Puffin Interview Series with Dr. Joe Chuman

The Puffin Cultural Forum is proud to present our “Puffin Interview Series with Dr. Joe Chuman.” On the first Sunday of every month Dr. Chuman will delve into and explore the work of renowned authors through meaningful dialogue in an intimate interview format. There will be an opportunity for audiences to ask their own questions during a Q&A session. Dr. Chuman recently retired from his post as the leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County after forty-six years. He has taught at Columbia University, Hunter College, and the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. His works have been published in the New York Times, The Humanist, Free Inquiry, Humanistic Judaism, The Hill and many other periodicals.


David A. Hollinger

David A. Hollinger’s Christianity’s American Fate: How Religion Became More Conservative and Society More Secular traces the rise of evangelicalism and the decline of mainline Protestantism in American religious and cultural life. How did American Christianity become synonymous with conservative white evangelicalism? This sweeping work by a leading historian of modern America traces the rise of the evangelical movement and the decline of mainline Protestantism’s influence on American life. In Christianity’s American Fate, David Hollinger shows how the Protestant establishment, adopting progressive ideas about race, gender, sexuality, empire, and divinity, liberalized too quickly for some and not quickly enough for others. After 1960, mainline Protestantism lost members from both camps—conservatives to evangelicalism and progressives to secular activism. A Protestant evangelicalism that was comfortable with patriarchy and white supremacy soon became the country’s dominant Christian cultural force. Read more.

David A. Hollinger is the Preston Hotchkis Professor of History, emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. His specialties are American intellectual history and American ethnoracial history. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, and Harmsworth Professor of the University of Oxford.

Richard Koszarski

In his book Keep ’Em in the East: Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance, Richard Koszarski chronicles the compelling and often surprising origins, looking beyond such classics as Naked CityKiss of Death, and Portrait of Jennie. He examines the social, cultural, and economic forces that shaped New York filmmaking, from city politics to union regulations, and shows how decades of low-budget independent production taught local filmmakers how to capture the city’s grit, liveliness, and allure. He reveals the importance of “race films”—all-Black productions intended for segregated African American audiences—that not only helped keep the film business afloat but also nurtured a core group of writers, directors, designers, and technicians. Detailed production histories of On the Waterfront and Killer’s Kiss—films that appear here in a completely new light—illustrate the distinctive characteristics of New York cinema.

Richard Koszarski is professor emeritus of English and Cinema Studies at Rutgers University. He was formerly a curator at the Museum of the Moving Image and is the founder and editor emeritus of Film History. His many books include Hollywood on the Hudson: Film and Television in New York from Griffith to Sarnoff (2008).

Eric Alternman, PhD.

Fights about the fate of the state of Israel, and the Zionist movement that gave birth to it, have long been a staple of both Jewish and American political culture. But despite these arguments’ significance to American politics, American Jewish life, and to Israel itself, no one has ever systematically examined their history and explained why they matter.

In We Are Not One: A History of America’s Fight Over Israel, historian Eric Alterman traces this debate from its nineteenth-century origins. Following Israel’s 1948–1949 War of Independence (called the “nakba” or “catastrophe” by Palestinians), few Americans, including few Jews, paid much attention to Israel or the challenges it faced. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, however, almost overnight support for Israel became the primary component of American Jews’ collective identity. Over time, Jewish organizations joined forces with conservative Christians and neoconservative pundits and politicos to wage a tenacious fight to define Israel’s image in the US media, popular culture, Congress, and college campuses. Deeply researched, We Are Not One reveals how our consensus on Israel and Palestine emerged and why, today, it is fracturing.


Douglas Rushkoff

We always knew but now we *know*. The tech elite mean to leave us all behind. 

In his book Survival of the Richest, Douglas Rushkoff traces the origins of The Mindset in science and technology through its current expression in missions to Mars, island bunkers, and the Metaverse.  

Purchase the book: https://wwnorton.com/books/survival-of-the-richest

Michael Thompson

In his work, Twilight of the Self: The Decline of the Individual in Late Capitalism, political theorist Michael J. Thompson argues that modern societies are witnessing a decline in one of the core building blocks of modernity: the autonomous self.

Far from being an illusion of the Enlightenment, Thompson contends that the individual is a defining feature of the project to build a modern democratic culture and polity. One of the central reasons for its demise in recent decades has been the emergence of what he calls the “cybernetic society,” a cohesive totalization of the social logics of the institutional spheres of economy, culture and polity. These logics have been progressively defined by the imperatives of economic growth and technical-administrative management of labor and consumption, routinizing patterns of life, practices, and consciousness throughout the culture. Evolving out of the neoliberal transformation of economy and society since the 1980s, the cybernetic society has transformed how that the individual is articulated in contemporary society. Thompson examines the various pathologies of the self and consciousness that result from this form of socialization—such as hyper-reification, alienated moral cognition, false consciousness, and the withered ego—in new ways to demonstrate the extent of deformation of modern selfhood. Only with a more robust, more socially embedded concept of autonomy as critical agency can we begin to reconstruct the principles of democratic individuality and community.

