Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Religion and literature in a secular age

There is a long history of people exploring the relationship between religion and literature. We might go back to sacred texts from different traditions and think, for instance, about why there is such a vast array of literary forms in the Judaeo-Christian Bible.

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Teenage rebellions: families divided by religion in the Reformation

Teenage rebellion is nothing new and religion can be a powerful flashpoint between parents and their children, convinced that the older generation has got it all wrong. As radical Islam attracts teenagers in 21st century Europe, so in early modern England the Reformation produced versions of Protestantism and Catholicism that provided powerful ways for children to reject their parents’ beliefs.

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Shariah: myths vs. realities

For many in the West today, “Shariah” is a word that evokes fear—fear of a medieval legal system that issues draconian punishments, fear of relegation of women and religious minorities to second-class citizenship, fear of Muslims living as separate communities who refuse to integrate with the rest of society, and fear that Muslims will seek to impose Shariah in America and Europe.

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Did Muslims forget about the Crusades?

The crusades are so ubiquitous these days that it is hard to imagine anyone ever forgetting them. People play video games like Assassin’s Creed (starring the Templars) and Crusader Kings II in droves, newsfeeds are filled with images of young men marching around in places like Charlottesville holding shields bearing the old crusader slogan “Deus vult” (God wills it!), and every year books about the crusades are published in their dozens, informing readers about the latest developments in crusader studies.

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Martin Luther’s Polish revolution

Last year, Playmobil issued one of its best-selling and most controversial figurines yet, a three-inch Martin Luther, with quill, book, and cheerful pink plastic face. This mini-Luther celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

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She Preached the Word

Ten things to know about women’s ordination in the United States

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.

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Divine victory: the role of Christianity in Roman military conquests

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.

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Why We Need Religion

The power of the religious imagination [excerpt]

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.

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When and why does Islamic law oblige Muslims to fast?

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.

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When corporations do the right thing

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.

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The New England Watch and Ward Society

The New England Watch and Ward Society

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.

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The Gods of Indian Country

Who put Native American sign language in the US mail?

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.

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Something Old, Something New

The art of secular dying

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.

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Gregory of Nyssa's Tabernacle Imagery in Its Jewish and Christian Contexts

The New Testament: Jewish or Gentile?

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.

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How will Billy Graham be remembered?

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.

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