The first of the Reith Lectures 2016, “Mistaken Identities”, was delivered by Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
Appiah argues that when considering religion we overestimate the importance of scripture and underestimate the importance of practice.
He begins with the complexities of his own background, as the son of an English Anglican mother and a Ghanaian Methodist father. He turns to the idea that religious faith is based around unchanging and unchangeable holy scriptures. He argues that over the millennia religious practice has been quite as important as religious writings. He provides examples from Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Buddhist texts to show that they are often contradictory and have been interpreted in different ways at different times, for example on the position of women and men in Islam. He argues that fundamentalists are a particularly extreme example of this mistaken scriptural determinism.
The lecture is recorded in front of audience at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley. Future lectures will examine identity in the contexts of country, colour and culture.
The lecture is available to hear online, and to read in transcript.