From Earth to Earth via Heaven? A history of human hubris

Posted on: December 4th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Ancient humans seemed to see themselves as deeply embedded in nature and this was reflected later in widespread Paganism.  But humanity subsequently lost its humility.  In their human origin myths, monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) granted a divine spark to our lowly formation from dust, supposedly giving us ‘dominion’ over the rest of creation.

Our exalted status carried over into the early Renaissance. But the growth of modern science, especially medicine, while reinforcing that control over nature, also demanded a much more down-to-Earth physical view of ourselves.  Darwin’s demonstration of our true genealogical origins decidedly pulled us off our spiritual pedestal.

Professor Çiğdem Balim takes us through this historical arc of human hubris from Earth via Heaven and back down to Earth again.  How do we see ourselves today?  Are we just animals crawling over the Earth?  Or are we still special in some way?


Good to know: We take pride in putting the fun back into serious philosophy through our friendly and respectful discussions involving different levels of experience of philosophy.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper, written by Çiğdem and for reading in advance of the session, can be downloaded here.

We are usually oversubscribed, so if you book but find out later that you cannot attend, please cancel your ticket to free up a place for someone else. Thank you.

How can we make our cities greener? Andy Burnham on transforming Manchester

Posted on: December 4th, 2023 by mlpEditor

**We are extremely sorry to announce that this event has been cancelled as Andy Burnham will now be on an international visit on the 18th January. If you purchased a ticket, your refund will be issued via Eventbrite**

In an era marked by unprecedented urbanisation and environmental challenges, the importance of creating a sustainable future for our cities has never been more pressing. City leaders and citizens are playing pivotal roles in steering the course towards a greener and more sustainable urban landscape.

As cities continue to expand and evolve, their sustainability becomes a critical factor in ensuring the well-being of both current and future generations. The interplay between city leaders, who set policies and make strategic decisions, and citizens, who drive demand and catalyse change, is at the heart of this transformation.

Manchester is no stranger to this challenge. City officials have long recognised the need to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions, with a first Zero Emission plan launched in 2009.

Since then, mayor Andy Burnham has pledged to make the Greater Manchester region carbon neutral by 2038. But the process of implementing some of the changes to realise the pledge has been far from straightforward.

The implementation of the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) has sparked a heated debate, pitting environmental concerns against economic considerations. Advocates stress the urgency of cleaner air for future generations, while critics emphasize the need for a balanced approach that doesn’t undermine economic recovery. It’s undoubtedly a complex issue, and Andy decided to press pause on rolling out CAZ in February 2022. Manchester continues to grapple to find a consensus that effectively addresses both environmental and economic imperatives remains a formidable challenge.

What other plans do Greater Manchester leaders have to transform our city into one of the greenest regions in Europe? And can citizens and leaders work together to make this happen? Join us to explore this complex issue with our special guest Andy Burnham.

Guided tour of Victoria Baths

Posted on: November 27th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Discover more about the history and architecture of Victoria Baths: ‘Britain’s finest historic municipal swimming pool’.

The Grade 2 listed building was opened to the public in September 1906 and cost £59,144 to build. In his opening address, the Lord Mayor of Manchester described the building as a “water palace”. For 86 years Victoria Baths provided both essential and leisure facilities. Private baths and a laundry were housed there along with three swimming pools and a Turkish bath.

No expense was spared in the design and construction of the building, Manchester having at that time one of the world’s wealthiest municipal coffers. Many of Victoria Baths’ finest decorative aspects can still be enjoyed today. The facade has multi-coloured brickwork and terracotta decoration, the main interior public spaces are clad in glazed tiles from floor to ceiling and most of the many windows have decorative stained glass.

Whilst the facilities, architecture and unique atmosphere of Victoria Baths was enjoyed by local residents for many years, in 1993 Manchester City Council decided to close the building as they couldn’t justify the expense of keeping them open. A Charitable Trust was formally set up in the same year, with the aim of fully restoring the building and bringing it back into public use.

The Trust took control of the building in 2001 and in September 2003 Victoria Baths won the first series of the BBC’s Restoration programme. It was awarded £3.4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a restoration project began in 2007.

Whilst there is still a lot of work to be done, the building now hosts many events and has over 30,000 visitors a year. Join us for this tour to get a insight into Victoria Baths’ past, present and future.


Good to know: We will meet in the main entrance area. The tour will start promptly at 10.00am, so please arrive in good time. Refreshments are available – please see ticket types for further details.

