesia is a genuine sensory effect. For example, some subjects literally "see" red every time they see the number 5 or green when they see 2.
In the first of his lectures from Jerusalem Daniel Barenboim will talk about how music is the great equaliser as he discovered in his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra which brings together young Arab and Israeli musicians