Sunday, March 27, 2011
The Festival of Ideas addressed the future in religion, medicine, media, and world power
Saturday's festival discussed progress and social impacts in four key fields.
DALLAS At the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture's Festival of Ideas at the Dallas Museum of Art, local leaders teamed with experts from across the nation to discuss the future of religion, medicine and health care, journalism and the media, and American power.
Are you spiritual or religious? According to keynote speaker Dr. Mark Oppenheimer, the number of people in America that identify themselves as being affiliated with a specific religious sect has declined since the mid-1900s. More and more individuals now claim spirituality - a belief in a higher power without belonging to a religion. Many religious leaders believe that identifying with a specific religion gives people moral and ethical grounding. Dr. Oppenheimer - writer for The New York Times' Beliefs column - disagrees. He says that this evolution of self-identification is not new, nor is it wrong. Religion has not been shown to make people or communities "more ethical," he says. But he does caution that these changes will lessen the church's impact on society as a whole.
Advancements in health care also have an impact, according to another of the festival's panels. A baby's sex, height and skin color are no longer just a roll of the evolutionary dice. Parents can now select the physical attributes of their unborn children. While today's medicine and health care reach beyond this capability, the availability of advanced medical treatments to all and how it affects society raises many moral and ethical questions. Americans have benefited from medical and technological advancements since World War II, according to panel speaker Dr. Lynne Kirk. "The cost of health care has skyrocketed [and] benefits are not distributed evenly," she says. Health care reform is already a touchy issue for the nation. When so many Americans are without basic medical care, should there still be such a strong focus on the development of medical enhancements?
Journalists were also discussing changes in focus. The cornerstone of journalism has been to provide an unbiased report on the happenings in local communities and around the globe. With companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google now in the race, the competition for readers is a lot tougher. A generation gap exists between traditional media and the young readers that it fails to capture. The Internet has recognized the desires of its young audience members, who are posting, blogging, and tweeting. Today's readers want their opinions to be reflected and their voices to be heard, and they want it to be relevant to them. Keynote speaker Ken Auletta, a The New York Times columnist and author, raised the question, "How do traditionalists compete with the geeks and engineers?" Local writer Shawn Williams has an answer. When he launched DallasSouthBlog.com in 2006 and Dallas South News in 2009, he addressed the needs of grossly under-served communities and attracted readers beyond the city's limits.
At the Future of American Power panel, participants looked far beyond city limits. Is the United States' reign as the leader in world power coming to an end? With the recent happenings in the U.S. and around the world, many wonder if the United States' influence is diminishing. Stanford University professor Dr. Stephen Krasner says that the U.S. faces the challenge of China's imminent rise as a world power and the current dilemma of trying to democratize the Middle East. Dr. Jim Hollifield of Southern Methodist University adds that Americans are fundamentally uncomfortable with power, but it is only in accepting the responsibilities associated with being a world power that the U.S. will be able to address the forthcoming challenges and dilemmas.
This year, the annual Festival of Ideas is a part of The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture's 30th anniversary celebrations. Although society's future cannot be determined in one day, the discussions have sparked meaningful conversations about the future.
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