Developing the ‘meadow’ as an urban cultural form

Posted on: November 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

50 years ago, meadows were mainly viewed as a lost agri-environmental landscape whose passing was not much mourned. Since then, public and professional interest in the meadow’s many incarnations has grown. They are now valued for their aesthetic inspiration, their role in supporting biodiversity, their ability to restore the ecosystem, and as an ‘ecological paragon’.

James Hitchmough’s talk explores his research and practice into how to make meadows and meadow-like vegetation in urban (and sometimes rural) landscapes – in the UK and around the world – and how people view and experience them.

The foundational issues that James’ work has addressed over a career spanning 50 years include: how are meadows seen by the public in the context of urban places (as opposed to a field in the countryside)? And what are the key levers that you could shift as a designer to increase notions of value and therefore acceptance?

James’ research has also considered if it is possible to use design to maximise the chances of meadows delivering the visual and other benefits they can provide within politically contested urban landscapes.  He had observed the awakenings of the ‘nature in the city movement’ from the mid 1970’s and it was clear that getting public buy-in to urban meadows was far from automatic.

The final element in the jigsaw was understanding the ecological dynamics of meadows and meadow-like vegetation, and how this could inform management to enable these vegetation types to persist in urban landscapes. James’ interest in meadow-like-vegetation has, he states, always operated within the context of the world’s temperature vegetation as a whole, rather than just the UK. This has significantly coloured the nature of his work.

Join us for this intriguing look into how our relationship with meadows has transformed over the years.

Phenomenology and Female Philosophers

Posted on: November 8th, 2023 by mlpEditor

In the prestigious 1000-page Oxford Companion to Philosophy, of all the pantheon of the greats listed in its chronological table of philosophy, the number who are female is … one!  Is this because women just can’t do philosophy as well as men?  Or is it the normal misogyny of cultural historiography, of which the history of Philosophy is alas no exception?

Sue Johnson aims to correct that gross imbalance in this March session of the Lit & Phil’s Philosophy Forum.

As a philosophy student in the 1960s, Sue despaired of the sole focus on the unworldly, arguably fussy linguistic analysis which so dominated philosophy in the Anglophone world of the 20th century.  But later she discovered Phenomenology, that wonderful philosophical tradition about ‘being in the world’ with all its messy contradictions.

That revelation subsequently enriched all her work in education research, prison reform, therapy and latterly in her intriguing book, The Prison Psychiatrist’s Wife, imbued as it is by deep philosophical questions rooted in the nature of experience.


Good to know: We take pride in putting the fun back into serious philosophy through our friendly and respectful discussions involving different levels of experience of philosophy.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper written by Sue and for reading in advance of the session, can be downloaded here.

We are usually oversubscribed, so if you book but find out later that you cannot attend, please cancel your ticket to free up a place for someone else. Thank you.

Christmas concert with The Lovenotes

Posted on: October 24th, 2023 by mlpEditor

The Lovenotes present a selection of seasonal and Christmas songs, sung acapella, and featuring original arrangements.

From new takes on jazz standards to classical choral pieces, this concert promises to bring festive cheer. Some songs have poetry or spoken word elements, while some are irreverent and funny. There will also be Christmas readings from actor and Lit & Phil member, Malcolm Raeburn.

The Lovenotes are a Manchester group of four women: Faith Watson, Katherine Watson, Jules Gibb and Rose Hodgson. They have been performing together for almost twenty years to an enthusiastic local and national following. Their Christmas concert is something of an institution. And at this special performance for the Lit & Phil, they will be joined by acclaimed blues singer Helen Watson.

Their performances demonstrate a wonderfully diverse combination of harmony singing, with truly innovative 3, 4 and 5 part arrangements of songs. These songs range from jazz to traditional to contemporary, as well as original material written by the members of the group. Their heady combination of tight acapella harmonies blend well with Helen’s soulful improvisation.


Good to know: The performance will be followed by refreshments and mince pies. This is included in the ticket price

The Darkness at the Heart of the Enlightenment: Kant’s Racism

Posted on: October 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

We like to think of the Enlightenment as a glorious period where ideas were driven by rationality and evidence.  But, of course, it’s not as easy as that.

The history of human ideas is blemished with personal and cultural beliefs we find repulsive today.  Immanuel Kant, arguably the greatest 18th century European philosopher and source of so many ideas in modern philosophy, neuroscience and psychology, was sadly no exception.

In this January session of the Lit & Phil’s Philosophy Forum, Dr Keekok Lee – philosopher, author and Honorary Research Professor/Fellow at the University of Manchester – will guide us through the ethical minefield of how we can maturely face up to the past by looking at Kant’s racism.

