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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Michael Sandel, Rockstar

For the past few months our church has read, watched and discussed Michael Sandel's "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do" book and DVD, something I've blogged about before ("What Do We Mean by Justice?"). The book's based on the popular class he teaches at Harvard in which students debate issues such as whether the free market is fair, what constitutes freedom, whether pro-choice laws are an example of legislating morality, and so on. The DVD is a film of his 2005 class (filmed by the public television affiliate WGBH and aired in 2009).  Sandel doesn't just lecture. He asks questions and throws out scenarios that typically lead to interesting debates among his students.

Evidently, not only is Sandel a hit at Harvard, he's a hit in Asia. According to NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, he's attained rockstar status ("Justice Goes Global"):
You probably missed the recent special issue of China Newsweek, so let me bring you up to date. Who do you think was on the cover — named the “most influential foreign figure” of the year in China? Barack Obama? No. Bill Gates? No. Warren Buffett? No. O.K., I’ll give you a hint: He’s a rock star in Asia, and people in China, Japan and South Korea scalp tickets to hear him. Give up? It was Michael J. Sandel, the Harvard University political philosopher.
Sandel’s book has sold more than a million copies in East Asia. In Japan a translated broadcast of the PBS series has sparked a philosophy craze in Japan and led the University of Tokyo to create a course based on Sandel’s Harvard course. And in China, translators uploaded subtitled lectures to Chinese Web sites that have reportedly attracted millions of viewers. Not bad for a course on moral philosophy.

No need to repeat too much of what Friedman has already written (full disclosure: Friedman and Sandel are friends, and Friedman and his wife Ann were donors to the PBS broadcast). He offers reasons as to why he thinks Sandel's lectures and books have become such a hit, which you can read about in his column ("Justice Goes Global"). Better yet, read Sandel's book and watch the series, which is now available for free online at

1 comment:

  1. A very helpful post. Sandel's work gives new meaning to the term, "inspiration."