Michael J. Thompson is Professor of Political Theory at William Paterson University. He is the author of The Politics of Inequality (2007), The Domestication of Critical Theory (2016), and, most recently, The Specter of Babel: A Reconstruction of Political Judgment (2020).

Randy Balmer, PhD.

There is a commonly accepted story about the rise of the religious right in the United States. It goes like this: with righteous fury, American evangelicals entered the political arena as a unified front to fight the legality of abortion after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The problem is this story simply isn’t true.

Largely ambivalent about abortion until the late 1970s, evangelical leaders were first mobilized not by Roe v. Wade but by Green v. Connally, a lesser-known court decision in 1971 that threatened the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory institutions—of which there were several in the world of Christian education at the time. When the most notorious of these schools, Bob Jones University, had its tax-exempt status revoked in 1976, evangelicalism was galvanized as a political force and brought into the fold of the Republican Party. Only later, when a more palatable issue was needed to cover for what was becoming an increasingly unpopular position following the civil rights era, was the moral crusade against abortion made the central issue of the movement now known as the Religious Right.

Randall Balmer guides the reader along the convoluted historical trajectory that began with American evangelicalism as a progressive force opposed to slavery, then later an isolated apolitical movement in the mid-twentieth century, all the way through the 2016 election in which 81 percent of white evangelicals coalesced around Donald Trump for president. The pivotal point, Balmer shows, was the period in the late 1970s when American evangelicals turned against Jimmy Carter—despite his being one of their own, a professed “born-again” Christian—in favor of the Republican Party, which found it could win their loyalty through the espousal of a single issue. With the implications of this alliance still unfolding, Balmer’s account uncovers the roots of evangelical watchwords like “religious freedom” and “family values” while getting to the truth of how this movement began—explaining, in part, what it has become.

In his book, “Bad Faith: Race and Rise of the Religious Right,” Randy Balmer, PhD holds the John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth College, Dartmouth’s oldest endowed professorship. He previously taught as professor of American religious history at Columbia University for twenty-seven years. In his scholarship, Dr. Balmer focuses on Christianity’s interrelationships with American politics. He has written widely on this topic in books such as God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond, and Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America—the latter adapted into an award-winning documentary for PBS.

Dr. Suzanne Cope

POWER HUNGRY: Women of the Black Panther Party and Freedom Summer and Their Fight to Feed a Movement is the true story of two unsung women who used food as a weapon for social and political change in the Black Freedom Movement: Cleo Silvers, a Black Panther in New York City whose work focused on child hunger and inner city health care, and Aylene Quin, a tavern owner and bootlegger in McComb, MS, whose passion was voting rights. Both were attacked by government forces. These parallel stories, separated by a few years and a few thousand miles, intersect in surprising ways and provide a model for activists today. Buy POWER HUNGRY here.

Suzanne Cope, PhD is a narrative journalist and food studies scholar with a focus on food as a tool for social and political change. In addition to her upcoming book POWER HUNGRY and SMALL BATCH (2014), she has written about food and culture for the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, BBC, among others. She also actively publishes and presents in academic forums and teaches writing and about food and politics at New York University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the musician Steve Mayone, and her two children. 

Dr. Arthur Dobrin


This Red Land captures two worlds: Kenya and in the United States of America. Many issues affecting these two countries in the 1980’s and 1990’s are well brought out. They are issues that revolve around real events. There is Sungusungu in Kisii, Junius George’s murder trial and death. The tribal killings in Kenya in 1992, witchcraft as presented in Kisii, the Tomkins park riot in which Kwamboka is involved in and many more events are real. The title spurs interest in political and social states both in Kenya and the United States of America in the 80’s and 90’s.

Buy the book here.

Dr. Dobrin is the author, co-author and editor of more than 20 books, including books in ethics and children’s books and is the author of more than 100 poems and articles that have appeared in journals, magazines and newspapers. He is the recipient of Hofstra University’s Scholar’s Incentive Award, Hofstra University, Allison Kim Levy Continuing Acts of Kindness Memorial Award of the Psychology Department, and the Peter E. Herman Award, for creative work in the literary arts. Read more.

Stephen Duncombe

The Art of Activism by Steve Duncombe and Steve Lambert brings together the authors’ extensive practical knowledge—gleaned from over a decade’s experience training activists around the world—with theoretical insights from fields as far-ranging as cultural studies and cognitive science.

From the United Farm Workers’ boycott movement in sixties’ California to a canal-side beach in present-day Saint Petersburg, these pages are packed with contemporary and historical case studies that have been shown to work in practice.

