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Literature & Longing

The Commonweal staff loves nothing more than a good book. On this episode, we talk with three great writers whose works probe the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

May 15

  • Alice McDermott explains how to be a “contrarian Catholic”
  • Paul Harding celebrates the Bible, and praises Karl Barth
  • David Zahl identifies mercy as our most pressing spiritual need

The Commonweal Podcast features a mix of interviews, profiles, and compelling conversations on topics at the intersection of politics, religion, and culture. Hosted by Commonweal editor Dominic Preziosi.

Listen to full episodes below. For extended versions of all of our segments, click over to the segment page. 

"Every human metaphor will eventually fail, but that doesn't stop us from making them.— Paul Harding

Pilot: The Inaugural Episode

SEPTEMBER 17, 2018

The time has come. We've started a podcast. Here's our first-ever episode, featuring enlightening conversations on religion, politics, art, and poetry. 

  • A new season of scandal, analyzed by Massimo Faggioli and Kathleen Sprows Cummings
  • Sam Adler-Bell and Matt Sitman critique Jonah Goldberg's book Suicide of the West
  • Poet Micheal O'Siadhail speaks with Anthony Domestico about The Five Quintets
  • Plus, the restless art of Alberto Giacometti

“This is the time to come to terms with the gravity of this crisis, and before we can move forward, there has to be an admission of guilt, of collective guilt.”

 — Kathleen Sprows Cummings

Populism & Freedom

SEPTEMBER 23, 2018

Commonweal has long been committed to the project of liberal democracy. We examine the challenges to the political order in new season of populism.

  • Paul J. Griffiths explains Roger Scruton's love of home, and the politics of Brexit
  • Christine Emba ponders whether markets can be moral
  • Cole Stangler on the future of France  

I think it's intrinsic and proper to being Catholic that one's loyalties can never be exhaustively accounted for by loyalty to a nation-state.” —Paul Griffiths

On the Kavanaugh Hearings, Liturgical Music, Immigration, and the Wojnarowicsz Restrospective at The Whitney 

OCTOBER 4, 2018

EPISODE NOTES: In our third episode, the editors of Commonweal discuss Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court and the subsequent hearing with Dr. Blasey Ford. Contributing writer Paul Moses chats about U.S. immigration policy with Donald Kerwin, Director of the Center for Migration Studies. Senior editor Matthew Boudway and Alan Jacobs discuss his new book, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis. Assistant editor Griffin Oleynick and Julian Revie, a composer of sacred music at St. Thomas More, the Catholic Chapel at Yale, have wide-ranging conversation about liturgical music. And Commonweal staffers discuss the David Wojnarowicsz exhibition at The Whitney, which just closed.

 "If I’m not careful, righteous anger becomes vindictive pettiness, that cardinal sin of pride...." —Katherine Lucky 

On the Poetics of Flyover Country, the Synod on Young People, and our Broken Jail System  

OCTOBER 31, 2018

EPISODE NOTES: This episode features editor Dominic Preziosi and assistant editor Griffin Oleynick in conversation about the Synod on Young People at the Vatican, specifically its treatment of issues related to immigration and displacement. Katherine Lucky chats with Meghan O'Gieblyn, whose essays on faith and life were recently been compiled into Interior States. Anthony Domestico talks to Emily Ruskovich about her debut novel, Idaho— a "wrenching and beautiful book" according to the New York Times. And Derek Jeffrey's expands on the themes of his new book,  America's Jails: The Search for Human Dignity in the Age of Mass Incarceration.

 "At the Synod on Young People, “the [sex abuse] crisis is not simply something hanging over everyone in the room. It’s not just a source of powerlessness. Because it’s such an elephant in the room, and because it’s so heavy, it’s something that can be dealt with immediately, so people are jumping right into it. People are walking through it.” 

      —Griffin Oleynick


the USCCB, Cultural Appropriation, Dan Barry on his book This Land


EPISODE NOTES: This episode features editor Dominic Preziosi in conversation with columnist John Gehring in which they wrap-up November's US Bishop's meetings in Baltimore. Our literary columnist Anthony Domestico interviews poet Katie Ford about her new collection If You Have to Go. Dominic Preziosi also chats with longtime New York Times writer Dan Barry about his collection of reported essays, This Land. And senior editor Matthew Boudway moderates an exchange on cultural appropriation between contributor Rand Richards Cooper and intern Nicole-Ann Lobo.

