Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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Truth, lies, and the Reformation

We are obsessed with lying, a subject which has been much in the news recently. Indeed, a main concern has been the production of ‘fake news’, news that is a lie. The issue is of fundamental importance: if we don’t have proper evidence and accurate testimony then we can never get to the truth. The Reformation shows us that this is not a new phenomenon, but one that has been ever-present in history.

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The Origins of the Reformation Bible

One of the side effects of the Protestant Reformation was intense scrutiny of the biblical canon and its contents. Martin Luther did not broach the issue in his 95 Theses, but not long after he drove that fateful nail into the door of the Wittenberg chapel, it became clear that the exact contents of the biblical canon would need to be addressed. Luther increasingly claimed that Christian doctrine should rest on biblical authority.

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The Jewish experience in the United States [extract]

To a great extent, Jews have realized the promise of Washington’s America. They have been much admired, in no small part because of the belief that they are the progenitors of the biblical spirit on which America was built. It was this recognition that prompted Washington’s successor, John Adams, to declare of the Jews in 1808: “They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth.”

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Taxation and religion in 2018

2018 will be an interesting year for those concerned about the intersection of taxation and religion. Two important issues – the constitutionality of the parsonage allowance and the future of the Johnson Amendment – are primed for further controversy in the year ahead. Several months ago, Judge Crabb agreed with the FFRF that Section 107(2) is unconstitutional.

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How well do you know your December celebrations?

n many countries throughout the modern world, December has become synonymous with the celebration of Christmas. Despite this focus, there are many other December celebrations including the Buddhist Rōhatsu and Jewish Hanukkah, secular festivities such as Kwanzaa and Hogmanay, and ancient Roman rituals such as Saturnalia. Discover some fascinating (and lesser-known) facts on these December celebrations.

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The war on Christmas: a two thousand year history [timeline]

Is there a war on Christmas? Yes. And it’s been fought for almost two thousand years. Since their earliest incarnation, Christmas festivities have been criticized and even outlawed. In the timeline below, historian and Christmas expert Gerry Bowler takes a look at this long history—from nativity protests in 240 through the billboard wars of 2014.

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Newton and the perils of the imagination

In the 17th century, there were two contradictory attitudes to the imagination or ‘phantasy’. For many it was valued as the source of wit and invention; but for others it was the basis of deception, superstition, and mental illness. It was John Calvin, a century earlier, who had warned that the mind was a dungeon and a factory of idols. English puritan writers followed in his wake, cautioning against the seductive tendencies of the unregenerate imagination

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A holy revolution

With hundreds of churches built, rebuilt, or restored in the nineteenth century, they can be found nearly everywhere today. Out of thousands of possible choices, below are five characteristic specimens — four small churches and one large synagogue — that explain Victorian belief.

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