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Looking for God in the sociology of religion and in Game of Thrones

Religion has played an increasingly significant part in Season 5 of the HBO series Game of Thrones, with the ‘Faith Militant’ taking over the reins of power at King’s Landing, mostly unopposed. Yet internet discussions indicate that some viewers have found this storyline unsatisfying, as the Sparrows are depicted as crazed religious fanatics, piously obsessed with driving out vice and immorality from the city.

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Bridget Bishop: first victim of Salem’s Gallows Hill

On 10 June 1692, the condemned Bridget Bishop was carted from Salem jail to the place that would later be known as Gallows Hill, where Sheriff George Corwin reported he “caused the said Bridget to be hanged by the neck until she was dead.” She would be the first of 19 victims executed during the Salem witch trials.

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Unmasking Origen

If the degree of misunderstanding determines the greatness of a theologian, then Origen (c. 185-254 C.E.) ranks among the greatest. He was misunderstood in his own time and he continued to be misunderstood in subsequent centuries, resulting in his condemnation—or the condemnation of distortions of his ideas—at the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 553 C.E. Why has Origen been misunderstood? How do we understand him better?

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American religion in the Age of Reagan [quiz]

You may have heard about the recent Pew Research Center study that shows millennials (born roughly between 1980 and 1995) fleeing Christian churches to occupy the ranks of the “nones,” those professing no religious affiliation. But how much do you know about the decade that gave birth to the millennial generation?

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Catholics and the torture chamber

Argentina, 1976. On the afternoon of 3 August, Fr. James Weeks went to his room to take a nap while the five seminarians of the La Salette congregation living with him went to attend classes. Joan McCarthy, an American nun who was visiting them, stayed by the fireplace, knitting a scarf. They would have dinner together and discuss the next mission in Jujuy, a Northwestern province of Argentina, where McCarthy worked. Suddenly, a loud noise came from the door. Before McCarthy could reach it, a mob burst into the house. Around ten men spread all over the house, claiming to be the police, looking for weapons, guerrilla hideouts, and ‘subversive fighters.’

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Jesus takes a selfie: the Vernicle and Julian of Norwich

During her second ‘revelation’, Julian of Norwich has a bewilderingly dark vision of Christ’s face, which she compares with the most celebrated relic in medieval Rome. This was the ‘Vernicle’: the image of Christ’s face miraculously imprinted on a cloth that St Veronica lent Christ to wipe his face on his way to Calvary.

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Progressivism, Presbyterianism, and the White House

Surely no President epitomized the Progressive Era like Theodore Roosevelt, from trustbusting to conservation. Oddly, we rarely remember him as his contemporaries often did: “the greatest preacher of righteousness in modern times” (Gifford Pinchot); “essentially a preacher of righteousness” (William Loeb); “a veritable preacher of social righteousness with the irresistible eloquence of faith sanctified by work” (Jane Addams); “always ready to appeal for justice and righteousness” (Henry Cabot Lodge).

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The prophet and the reformer

Brigham Young is well known in history as the founder of Salt Lake City, the first governor of the Utah Territory, and a leader in the Latter-day Saint movement. Thomas L. Kane, on the other hand, is not quite as known; he was an attorney born in Philadelphia. However, some would say Kane is the most important non-Mormon in the history of the Church of Latter-day Saints.

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Religion and environmentalism: a Q&A with Mark Stoll

In Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism, Mark Stoll explores the religious roots of the American environmental movement. We sat down with him to find out a bit more about his process researching the book, issues in the field, and some tips for aspiring authors.

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Leaving for the Rising Sun

What is ‘Zen’ diplomacy? From Chinese monk to ambassador

In 1654, a Chinese monk arrived in Japan. His name was Yinyuan Longqi (1592-1673), a Zen master who claimed to have inherited the authentic dharma transmission—the passing of the Buddha’s teaching from teacher to student—from the Linji (Rinzai) sect in China. This claim gave him tremendous authority in China, as without it a Zen teacher cannot be considered for leading a Zen community. Considering the long history of interactions between China and Japan, Chinese monks arriving in Japan with teachings, scriptures, relics and such were very common, and were welcomed by Japanese monks and rulers.

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The Salem Witch Trial judges: “persons of the best prudence”?

On 27 May 1692, Sir William Phips, the newly appointed royal governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, appointed nine of the colony’s leading magistrates to serve as judges for the newly created Court of Oyer and Terminer. When Phips sailed into Boston from London on 14 May, there were already 38 people in jail for witchcraft, and the accusations and arrests were growing daily.

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Is Christian feminism an oxymoron?

Is Christian feminism an oxymoron? For the past century or so, it’s often seemed that way. But it wasn’t all that long ago that many women not only considered Christianity and feminism compatible, but in fact believed each essential to the other. Perhaps no figure makes this case more powerfully than Katharine Bushnell. An internationally-known anti-trafficking activist in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Bushnell repeatedly encountered Christian men who had perpetrated acts of appalling cruelty against women, often without remorse or consequence.

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Heine_ Dogen and Soto Zen

Remembering Buddhas in Japan

Commemoration of the birthday of Sakyamuni Buddha forms an important but relatively small part of a remarkable emphasis on wide-ranging types of memorials that continue to be observed in modern Japan. However, celebrations in remembrance of death, including for all deceased ancestors who are regarded as Buddhas (hotoke) at the time of their passing marked by ritual burial, generally hold far greater significance than birth anniversaries. Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in Japan every year on 8 April.

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Philosophie sans frontières

“East is East and West is West, and ne’er the twain shall meet.” Well, no. Kipling got it wrong. The East and the West have been meeting for a long time. For most of the last few hundred years, the traffic has been mainly one way. The West has had a major impact on the East. India felt the full force of British imperialism with the British East India Company and the British Raj.

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Salamone Rossi and the preservation of Jewish identity

Like other Jewish musicians in later times, among them Ernest Bloch, Darius Milhaud, and Leonard Bernstein, Rossi confronted the problems, in his own time, of preserving his Jewish identity in a non-Jewish environment and of communicating with Jews and Christians in such a way as to be understood and appreciated by both.

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A holding corporation called old America: Charles Mingus’ religious multitudes

You can’t understand jazz without its continual, creative religiosities. But to investigate this association is to encounter the scrambling of format and expectation in terms both musicological and religious. For while it is certainly true that jazz has strong roots in African-American Protestantism, not only do these roots twist in unexpected directions but there are other branches reaching into farther soils as well.

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