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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a key period in the history of modern scholarship on ancient Greek religion. It was in nineteenth-century Germany that the foundations for the modern academic study of Greek religion were laid and the theories formulated by German scholars as well as by their British colleagues in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century exercised a profound influence on the field which would resonate until much later times.
Without Islam there would be no Shakespeare. This may seem surprising or even controversial to those who imagine a “national bard” insulated from the wider world. Such an approach is typified in the words of the celebrated historian A.L. Rowse, who wrote that when it came to creatively connecting with that world, Shakespeare, the “quiet countryman,” was “the least engaged writer there ever was.”
For some time now, I have been among those who have argued that the fandom associated with the Star Wars franchise is akin to a religion. There are those who will quarrel with the word choice, but it is hard to gainsay the dedication of fans to the original films
Shortly after her coronation in 1558 Queen Elizabeth I reasserted and maintained royal supremacy within the English church, thus confirming her power as a Protestant leader. Shakespeare’s writing flourished under her reign, when Catholic and Protestant doctrines developed distinct methods of worship, mediation, and, perhaps most significantly, power and authority.
With the devastating earthquake in Nepal on 25 April 2015, not only humans but also gods became shelterless. The famous Car Narayan or Fourfold Vishnu Temple in Patan is one of the many temples that completely collapsed. It was constructed in the classical Newar “pagoda” style with two pyramidal roofs and an inner ambulatory by a local ruler, Purandara Simha, in 1565.
On 19 October 2015, the tech culture website Geek published another installment of procrastination-inducing click-bait lists, namely a rundown of “The 11 best Satanists.” Here, writer Aubrey Sitterson introduced 11 people associated with Satanism, from Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey to music icons Marilyn Manson and King Diamond.
Though the winter season in the northern hemisphere doesn’t officially begin until Monday, 21 December, many of us anticipate the joyful holidays and the not-so-joyful cold weather with bated breath. To get you prepped with some trivia arsenal for holiday parties, we’ve pulled some interesting facts about winter from our Very Short Introductions Online resource.