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September 22, 2004

Aurora Forum launches year with debate about dissent


In his recent book, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy, Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper’s Magazine, writes, “We can’t know what we’re about, or whether we’re telling ourselves too many lies, unless we can see or hear one another think out loud.” Listening to others think out loud might be a good description of what happens during discussions sponsored by the Aurora Forum, which begins its 2004-05 program tonight with “Democracy and Dissent,” featuring Lapham and Pamela Karlan, professor of law. The discussion is one of three Autumn Quarter Aurora Forum events that will examine the current state of democracy in the United States. On Thursday, Sept. 30, Cornel West, professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton and a preeminent public voice on race relations, justice and democracy, will speak at Memorial Auditorium. Then on Nov. 4—two days after Election Day—Amy Goodman, producer and host of the independent broadcast program Democracy Now!, will moderate a town-hall style meeting at Kresge Auditorium. The political situation already is raising the question, “What is America?” for many people, said Mark Gonnerman, director of special projects for Continuing Studies. The Aurora Forum, now in its third year, brings to campus individuals with a “scholarly conscience” who are deeply experienced in the work of constructive cultural criticism, he said. The forums are “an opportunity for people to come together to hear what these voices have to say. And then we open up the mikes.” Lapham, a native of San Francisco, was educated at Yale and Cambridge University. He worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming editor of Harper’s Magazine in 1975, a post he left from 1981 to 1983. The author of 11 books, Lapham writes in Gag Rule that while dissent is always unpopular, “in time of war, dissent attracts the attention of the police.” Yet, he asserts, “seldom has the country confronted so sharp a crisis of national definition; seldom has it found itself more sorely in need of citizens willing to ask rude questions.” Lapham will appear in conversation with Karlan, the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and co-author of When Elections Go Bad: The Law of Democracy and the Presidential Election of 2000, published in 2001.

West taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and at Yale Divinity School before becoming director of the Afro-American Studies Program at Princeton from 1989 to 1994. He was a professor of religion and African American studies at Harvard University from 1994 until 2002, when he returned to Princeton. He is the author of numerous books, including the 1993 Race Matters. West describes his most recent book, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, as a sequel that looks “unflinchingly at the waning of democratic energies and practices in our present age of the American empire.”Goodman, an award-winning journalist, is host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national independent radio and television program that airs on 225 stations. She is a 1984 graduate of Harvard-Radcliffe and author of the recently published Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media That Love Them. Goodman will moderate a town-hall discussion that will include faculty who have yet to be named, Gonnerman said.Scheduled forums for winter and spring quarters in 2005 include:

  • “Nature’s Economy: Population, Consumption and Sustainability” on Jan. 20. Paul Ehrlich, professor of biological sciences, and Anne Ehrlich, a senior research scientist in the Department of Biological Sciences, will discuss practical solutions to environmental problems with Gretchen Daily, associate professor of biological sciences.
  • “America’s Jesus” on March 3. Thomas Sheehan, professor of religious studies; Stephen Prothero, associate professor of religion at Boston University; and Richard Fox, professor of history at the University of Southern California, will talk about the place of Jesus in the American imagination.
  • “Restorative Justice: Reducing Crime by Reforming Prisoner Experience” on April 14. Michael Krasny of public radio station KQED will host a discussion with San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey and Cathrine Sneed. Sneed is the founder of the Garden Project, a highly acclaimed community-based crime prevention program that began with an organic garden at the San Francisco County Jail.

All programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium (with the exception of Cornel West’s appearance on Sept. 30 in Memorial Auditorium).More information is available online at Audio recordings of forums since January 2002 are archived on the website. Beginning with tonight’s event, videos and transcripts of Aurora Forum discussions will be made available on the website.



Barbara Palmer, News Service: (650) 724-6184,


Dianna Watt, Continuing Studies: (650) 723-0117,

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