Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Conversations with Dostoevsky

The first time I visited St Petersburg, nearly thirty years ago, I stayed not far from the area in which Dostoevsky set the action of Crime and Punishment. The tenement blocks were, for the most part, those that Dostoevsky himself would have seen—indeed, one friend lived at Grazhdanskaya 19, a possible location for the coffin-like garret inhabited by Raskolnikov, the novel’s homicidal anti-hero.

Read More

Beyond God and atheism

One of the most remarkable findings of recent science is that the fundamental constants of nature appear to be fine-tuned for the existence of life. Some think the fine-tuning of physics points to a God, who set the numbers to ensure life comes about. Others think it points to a multiverse: if there are enough universes with enough variety in their laws of nature, then it becomes statistically likely that at least one with be right for life. I think there are big problems with both these options, and we may need more radical solutions.

Read More

African American religions and the voodoo label

In 1932, an African American man named Robert Harris killed his tenant on a makeshift altar in the back of his home in Detroit, Michigan. Harris, who was allegedly part of Detroit’s burgeoning Black Muslim community, described the murder as a human sacrifice to Allah. Harris was put on trial for murder; however, following some bizarre courtroom rants during which he referred to himself as a “king” and the murder as a “crucifixion,” Harris was declared insane and sent to an asylum.

Read More

Faith in God, themselves, and the people: Black religious activist-educators

I started my first seminar on Radical Pedagogy, reflecting with students on a provocative blog entitled “10 Reasons Septima Clark was a Badass Teacher.” Beyond the shock value of using badass in a divinity school setting, the students were curious about why I started with this lesser known (if not completely unknown) figure from the 1950s Civil Rights era.

Read More

The first women’s shelter in Europe? Radegund’s Holy Cross

‘With the passion of a focused mind, I considered how to advance other women so that—the Lord willing—my own desires might prove beneficial for others. […] I established a monastery for girls in the city of Poitiers. After its foundation, I endowed the monastery with however much wealth I had received from the generosity of the king.’

Read More

Cosmopolitan, cad, or closeted Catholic?

Having just arrived via ferry to the Dutch town of Sluis in mid-May 1611, William Cecil, Lord Roos (1591-1618), promptly exposed his “privy member” (penis) to what one assumes were rather surprised townsfolk.

Read More

Holes in the Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11:1–9) is among the most famous in the Bible. It might even be considered an iconic text—famous beyond its actual content; since the story was originally written it has come to mean much more than its actual words.

Read More
The Oxford Comment podcast

The revelation of the Book of Mormon at 200 [podcast]

On today’s episode, we’re joined by two preeminent scholars on the history and theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to discuss with us the legacy of Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates as well as the state of academic scholarship surrounding The Book of Mormon.

Read More
Title cover for "The Opening of the Protestant: Mind How Anglo-American Protestants Embraced Religious Liberty" by Mark Valeri, published by Oxford University Press

The contested nature of religious liberty in today’s America

Several decisions recently made by the United States Supreme Court, along with an escalation in Christian Nationalist rhetoric among right-wing American politicians, have brought the issue of religious liberty to the surface in today’s media. Much of the commentary has focused on a paradox: the concept of religious liberty has increasingly been used to suppress […]

Read More
Title cover for "King David, Innocent Blood, and Bloodguilt" by David J. Shepherd published by Oxford University Press

Is all fair in war? Innocent blood, armed conflict, and King David

It is widely agreed that even in war, innocent blood should not be shed. What has not been readily apparent until now is that in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the problem of innocent bloodshed in war was first detected and, indeed, dissected much earlier—in its most ancient text, the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Read More
The Buddha: A Storied Life, co-edited by Vanessa R Sasson and Kristin Scheible, published by Oxford University Press

The Buddha’s never-ending story

Vanessa R. Sasson and Kristin Scheible explain how the Buddha’s life story is not an individual narrative, but a cosmic one, brimming with previous and future buddhas.

Read More
Melville's Wisdom: Religion, Skepticism, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century America by Damien B. Schlarb, published by Oxford University Press

Melville’s wisdom: making the past speak to the present

Damien B. Schlarb discusses how “Melville’s wisdom,” the version of moral philosophy Herman Melville crafts in his fiction through his engagement with biblical wisdom literature, may help us confront our own moment of informational inundation and uncertainty.

Read More