You don’t need any prior knowledge of Kant’s work. The theme of this Forum is about how we deal with uncomfortable facts about our cultural past.

So, can we judge Kant and his work by present day standards?  Or can we separate the wheat from the chaff, ignoring the awkward bits?  Or must we reject all of it?

The Western world morally struggles with aspects of its history and the controversial legacy of it today.  It needs much discussion!  Here is your opportunity to take part in that.


Good to know: We take pride in putting the fun back into serious philosophy through our friendly and respectful discussions involving different levels of experience of philosophy.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper by Keekok (available here) should be read before the Forum to enrich and guide our discussions. You’ll get a lot more out of attending if you read the paper beforehand. Also, for this session, there is a subsidiary focus paper containing summaries and questions for our discussions. This second paper can be used as a short introduction for pre-reading, and/or a summary for post-reading.

We are usually oversubscribed, so if you book but find out later that you cannot attend, please cancel your ticket to free up a place for someone else. Thank you.

Getting Medieval with Stranger Things

Posted on: October 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

The hugely popular Netflix series Stranger Things is set in 1980s middle America. The creators, the Duffer Brothers, have atmospherically laced their work with 80s cultural references – including music, film, and fashion. From the jangling guitars of The Smiths, the punk anthems of The Clash, and the heavy metal of Metallica. Iconic 80s films are also referenced – Poltergeist perhaps most provocatively. And the actors’ costumes impeccably reference 80s fashion. These cultural references work together to create a heady trip into the decade that saw American pop culture going global. So, why are we getting medieval?

Well, watch closely and you’ll see that the over-arching theme to the narrative is certainly the Middle Ages. How so? Well, the 80s board game, Dungeons and Dragons, a big inspiration for the series, provides the medieval context. And the troubling presence of the Upside Down, in the form of a world ruled by Evil, as opposed to Light, connects the world of Hawkins, Indiana to thirteenth-century Europe.

In this talk, Dr Cynthia Johnston will discuss the connections between the series and the Medieval world. She will share images from medieval manuscripts including the Hart Collection in Blackburn Museum that link these seeming very different worlds without drawing on the powers of Eleven to do so.

We were left teetering seemingly on the apocalypse at the conclusion of the last series (S4). But now the creators are back in action after the settlement of Writers Guild of America. And we can’t wait to see what happens next!

How can we best help those in need during and after a Humanitarian Crisis?

Posted on: October 3rd, 2023 by mlpEditor

What does it take to save lives in war, disaster, and disease?

Tony Redmond has over 30 years’ experience of responding to wars, disease outbreaks, and sudden onset disasters all around the world. In this engaging talk, he will detail the lessons learned, the improvements that have been made in the international response, and how we can continue to ensure the assistance provided is both effective and focused on those most in need.

He will describe the type of medical assistance that is needed across the various types of humanitarian emergencies and how international support can best complement, and not compete with, the work of others and that of the affected country itself.

Delivering medical assistance during humanitarian crises, especially during conflicts, can be incredibly dangerous. Tony will outline how we can attempt to mitigate these risks, though never eliminate them. He will describe his personal experiences of practicing medicine under fire.

A particular focus of the presentation will be his work in Ukraine and that of his colleagues in UK-Med. He will explain how the programs they are running there been shaped by their experience of delivering emergency medical aid to Sarajevo and Kosovo for the duration of the wars in the Balkans.

Helping those in need during a Humanitarian Crisis is not without personal cost. Tony will discuss how we can look to reduce this amongst team members. He will also give an insight into the physical and mental challenges he has had to deal with – the legacy of over 30 years of committed work.

Fruits of the Earth: Food and Art

Posted on: October 2nd, 2023 by mlpEditor

What do food and art have in common? What reflections can representations of different types of edible goods inspire?

This talk, presented by art historian Sara Riccardi, will focus on food in art, from traditional Dutch still lives, such as those painted by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, to contemporary candy floss installations.

The presence of food in the visual arts across the centuries is very common, and its significance highly varied. Some foods have symbolic meanings, linked to religious or mythological traditions. Some function as status symbols, when found in certain areas at specific times in history. Others can make us reflect on the connection between society and nature and, in contrast, on our modern-day consumerist habits. Sara will explore these themes, starting from examples of artworks that present a link to food, in some way or another.

By looking at food from the angle of its artistic representation, this talk will seek to inspire a new insight into our aesthetic experience of it. You will be encouraged to think about the meaning of food in our lives, and its role in different societies at different times. Sara’s presentation will inspire a new appreciation of one of the most fundamental experiences – that of nourishing our body with what the Earth offers us.

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