BBC Reith Lecture hosted by the University of Glasgow

Philosopher and cultural theorist Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah will be guest speaker at tonight’s annual BBC Reith Lecturer 2016, hosted this year by the University of Glasgow.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, a British-born, Ghanaian-American philosopher, cultural theorist and novelist, specialises in moral and political philosophy, as well as issues of personal and political identity, cosmopolitanism and nationalism.

He will deliver four lectures, entitled ‘Mistaken Identity’, with each having a different focus – Colour, Country, Creed and Culture. They will be recorded in London, Glasgow, Washington DC, and in Appiah’s adopted hometown of New York. The Reith Lectures will broadcast on the BBC in November.

The Glasgow lecture, taking place in the Sir Charles Wilson Lecture Theatre this evening, will be presented by Sue Lawley and will be the second of the four lectures. It will focus on ’Country’ and will be recorded before a live audience. The lecture will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on October 25, and at a later date on the BBC World Service.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, commenting on the lectures, said: “We live in a world where the language of identity pervades both our public and our private lives.

"We are Muslim and Christian, so we have religious identities. We are English and Scottish, so we have national identities. We are men and women, and so we have gender identities. And we are black and white, and so we have racial identities.

“There is much contention about the boundaries of all of these identities. Not everyone accepts that you have to be a man or a woman; or that you can’t be both an Englishman and a Scot. You can claim to be of no religion or gender or race or nation. Perhaps, in each case, someone will believe you. And that is one reason why the way we often talk about these identities can be misleading.”

Mr Appiah believes there are profound sources of confusion in our thinking about identities. Indeed, almost every identity grows out of conflict and contradiction, and their borders can be drawn in blood. And yet they can also seem to fade in the blink of an historical eye.

The demands of identity can seem irresistible at one moment, absurd at the next. Most of us swim easily in the swirling waters of our multiple affiliations most of the time, but we can be brought up short in moments when the currents of identity tug us excruciatingly in opposite directions.

He adds: “In these lectures I want to explore some of these confusions through an examination of four central kinds of identity: creed, country, colour and culture. Through the lives of particular people in particular places and times, we’ll see how the confusions play out, but also how they can be cleared up.

“We’ll learn how those identities play both positive and negative roles in their lives and in ours, and how we might escape some of the negatives if we understood some of the many mistakes we make about identity.”

Tickets for the free event are no longer available.