On the Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate Independence Day at picnics, concerts, fireworks displays, and gatherings of many kinds, and they almost always sing. “America the Beautiful” will be popular, and so will “Our County, ’Tis of Thee” and of course the national anthem, “Star-Spangled Banner” (despite its notoriously unsingable tune). The words are so familiar that, really, no one pays attention to their meaning. But read them closely and be surprised how the lyrics describe the meaning of America in three very different ways.
What truly awaits us on the ‘other side?’ From heaven to hell (and everything in between), our conceptions of the afterlife are more likely to be shaped by shows like The Walking Dead than biblical scripture. Speculation about death, it seems, has permeated every aspect of our everyday experience, manifesting itself in lyrics, paintings, and works of literature.
On 17 June, the new moon signaled the start of Ramadan (or Ramzan as it’s called throughout South Asia), the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar in which observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sex during daylight hours. Increased religious devotion sets the tone for the month as Muslims gather for special prayers, acts of charity, and Qur’anic recitations in gratitude and devotion to God.
Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si, will be surrounded for some time by intense debate among and between journalists, columnists, Catholic journals, political leaders, and environmentally-focused scientists and NGOs. In other words, the fight over how it’s received is well underway. In the 125 years or so that papal social encyclicals have been written, their reception has been hotly debated, with the most infamous such episode occurring in the pages of the National Review.
Ramadan is an important time for Muslims, whether they live in New York City, Tehran, Cairo, or Jakarta. While there is great diversity in Islam, for most Muslims this month reflects an intensification of the religious devotion and contemplation that characterizes many Islamic traditions from prayer (salat) to pilgrimage (hajj/ziyarat). Ramadan is structured around food, a lack of food, and prayer—the early meal before dawn, the fasting during daylight, the meal at the end of the day, and the daily prayers.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.’
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.