My name is Stefani Ruper, and I am a theorist of the human condition and scholar of the modern religious—or, the word I prefer is existential—landscape. Basically, I study what it means to be human, why we are the way we are, and how to make it all better.
I ended up like this because I began suffering from panic attacks about dying and the meaning of life when I was four years old. Trying to sleep at night meant beating my head into the mattress, tearing my hair out in little clumps, and springing out of bed and pacing around my room like a caged animal.
This experience catapulted me into a full-blown, life-long obsession with some of our biggest and toughest questions: who are we? Why are we here? Why do things like this happen to us, how do they affect us as individuals, and how do they affect our communities and nations?
I’ve spent decades in libraries and laboratories, travelling the world, and generally observing how life unfolds with this deeply existential perspective. Now with eleven years of training in both the sciences and the humanities, I am completing at PhD in the religion and science cohort of the University of Oxford in England, with a dissertation on the religious qualities of science.
I am also currently working on a book project, The Age of Uncertainty. In this project, I am investigating the current cultural climate and how it intersects with who we are as a species. I make the argument that even though we have more knowledge than ever before, we actually have less knowledge about the things that matter most. This is bad news because humans, and especially humans in the modern West, happen to be monstrously bad at managing uncertainty, leading to problems such as anxiety, a retreat to safe havens, defensiveness, and rage. We absolutely must understand how this ambiguity affects us, so that we can construct helpful ways to manage it and transform ourselves and our worlds for the better.
The thing is, uncertainty may feel like a curse — and we may currently experience it like a curse — but it may actually be one of our greatest blessings in disguise. Uncertainty is honest. Fallibility is honest. Humility is honest. And with these things, we have the potential to learn and to grow. It is one of my primary goals in life to create the cultural change and tools people need to cope with uncertainty and learn how to have more intellectual humility, respectful dialogue, appreciation for empirical evidence, and in that way, an actually peaceful and productive world.
My primary focus of study at Oxford has been the question of what it means to be human—of who we are as a species, how we relate to one another, how we cope with the big questions. Because of my background working both in the sciences and the humanities and my commitment to open-mindedness I am able to deploy a uniquely interdisciplinary lens: My view of the human condition is grounded in psychology and evolutionary biology, while it rejects adaptationism, adds (phenomenological) affect theory, is shot through with existentialist philosophy and psychoanalysis, and entails a sophisticated understanding of human cultures and institutions informed by history, anthropology, and archaeology.The result is a view of humanity and various human institutions such as religion and the sciences that is, in my very humble opinion, one of the most intellectually comprehensive views yet proposed on a large public stage.
And this is important, because it is only through knowledge of ourselves that we can find real peace and build a sustainable future.
Indeed, my philosophy of salvation – that is, of how to heal both ourselves and also one another in global community – begins with self-understanding. As individuals, we must bravely look deep within ourselves, unearth our demons, learn how to manage them, and find the passion in ourselves to #bethebestyou. This helps us live the most impactful and radiant lives possible. As communities and nations, we must learn what the human being is, where we have come from, how culture makes us who we are, why we do what we do, and then with the data we have gathered carefully build systems and institutions that help us be the best versions of our communities we possibly can.
My invitation to you is this:
There was once a day when scholars were rock stars. They spoke with fire and passion, and they believed in nothing more than the diligent and unrelenting pursuit of truth for the sake of goodness, beauty, happiness, freedom. Ideas were popular and powerful, and they were made all the more so by the vivacious personalities and energy of the people who developed them.
Insofar as I am a scholar, I am only this because I believe the courage to ask questions is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and the planet. I am not just here as a thinker but as a human who has known real darkness, who has peered over the edge of her sanity, who has struggled to make sense of things, who has failed, who has felt broken, who has learned how to put pieces back together, and who believes the thing that will ultimately save us is our indominable will—our refusal to give up or go gently into any good night.
It would be an honor if you would join me in the quest to better know ourselves, so that we may become the best possible versions of ourselves. You can read some things I have written here, and can listen to or watch The Meaning of Everything Show. You can join in the discussion, ask questions, and make comments on Instagram or Facebook, or subscribe to occasional email updates.
With fire and love,