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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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Being Church as Christian hardcore punk

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?

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The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism

Wonder, love, and praise

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.

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Jerusalem’s property tax

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.

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Female first: aerial women in mythology, pop culture, and beyond

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.

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Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Aftering critical theory: reimagining civil “religion”

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?

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Humanism—from Italian to secular

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.

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What is biblical archaeology? [Extract]

“These were some of the original questions in biblical archaeology that intrigued the earliest pioneers of the field. They still resonate today but are far from being answered.” In the following excerpt from Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, Eric H. Cline explains the interests of biblical archaeologists, and explores the types of questions that those in the field set out to answer.

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Exploring religious diversity in higher education

In his recent post, “Declining Exposure to Religious Diversity” (24 January), Jeremy Bauer-Wolf notes some striking results of a survey conducted by the Interfaith Youth Core of more than 7,000 students at 122 American colleges and universities. The survey measures the extent of their interfaith experiences on campus, and tracks developments in their attitudes toward religious diversity.

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The Reformation and Lutheran baroque

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century has long been associated with a reprioritization of the senses, with a shift from visual to verbal piety and from religious images to words. In many parts of northern Europe, the rich visual culture of the late-medieval church—sculptures, altarpieces, paintings, stained glass, and ecclesiastical treasures—fell victim to the purifying zeal of iconoclasts.

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Simon of Montfort and the Statutes of Pamiers

“Kill them. The Lord will know those that are his.” This statement, attributed to a Cistercian abbot at the sack of Béziers in 1209, encapsulates for the modern mind the essence of the Albigensian Crusade (1208-1229). However, a view of the Albigensian Crusade that encompasses only its violence will miss a great deal of the movement’s significance.

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The Islamic monuments of Spain: four centuries ago and today

Spanish historians and antiquarians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries revised the medieval reception of Islamic monuments in the Peninsula as architectural wonders and exotic trophies. They endeavoured to re-appropriate these hybrid architectures by integrating them into a more homogeneous cultural memory focused on Spain’s Roman and Christian past.

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