Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World


Passion season / Bach season

The arrival of Lent and the anticipation of Holy Week on the Christian liturgical calendar bring with them what professional musicians call “passion season.” In a close parallel to “Messiah season” in December, singers and players hope to find work performing musical settings of the crucifixion narrative, to help audiences and congregations listen and worship and to help get themselves through the next few months’ rent.

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Questions, questions, questions…

Einstein has had a good month, all things considered. His century-old prediction, that the very fabric of space and time can support waves travelling at light-speed, was confirmed by the LIGO collaboration. More, the bizarre and horrifying consequences of his theory of gravity, the singularly-collapsed stars that came to be called ‘black holes’, have been directly detected for the first time.

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Galileo’s legacy: Catholicism, Copernicanism, and conflict resolution

In Rome on 22 June 1633 an elderly man was found guilty by the Catholic Inquisition of rendering himself “vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture”. The doctrine in question was that “the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from east to west, that the earth moves and is not the centre of the world.

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Growing criticism by atheists of the New Atheism movement

We seem to be witnessing a broad reaction against the New Atheism movement by atheists as well as religious believers, whether undermining the idea of a long-standing conflict between science and religion, or taking a critical view of their political agenda. James Ryerson recently examined three new books (including my own) in the New York Times Book Review – a small sample of a growing body of work.

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Why are evangelical voters so ambivalent about Ted Cruz?

When Ted Cruz announced last March he was running for the Republican nomination for president, he did so at Liberty University. The nation’s largest evangelical university, Liberty was an unsurprising spot for Cruz to begin his campaign. More than any other Republican in the race, Cruz has based his entire campaign on winning evangelical voters as the pathway to his party’s nomination.

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Secularism and sausages

In France today, pork has become political. A series of conservative mayors have in recent months deliberately withdrawn the pork-free option from school lunch menus. Advocates of the policy claim to be the true defenders of laïcité, the French secular principle that demands neutrality towards religion in public space.

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Oxford Classical Dictionary

Early Greek incantations from Selinous

The so-called “Getty Hexameters” represent an unusual set of early Greek ‘magical’ incantations (epoidai) found engraved on a small, fragmentary tablet of folded lead. The rare verses provide an exciting new window into the early practice and use of written magic and incantatory spells in the Greek polis of the 5th century BCE.

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Teaching the Hebrew Bible in the context of campus sexual violence

It is a disconcerting experience to watch Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary The Hunting Ground or to read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town and then walk into a classroom filled with college students. Both The Hunting Ground and Missoula take up the problem of sexual violence on college campuses.

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Divine Command Theory and moral obligation

‘Divine Command Theory’ is the theory that what makes something morally right is that God commands it, and what makes something morally wrong is that God forbids it. Of the many objections to this theory, the four main ones are that it makes morality arbitrary, that it cannot work in a pluralistic society, that it makes morality infantile, and that it is viciously circular.

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Sectarian tensions at home

The execution of the popular Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities at the beginning of this year has further intensified Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions not just in Saudi Arabia but the Middle East generally. The carrying out of the sentence, following convictions for a range of amorphous political charges, immediately provoked anti‑Saudi demonstrations among Shia communities throughout the Middle East.

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The mercy of the Enlightenment

Pope Francis recently announced a “Year of Mercy.” He called on all Catholics to once again realize that God is love and that this includes infinite mercy. Yet, the message of mercy, also with its practical consequences, has been constant on the agenda of the Catholic Church, even in the eighteenth century—a time which is allegedly known for its rigid, sectarian close-mindedness. Here are four ways that the Catholic Church has emphasized “mercy” over time.

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The Guru’s warrior scripture

The scripture known as the Dasam Granth Sahib or the ‘Scripture of the Tenth King,’ has traditionally been attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. It was composed in a volatile period to inspire the Sikh warriors in the battle against the Moghuls, and many of the compositions were written for the rituals related to the preparation for war (Shastra puja) and for the battlefield.

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What was Shakespeare’s religion?

What was Shakespeare’s religion? It’s possible to answer this seemingly simple question in lots of different ways. Like other English subjects who lived through the ongoing Reformation, Shakespeare was legally obliged to attend Church of England services. Officially, at least, he was a Protestant. But a number of scholars have argued that there is evidence that Shakespeare had connections through his family and school teachers with Roman Catholicism, a religion which, through the banning of its priests, had effectively become illegal in England.

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Roe v. Wade and the remaking of the pro-life movement

On 11 January 1973, members of the North Dakota Right to Life Association braved the frigid temperatures in Bismarck to convene their first annual convention. Having won a sweeping victory at the ballot box only two months earlier, they were optimistic about the future and were ready to move on to the second phase of pro-life activism.

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No time to think

On leaving school, my advisor reminded me to always take time to think. That seemed like a reasonable suggestion, as I trudged off to teach, write, and, of course, think. But the modern academy doesn’t share this value; faculty are increasingly prodded to “produce” more articles, more presentations, more grant applications, and more PhD students.

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