I have ambivalent feelings about Easter. I am sure I am not alone in this attitude towards the greatest of events on the Christian calendar, especially among people who grew up, as I did, in intensely religious (and loving) families but who have long put their Christian beliefs behind them. As it happens, my family were Quakers and that religion does not mark out the church festivals. But I went to a school that had a great musical tradition and each year there was a performance of one of the Bach Passions, alternating the St Matthew with the St John.
There are scenes in the Bible that cause a visceral reaction for even the most disinterested reader. As we view the Garden of Gethsemane in our mind’s eye, we see one of Jesus’ closest companions, Judas Iscariot, leading a band of men. He smiles broadly, “Rabbi!,” greeting Jesus with a kiss. The kiss, that universal sign of intimacy and affection, lands on Jesus like a knife twisting in the back.
Easter, commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is historically the most important of all Christian festivals, even though in some Western countries it has largely lost the religious significance it retains amongst the Orthodox; nevertheless it merits discussion in a broader context not only because it is often a public as well as a religious holiday, or indeed because even Christians may be baffled by its apparently capricious incidence, but because the history of its calculation illustrates many complexities of time-reckoning.
I remember the Passover Seder as a very special time. My brothers and I got new clothes that we had to save specially until that evening; this heightened our sense of anticipation and symbolized the special nature of this holiday. I can still envision preparing for Passover in the Orthodox home of my childhood: I remember the frenzied work of emptying out all our cabinets, packing up the food we ate for the other 357 days of the year and lining all the cabinets, the stove, and the refrigerator with extra thick aluminum foil.
It is something of a truism to say the “life-styles determine death-styles.” Not only do anthropologists and other scholars see the value of this point, no less an authority than Metallica incorporated it into “Frantic” on their 2006 album, St. Anger. Whatever Metallica meant, it is generally understood that if we want to understand a community’s treatment of and attitude toward the dead, we should look first to the values and priorities which shape their daily life.
From 1970 to 1975, Bayside Hills—a pleasant and prosperous neighborhood in Northeastern Queens, a borough of New York City—was embroiled in controversy when a local woman named Veronica Lueken announced that the Virgin Mary was appearing to her at St. Robert Bellarmine’s Church. At first Lueken was regarded as a “local kook.” Then, in 1973, a traditionalist Catholic group from Canada called The Pilgrims of St. Michael declared her “the seer of the age” and pilgrims started to flock to Bayside Hills.
The Renaissance vision of Jerome (c. 347-420 AD), as depicted by Albrecht Dürer in a world-famous engraving of 1514, seems to represent an ideal type of the scholar: secluded in the desert, far removed from the bustle of ordinary life (with a lion to prove it), well-established in his institution (as shown by the cardinal’s hat), and devoted to his studies.
The much anticipated Valentine’s Day release 50 Shades of Gray set off a flurry of activity on social media sites, with bloggers lining up to cajole, shame, reason or plead with women to resist temptation and abstain from viewing the film. In a case of strange bedfellows, if you will, conservative Christians and liberal feminists alike castigated the film for its packaging of abuse as mainstream entertainment.
As I look out my office window in Salem, Massachusetts at the massive piles of snow left by blizzard after unrelenting blizzard during the worst winter in memory, I could not help but consider the thoughts a local would have thought in 1692: “what have we done to incur God’s wrath?” For New England Puritans living before the age of science, everything was a sign of God’s pleasure or displeasure including extremes of weather.
On 6 January 2015, I led a major event in the British Parliament at Westminster to launch and promote a recently completed survey of academic analysis and its policy implications, Religion, Security, and Global Uncertainties. The following day in Paris, the Houachi brothers shot dead twelve people in their attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo, professedly to avenge its alleged insults to the Prophet Muhammad.
In 1858, German Princess Katharina von Hohenzollern entered the strict Franciscan convent of Sant’Ambrogio della Massima. Instead to finding the solitude and peace she was looking for she stumbled across a sex scandal of ecclesiastical proportions filled with poison, murder, and lesbian initiation rites. Based on Hubert Wolf’s vividly reconstructed telling of the scandal, we’ve created a short quiz where you can try your hand and unravel the secrets of the Sant’Ambrogio convent.
It is as if a massive color palette fell on earth from the hand of the Almighty. The whole atmosphere is painted with bright colors—red, pink, yellow, blue, green, and purple. Young and old, men and women—all are soaked in colored water, running around, laughing loudly, shouting, and throwing mud on each other. It is a war where a water gun is your weapon, colored water is your bullet, and colored powder is your smoke screen.
How can we understand the relation between science and narrative? Should we even try to? Where can we find and deploy a constructive cultural narrative for science that might unlock some of the current misrepresentations and political tangles around science and technology in the public forum?
Civil Rights icon Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a theologian and pastor, who used biblical texts and imagery extensively in his speeches and sermons. Here is a selection of five biblical quotations and allusions that you may not have noticed in his work (in chronological order).
Dante can seem overwhelming. T.S. Eliot’s peremptory declaration that ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third’ is more likely to be off-putting these days than inspiring. Shakespeare’s plays are constantly being staged and filmed, and in all sorts of ways, with big names in the big parts, and when we see them we can connect with the characters and the issues with not too much effort.
It’s Thursday evening in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. I am late for an appointment to see my friend Shimanto (lit. boundary [Sanskrit]). On the street I shout ‘ei mama jaben?’ (Hey uncle, will you go? [Bangla]) to catch an auto-rickshaw (auto [English] man-powered-wheeler [Japanese]). After striking the deal, I sit inside the three-wheeler. As the young driver speeds up almost hitting passers-by and curses ‘jyam khub kharap!’ (Traffic jam [English] is very bad! [Persian]), I recollect the writing at the back of the car: ‘allāḥ sarvaśaktimān’ (God [Arabic] almighty [Sanskrit]).