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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 25, 2005

UI Communication Studies Faculty Member John Peters Reads Sept. 1 On WSUI

John Durham Peters, F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, will discuss his new book, "Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition," at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on UI radio station WSUI, AM 910. Listen on the Internet at

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be a free event in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

In "Courting the Abyss," Peters rethinks the subject of free speech based on the ideas of thinkers including Paul of Tarsus, John Milton, John Stuart Mill and Martin Luther King.

The book "updates the philosophy of free expression for a world that is very different from the one in which it originated," its cover flap reports. "The notion that a free society should allow Klansmen, neo-Nazis, sundry extremists, and pornographers to spread their doctrines as freely as everyone else has come increasingly under fire. At the same time, in the wake of 9/11, the Right and the Left continue to wage war over the utility of an absolute vision of free speech in a time of increased anxieties about national security. Courting the Abyss revisits the tangled history of free speech, finding resolutions to these debates hidden at the very roots of the liberal tradition."

John Keane of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster wrote, "Witty, irreverent, and intellectually daring: John Durham Peters has written the best scholarly book on freedom of speech in more than a generation. He shows us how and why we should doubt simple-minded orthodoxy of every kind. A master wordsmith with a wonderful brain, Peters writes against hubris, even the hubris of free speech."

And Craig Calhoun of New York University added, "Free speech is not only under attack, it is misunderstood. The political tradition that once sustained it is fading, and its very defenders often undermine it by making a spectacle of their own tolerance. In this context, John Durham Peters' judicious tracing of both the free speech tradition and the moral and intellectual challenges it faces is very welcome. 'Courting the Abyss' is an eloquent plea for more careful thought and a wise analysis of our predicament. It is not entirely reassuring, but it is eminently valuable."

Peters, who focuses on media history and social theory, is coeditor of several volumes and the author of "Speaking into the Air."

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