Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

9780199602018

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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9780190233310

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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9780190232917

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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9780199458974

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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9780199671267

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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9780199391646

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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9780199948901

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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9780199372706

What religion is Barack Obama?

On 7 January, 2016, I asked Google, “what religion is Barack Obama”? After considering the problem for .42 seconds, Google offered more than 34 million “results.” The most obvious answer was at the top, accentuated by a rectangular border, with the large word “Muslim.” Beneath that one word read the line, “Though Obama is a practicing Christian and he was chiefly raised by his mother and her Christian parents…” Thank you, Google.

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9780199895632 - God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human

Supernatural punishment: the common denominator

So here’s the question: Is religion evolutionarily advantageous? We can’t ever know for sure what life was like for our prehistoric ancestors, but I hypothesise that supernatural punishment was a very important promoter of cooperation and a way to reduce self-interest, which was vital to the evolution of human societies.

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9780190249380

Religion is not primitive science

When I first heard the suggestion that religion is primitive science, I put it down to ignorance on the part of people who had not studied these things. Having not studied religion, they did not understand what our ancestors’ religious statements were really doing.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Shakespeare and religion in 16th and 17th century England

The politics and religious turmoil of 16th century England provided Shakespeare with the fascinating characters and intriguing plots. From the publication of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, which some historians argue ignited the Protestant cause, to the publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560, English religious history has dramatically influenced Shakespeare’s work.

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9780192804242

10 surprising facts about atheism

Atheism is the absence of belief that God, and other deities, exist. How much do you know about this belief system? Julian Baggini, author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, tells us the ten things we never knew about atheism.

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9780199890347 - A Storm of Witchcraft

A memorial for Gallows Hill

We now know the precise location where 19 innocent victims were hanged for witchcraft in Salem in 1692. I am honored to be a member of the Gallows Hill Project team who has worked with the City of Salem to confirm the location on a lower section of Gallows Hill known as Proctor’s Ledge. And I am pleased too that the city has already begun planning to properly memorialize the site.

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9780190212247

Repentance and the Bible: A Q&A with David Lambert

Many people assume that repentance is and always has been a substantial part of the Bible, but that was not always the case. In the following interview between Luke Drake, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Lambert, an assistant professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture, the two discuss how repentance came to be seen as a part of the Bible and the early history of repentance as a concept.

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Very Short Introductions Online

Very Short Resolutions: filling the gaps in our knowledge in 2016

Why make New Year’s Resolutions you don’t want to keep? This year the Very Short Introductions team have decided to fill the gaps in their knowledge by picking a VSI to read in 2016. Which VSIs will you be reading in 2016? Let us know in the comment section below or via the Very Short Introductions Facebook page.

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9780195301748

Why have we normalized Islamophobia?

The horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have captured headlines and triggered responses from journalists, politicians, and religious leaders. Some Western heads of government have once again threatened a global war against terrorism, while some political commentators have even invoked World War III.

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