 “Honestly, if anyone is going to save the church it’s going to be the laity. The question is: how much power do you concede to the laity?”  —John Gehring

Why We Came. Why We Left. Why We Stayed.  


EPISODE NOTES: On this episode,we highlight the issue of December 1, which included our special feature "Why We Came. Why We Left. Why We Stayed" — a collection of essays by converts, practicing cradle Catholics, and lapsed or ex-Catholics. Senior editor Matthew Boudway introduces the series, and we also spoke with three of our contributors: Ross Douthat, Helene Stapinski, and Dorothy Fortenberry. The December 1st issue also included our annual Christmas Critics roundup — four editors discuss the books they read in 2018 and recommend to you. Plus, a look at Cassandra Nelson's new essay about the lifeline that the liturgical calendar provides.

 “There are things I get out of the Catholic Church that I don’t get anywhere else. And a lot of them also come from the bigness...A longevity that matters to me these days, maybe more than it ever has before. America is feeling extremely young right now. Democracy is feeling extra fragile."        —Dorothy Fortenberry 

Peter Steinfels on the PA Grand-Jury Report on Clerical Sex Abuse, Allan Lichtman on Voting Rights in the U.S., and poet Danielle Chapman with Tony Domestico


EPISODE NOTES: Peter Steinfels discusses his recent piece on the PA Grand-Jury Report, a document he contends is "inaccurate, unfair, and fundamentally misleading" in its characterization of how church officials handled allegations of abuse. Allan Lichtman, author of  The Embattled Vote in America, discusses the complicated history of voting rights in the United States and the ways in which the Constitution is actually responsible for many of our current problems. And Commonweal literary columnist Tony Domestico interviews poet Danielle Chapman about everything from metaphysics to John Ashbery to Tennessee, Chicago, and Shia LaBeouf, with Danielle reading her poetry throughout their conversation.

"There has become an established script on how sex abuse, especially clergy sex abuse, is viewed and understood...That has resulted in a single script that poses negligible and knowledgeable bishops versus the victims. That’s part of the story, but it’s only part of it.” —Peter Steinfels 

Marie Collins and Massimo Faggioli on Clerical Sex Abuse, Vinson Cunningham writes about hell, and Staffers on Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim Museum


EPISODE NOTES:  Dominic Preziosi sat down with Commonweal contributor Massimo Faggioli to get his thoughts about the upcoming bishops’ summit on clerical sex abuse, which gets underway at the Vatican on February 21st. Contributor Paul Moses, speaks with Marie Collins, a former member of Pope Francis's papal commission on clergy sexual abuse, about her experiences and insights on the issue. Associate editor, Matthew Sitman, interviews New Yorker staff writer Vinson Cunningham, and associate publisher Meaghan Ritchey and assistant editor Griffin Oleynick discuss the paintings of Swedish abstractionist Hilma af Klint, whose work is now on exhibit at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. 

"It’s actually a pity to see the Church leadership really tearing itself apart with these internal wars when we want to see them dealing with real problems, and particularly problems of children being harmed, and their lives being destroyed.”  Marie Collins

Correctives & Cultural Catholics


Catholic journalist and papal biographer Austen Ivereigh talks with senior editor Matthew Boudway about the Vatican’s February summit on clerical sex abuse. Eula Biss, author of On Immunity: An Inoculation and Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, speaks with assistant editor Griffin Oleynick about the spiritual challenges of racism, the meaning of “whiteness,” and the craft of nonfiction writing. Boston College professor Hosffman Ospino explains how new generations of Latino Americans are reshaping notions about “cultural Catholicism” in the United States. And Kathryn Davis talks with literary editor Anthony Domestico about metaphor, mystery, and pilgrimage in her novel The Silk Road.

"Catholic incubators can become silos if they fail to grapple with issues that the rest of the society is dealing with.—Hosffman Ospino

Poetry, Power & Prayer

   April 17

In honor of National Poetry Month, our associate editor Matthew Sitman talks with Alice Quinn about her work as poetry editor at the New Yorker. Commonweal’s literary editor Anthony Domestico speaks with Shane McCrae, whose collection The Gilded Auction Block has just been published. And Nicole-Ann Lobo, our Garvey writing fellow, sits down with the poet and human rights activist Carolyn Forché , whose most recent book is What You Have heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness & Resistance. Make sure to stick around until the end, when our senior editor Matthew Boudway steps in with a special reading of a poem by Les Murray. 

