Krista Tippett

This country prides itself on a separation of church and state, yet it often seems religion holds as much sway as politics. What is it that drives us to look to the ineffable for fulfillment? Is faith hot-wired into the brain? An opiate for the masses? A portal to transcendence? Krista Tippett asks these questions weekly as host of the syndicated radio series, On Being. A Fulbright-winning historian and the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist minister, Tippett sees her show as a forum in which to open dialogue. Each Sunday on NPR, she speaks with scientists and mystics, anthropologists and men of the cloth, exploring not so much the place of religion in our lives as the essential questions of being. As the show’s website says, “We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.” Since we at Conduit do much the same, we spoke with Tippett at length, finding her both insightful and inspiring. In short, we believe.



steven lee beeber: Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead.” Do you think the reports of his death were exaggerated?

krista tippett: Well, he’s not the only one who said that [laughs]. You know, I don’t think that’s actually the interesting question for modern people. I think people still long for the spiritual, but there’s a much larger vocabulary used to address this. What certainly has not gone away is a kind of reflecting and experiencing and conversation across generations and interactions with these traditions that grew up around questions of God. And I think questions about who we are as human beings and who we are to each other are, in a concrete way, connected to how we’ve always raised that question. I don’t think that was dead when Nietzsche said it, and I don’t think it was dead when Time magazine said it in the ’60s. There was a big group of sociologists in the ’60s who predicted religion would be more and more consigned to the sidelines. But you know, most of them have recanted, and some of them have become the greatest scholars of the vitality of religion in our time.

conduit: So, where do you see religion in our culture? Some see it as a guide for morality, others as just a place for people to express wonder at the mysteries of life.

tippett: Spiritual and religious identity are as fluid now in human history as they ever have been. We are among the first generation that has not inherited some kind of religious tradition, identity, or spiritual practice. As a result, we are crafting our own spiritual and religious lives in a way that’s really new. And I think that process of crafting has become much more sophisticated and substantive in the last few decades. You can look at the New Age movement of the 1980s, which admittedly had a lot of fluffiness to it, and there’s a lot of searching going on now and redefining that doesn’t fit into established categories and is anything but fluffy. So, there’s a lot of talk about what it means to be spiritual but not religious. Regarding your question and the topic of wonder, I’m also aware of, and in some sense curating, a conversation among scientists who are saying that regardless of a belief in the existence of God, there are these realities of an experience of mystery, of an animating sensation of wonder—the language of spirit, the spirit of inquiry—which even a lot of secular and non-actively religious people are wanting to reclaim. And that’s just all really interesting to me. It’s a big brew. It’s a big range of experience and identity.