In addition, the accompanying workbook contains fifty expertly crafted exercises to help you flex your creative imagination and hone your political tactics, taking you step-by-step toward becoming the most persuasive and impactful artistic activist you can possibly be.

Steve (Stephen) Duncombe and Steve Lambert are co-founders of the Center for Artistic Activism, a non-profit research and training organization devoted to helping activists create more like artists and artists to strategize more like activists. Over the past decade, the pair has done research, developed curriculum, and mentored and trained thousands of artistic activists across the United States as well as in 17 countries around the world. They’ve worked alongside local artistic activists on issues from the human rights of sex-workers in South Africa, to corruption in the Western Balkans, to access to healthcare for trans people in Eastern Europe, and racial and economic issues in the United States.

Zachary Sklar and Michael Smith

Michael Ratner (1943–2016) was one of America’s leading human rights lawyers. He worked for more than four decades at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) becoming first the Director of Litigation and then the President of what Alexander Cockburn called “a small band of tigerish people.” He was also the President of the National Lawyers Guild. In 2007 he won the Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship.

Ratner handled some of the most significant cases In American history. This book tells why and how he did it.

His last case, which he worked on until he died, was representing truth-telling whistleblower and now political prisoner Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks.

Ratner “moved the bar” by organizing some 600 lawyers to successfully defend habeas corpus, that is, the ancient right of someone accused of a crime to have a lawyer and to be brought before a judge.

Zachary Sklar, edited “Moving the Bar” for OR Books, and Michael Smith, who wrote the book’s introduction.

Buy the book here.

Read Dr. Chuman’s book interview here.

Nadine Strossen

Sunday, January 9, 4:00pm

We live in an era in which offensive speech is on the rise. The emergence of the alt-right alone has fueled a marked increase in racist and anti-Semitic speech. Given its potential for harm, should this speech be banned? Nadine Strossen’s Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship dispels the many misunderstandings that have clouded the perpetual debates about “hate speech vs. free speech.” She argues that an expansive approach to the First Amendment is most effective at promoting democracy, equality, and societal harmony.

Nadine Strossen has written, taught, and advocated extensively in the areas of constitutional law and civil liberties, including through frequent media interviews. From 1991 to 2008, she served as President of the American Civil Liberties Union, the first woman to head the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization. Professor Strossen is currently a member of the ACLU’s National Advisory Council, as well as the Advisory Boards of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Heterodox Academy, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. When she stepped down as ACLU President in 2008, three Supreme Court Justices participated in her farewell and tribute luncheon: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, and David Souter. Photo credit: NY Law School

Read Dr. Chuman’s book reviwe here.


Eyal Press

Sunday, October 3, 4:00pm
Dr. Joe Chuman interviews Eyal Press, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Type Media Center, and the author of Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America. Press presents a paradigm-shifting view of the moral landscape of contemporary America through the stories of people who perform society’s most ethically troubling jobs: drone pilots who carry out targeted assassinations, undocumented immigrants who staff the “kill floors” of industrial slaughterhouses, and guards who patrol the wards of the United States’ most violent and abusive prisons. Eyal Press has received a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, an Andrew Carnegie fellowship, and is a contributor to the New Yorker, the New York Times, and numerous other publications.

Read Dr. Chuman’s book review here.

Joshua M. Greene

Sunday, November 7, 4:00pm
Joshua M. Greene’s Unstoppable tells the story of Siggi B. Wilzig’s astonishing journey from Auschwitz survivor and penniless immigrant to Wall Street legend. After surviving beatings, death marches, and near starvation, Wilzig was freed from camp Mauthausen to work for the US Army hunting Nazis, a service that earned him a visa to America. On arrival, he made three vows: to never go hungry again, to support the Jewish people, and to speak out against injustice. He earned his first dollar shoveling snow after a fierce blizzard. His next job was laboring in toxic sweatshops. From these humble beginnings, he became President, Chairman and CEO of a New York Stock Exchange-listed oil company and grew a full-service commercial bank to more than $4 billion in assets. Author Joshua M. Greene is a renowned Holocaust scholar and filmmaker whose works have aired on PBS, Discover, and has appeared on NPR, CNN, Fox News, and more.

Dr. Barbara Katz Rothman

Sunday, December 5, 4:00pm
Just released by Stanford University Press, Dr. Barbara Katz Rothman’s Biomedical Empire: Lessons Learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic expounds on the dangers of the “medical industrial complex.” Dr. Katz Rothman shows that biomedicine has the key elements of an imperial power: economic leverage, the faith of its citizens, and governmental rule. She investigates the Western colonial underpinnings of the empire and its rapid intrusion into everyday life, focusing on the realms of birth and death. This provides her with a powerful vantage point from which to critically examine the current moment, when the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the power structures of the empire in unprecedented ways while sparking the most visible resistance it has ever seen. Dr. Barbara Katz Rothman is a professor of Sociology at the City University of New York.

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