Pope Francis recently appointed three women for the first time to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an important advisory body to the Pope on matters of Catholic orthodoxy. He has also recently established a commission for studying the role of women deacons in the early Christian church. While encouraging for supporters of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has also made it clear that he is keeping the door firmly shut in terms of the possibility of women priests.
The Roman Empire derived its strength from its military conquests: overseeing territories across Europe, Africa and Asia. Before Christianity, emperors were praised and honored for their successes on the battlefield; as Christianity took root throughout Rome, it was used as a means to elevate emperors to an even greater status: raising them from successful imperialists to divinely appointed leaders.
Although often divided between believers and non-believers, or sacred and secular, spirituality is not dichotomous. Some believers accept the concept of God, but reject the literal existence of God. Some non-believers dismiss religious parables as fiction, but embrace the history and culture that comes with religion. This excerpt from “Why We Need Religion” examines these intermediate positions, and explores how religious imagination helps us find connection and meaning in a mystifying world.
An important prophetic tradition maintains that “Islam was built upon five ‘foundations.’” The Five Pillars, (the profession of faith [shahadah], daily prayers [salat], almsgiving [zakat], the fast of Ramadan [sawm], and the pilgrimage to Mecca [Hajj]) blend the theological with the legal and represent the fundamental principles of personal and collective faith, worship, and social responsibility that unite all Muslims and distinguish Islam from other religions.
Delta Airlines was one of more than a dozen companies to cut ties with the NRA after the school shooting in February 2018 that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida. In a similar spirit six months earlier, CEOs from major American corporations spoke out against racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Trump’s inadequate response to the violence of white supremacists and their racist rhetoric prompted CEOs from Merck, General Electric, Apple, Goldman Sachs, Unilever, Armor, Dow, and Pepsi to separate themselves from him.
Ninety-two years ago this month, a confrontation took place on the Boston Common between New England’s Protestant establishment and a coalition of secular activists. Representing these two positions were J. Frank Chase, chief agent for the New England Watch and Ward Society, and H.L. Mencken, the well-known Baltimore journalist and editor of the avant-garde American Mercury.
In 1890, a strange letter with “hieroglyphic script” arrived at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School. It was sent from a reservation in the Oklahoma Territory to a Kiowa student named Belo Cozad. Cozad, who did not read or write in English, was able to understand the letter’s contents—namely, its symbols that offered an update about his family.
When Stephen Hawking died recently, a report echoed around the internet that he had rejected atheism in his last hours and turned to God. The story was utterly false; Hawking experienced no such deathbed conversion. Similar spurious accounts circulated after the deaths of other notoriously secular figures, including Christopher Hitchens and, back in the day, Charles Darwin.
A recent phenomenon in New Testament research is the involvement of Jewish scholars. They perform the vital task of correcting Christian misunderstandings, distortions, stereotypes, and calumnies, with the aim of recovering the various Jewish contexts of Jesus, Paul, and the early Christian movement.
Billy Graham’s death on 21 February, 2018, unleashed a flood of commentary on his life and legacy, much of it positive, some of it sharply negative. Both the length of his career and the historical moment at which he died contributed to the complexity of this discussion. His views on many subjects, including nuclear proliferation, the environment, global humanitarianism, and women’s ordination, changed over time.
What is church? In the social sciences, church is ordinarily conceptualized as a physical gathering place where religious people go for worship and fellowship. Church is sacred; it is not secular. With this idea of church in mind, sociologists find that U.S. Christian youth (particularly young white men) are dropping out of church. Some are dropping out because they have lost faith in God. Others, however, are leaving church because they feel alienated from organized religion, not because they stopped being Christians. This rise in “unchurched believers” raises a question: how are Christian youth creating and expressing church beyond the confines of a religious institution?
T. S. Eliot admired the way seventeenth-century poets could bring diverse materials together into harmony, and for whom thought and feeling were combined in a unified sensibility. However, he famously described a kind of dissociated sensibility that set in at the end of the century with the advent of mechanical philosophy and materialist science.
hen is a property tax dispute between a church and a municipality an international controversy? When the church is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the municipality is the city of Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest sites in Christianity. The Church takes its name from what is traditionally believed to be the tomb of Jesus located within the Church.
The sacred is where you find it. We would be foolish to ignore human awe in contemplating the eternal stability of the night sky and envy for the flight of birds that seemed to fly between the earthly, somewhat troublesome world of constant change, and what appeared to be eternal heavenly realms. The ancient depictions of winged females, and not winged males, suggest women were perceived as having some special power that men did not.
Why haven’t the insights of critical theory been more widely incorporated into the work of religious studies scholars in particular, and humanists more generally? Conversely, why have critical theorists missed the cross-cultural patterns of signification that have shaped post-tribal hierarchies for millennia, when they are so adept at finding hidden epistemological linkages within western political hegemonies?
Humanism doesn’t get much good press these days. In many circles it comes accompanied by an adjective—secular—and a diatribe: A war of philosophy and of what defines morality is being fought daily in the media, judicial benches and legislative halls across the Western world. On one side stand fundamentalist Protestantism and conservative Catholicism and on the other side secular humanism.