While religious rhetoric pervades everyday American culture and politics, the population of Americans who identify with no organized religion has actually quadrupled in just the last 25 years. Worldwide, the non-religious now make up the third largest “religious” category, following Christianity and Islam. In this episode, guest host Jacqui Frost interviews Dr. Lois Lee, whose new book Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular explores the variety of beliefs and identities found within this growing population. They discuss how atheism, the non-religious identity that receives by far the most media attention, is only one non-religious identity among many. Dr. Lee describes findings from her research on non-religious groups and individuals in Britain and the ways they think about, enact, and even wear their non-religion in daily life.

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This week, David Naguib Pellow drops in for a chat about his latest book, Total Liberation: The Power and Promise of Animal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement. In it, Dr Pellow explores how environmental and animal rights movements raise important questions about the criteria for membership in society. He explains how these questions inform crucial ethical debates in our culture today. Dr Pellow is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Heading into a new presidential election cycle, we reconnect with 2008 guest Dr Andrew Perrin to talk about changes in the American political public. In his new book, American Democracy: From Tocqueville to Town Halls to Twitter, Perrin brings a uniquely sociological approach to the study of democracy. More than polls, candidates, and institutions he shows how major elections become about the performance of certain “publics” as much as they decide which people should lead us.

Find that 2008 episode here, and while you’re at it, check out this 2015 TSP Roundtable in which he talks Tea Party and identity politics.

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In this episode, University of Colorado sociologist Sanyu Mojola discusses her work on HIV rates among young African women. She discusses social mechanisms – specifically the entanglement of love and money – that lead to higher rates of HIV death among African females compared to African males. She also considers why money holds a value for African women above and beyond its economic value, specifically pointing to its cultural power and ability to advance women toward modernity.

Her new book earned the 2015 American Sociological Association’s Sex and Gender Section Distinguished Book Award. It’s
called Love, Money, and HIV: Becoming a Modern African Woman in the Age of AIDS.

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In this episode, we step into the global market for surrogate mothers with University of Texas sociologist Sharmila Rudrappa. She explains why India has become an increasingly popular destination for American couples searching for affordable pregnancy assistance. She also considers why most Indian women who become surrogates come from working class backgrounds, and how their experiences as wage workers inform what kind of value gets placed on this new form of “labor”. Her book is called Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy in India.

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Because they suffer from an invisible affliction, people with migraines are sometimes suspected of “making up” their disease in order to avoid performing unwanted duties. Even within psychology, women were once suspected of self-inducing their own migraines as a result of their inability to cope with the chaos of daily life. These days, neurobiological research has helped to establish migraine as a legitimate disease, with causes rooted within the organic structure of certain brains. However, as Rutgers professor Joanna Kempner explains, even this paradigm shift tends to imply that the feminine “migraine brain” differs from the masculine “normal brain” in problematic ways. In Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health, she explores how cultural assumptions about gender and pain continue to inform how migraines are diagnosed, treated, and stigmatized.

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In this episode, Colorado State professor emeritus Peter M. Hall drops in to talk about his forthcoming memoir, “Growing up Red, White, and Jewish: the Personal and the Political”. We discuss the potential of memoir as a sociological method, and we consider how telling one’s life story helps to reshape identity in the context of place and history. An early draft of Peter’s memoir is available on ResearchGate.

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It’s no secret that shifting economic winds have driven American workers to take on more work and more job changes today than in previous generations. But what does this shift mean in a culture where so many invest so much of their identities in their jobs? In this episode, guest host Lisa Gulya interviews professor Allison Pugh about her new book, The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity. In it, Dr Pugh investigates some of the ways that the precarious conditions in today’s workplace have generated ripple effects in the nature of relationships and family life. She explains how changes in obligations at work shape how we think about obligations and commitment in the most intimate corners of life.

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Diversity is one of those concepts that is all but taken for granted as a good and desirable quality in American social life. However, as professor Ellen Berrey explains, the actual institutions and practices designed to promote diversity can sometimes obscure real inequalities and limit the ways we think about social justice. Her new book, The Enigma of Diveristy: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice, chronicles three cases – one at a university, one in a neighborhood, and one at a large corporation – that demonstrate some of the problems that the idealization of diversity raises for minorities in America today.

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The University of Toronto’s Erik Schneiderhan drops by to chat about his brand new book, The Size of Others’ Burdens: Barack Obama, Jane Addams, and the Politics of Helping Others. In it, Dr. Schneideran delves into the seemingly parallel biographies of Obama and Adams in order to understand the cultural pressures facing public servants in America.

As we discuss their many surprising similarities, we also explore some of the productive tensions that emerge from a sociological approach to biography, and the many interesting issues that arise from a biographical approach to studying culture and history.

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