"One thing that really impressed me about the Salvadorans that I was with then was how they were really willing to die for each other. Many of them did die. So I saw fully a living church. And when you come back, and you lose touch with that living church, you feel it, you mourn it. It’s something you grieve the loss of.— Carolyn Forché

"We still teach Latin, though it's no longer a requirement."

                                             —Fr. Anthony Andreassi, principal of Regis High School

Back to School

September 12

Crime & Sanctuary

This month, we delve into courtroom dramas and sanctuary spaces.

June 19

  • Casey Cep explores the modern fascination with true crime
  • Activisit Felix Cepeda on civil disobedience and the sanctuary church movement 
  • Plus, the editors weigh in on HBO's Chernobyl

"Sometimes we are called to break the law."—Felix Cepeda

Action & Contemplation

We all want change: in our inner lives, in our friendships, in our politics. But what's the best way to get there?

July 11

Less, as they say, is often more. In this episode, we introduce a new, leaner format.

The editors weigh in on the crowded 2020 Democratic primary field.

And California-based writer, teacher, and digital artist Jenny Odell explains the merits of doing nothing, arguing that contemplative leisure holds the key to meaningful activity.

"Doing nothing is not the same as activism. But it's a kind of intermediary step, a way station, like resting and reflection, existing in a dialectical relationship with action."                                                                                                                               —Jenny Odell


There are some things we'd rather not remember: old wounds, moral lapses, humiliating failures. But there are also things we have a duty to never forget, like historical traumas and present injustices.

Cultural critic Lewis Hyde explores this tension—how the hard work of "forgetting" can pave the way to healing and regeneration, touching on Buddhist philosophy, St. Augustine, and Marcel Proust.

Plus, the editors challenge the US Bishops to stop mincing words and take concrete action on immigration.

July 25

"In forgetfulness lies the liquefaction of time. That is, temporality flows again when we can forget."  —Lewis Hyde

In this episode, we speak with Fr. Anthony Andreassi, principal of Regis High School, the historic Jesuit institution in Manhattan. Fr. Andreassi talks about the school's early twentieth century roots before discussing the challenges faced by Catholic educators today: not just soaring costs and falling enrollment, but also dealing with questions about gender, economic privilege, and the increasingly fractious American culture wars.

Plus, our own Matt Sitman critiques the duplicitous rhetoric of 'national conservatism, a growing movement among conservative intellectuals to systematize the disruptive politics of the Trump presidency.

Leisure & Labor

August 8

Summer's closing days are upon us. As temperatures cool and the days grow shorter, it's also the best time to hit the beach (or a nice shady grove) with a stack of books.

In this episode, Commonweal editors and writers discuss what they've been reading this summer, touching on everything from David Hockney and Robert Caro to Jia Tolentino and Rick Steves.

Plus, we speak with Mexican actress Gabriela Cartol, the star of one of this summer's best films, The Chambermaid. It's set entirely in a sleek high-rise hotel, and Cartol's performance is a revelation, lending emotional poignancy and spiritual warmth to the cold world of capitalist exploitation in modern-day Mexico City.

"There's a lesson here: never trust cover copy."  —Dominic Preziosi

Servants of Memory

August 22

Each day we find ourselves awash in a sea of information. Our social media feeds, newspapers, and cable bring stories of fresh catastrophe, clouding our memory and our judgment. Fake news might be easy to spot, but where can real wisdom be found?

In this episode, we speak with award-winning author Barry Lopez, whose magisterial new book, Horizon, came out earlier this year. A longtime travel writer, Lopez has spent decades living with indigenous peoples. He issues a cautionary word about the dangers of capitalism and climate change, but also points toward the powers of human cooperation and communion with the divine as authentic sources of hope.

Plus, our staff explains big changes coming to your mailbox: we've redesigned the print magazine, we're excited to tell you all about what you can look forward to in the new sleeker, longer, monthly Commonweal.

"We as a culture are mesmerized by charismatics who know what the answer is. Look where that's gotten us.'"  —Barry Lopez