Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Understanding secularism [excerpt]

“The separation of religious institutions from state ones had also been a feature of societies elsewhere, and at other times in history.” What is secularism? In the following extract from Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom, Andrew Copson breaks down 3 different parts of the definition of secularism, its history, and how its meaning has developed over time.

Read More

Tired spirits? What happens when Pentecostalism becomes middle class?

Pentecostalism is a Christian revival movement. It emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and is marked by a focus on the Holy Spirit and its gifts. Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit can award them specific gifts such as the gifts of healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. In terms of membership growth, Pentecostalism has been the most successful religious movement in the 20th century.

Read More

Reinforcing the patriarchy: tricksters in literature and mythology

Have you ever noticed how much your favorite stories have in common? Boy meets girl, falls in love, gets married. Hero goes on a quest, meets a wise old man, and saves the day. There’s a reason for this repetition, if you believe the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung found that his psychotherapy patients would tell stories containing elements of ancient mythology, even when they had never been exposed to these myths.

Read More

What is Thanksgiving? A Brit’s guide to the holiday

Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays in the US calendar. However for those who have never lived in America, the celebration can seem perplexing and often down-right bewildering. Here in the Oxford offices at Oxford University Press, we thought we may have understood the basics, but on researching more into the holiday, we have been left with many more questions than answers. For instance, what is a “Turkey Trot” or sweet potato pie, and if television is to be believed – do people actually go around the table saying what they’re thankful for?

Read More

5 facts that help us understand the world of early American yoga

Long and varied as yoga’s history on the Indian subcontinent may be, its comparatively short residency on American soil is no less interesting. Early American yoga—a concept held together only by the fact that it appears to belong to a cast of characters who call themselves yogis—oscillates between the menacing and the marvelous, the magical and the mechanical, the strange and the familiar.

Read More

Festival Dohori in the Kathmandu Valley

Nepal’s rural hills are famous for the all-night songfests in which conversational dohori and other folk songs are sung, much more so than the Kathmandu Valley. But there are a few places in the capital city and surrounding valley that also have long traditions of gathering and singing at religious festivals.

Read More

Is there definitive proof of the existence of God?

When Kurt Gödel, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, died in 1978 he left mysterious notes filled with logical symbols. Towards the end of his life a rumour circulated that this enigmatic genius was engaged in a secret project that was not directly relevant to his usual mathematical work. According to the rumour, he had tried to develop a logical proof of the existence of God.

Read More

Celtic goddesses to inspire writers [slideshow]

In Greek Mythology, the muses were called upon by artists and musicians to guide and inspire their work. This National Novel Writing Month, we’ve traveled to the Celtic isles to call upon some lesser known goddesses to help inspire different genres and tropes you may wish to put to paper. Referencing Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes, we’ve pulled together a list of five Celtic goddesses for writers.

Read More

Sharia courts in America?

Islamic courts need not be scary so long as they adopt the general framework used for religious arbitration in America. Islamic arbitration tribunals have a place in America (just like any religious arbitration does), but Sharia Courts must function consistent with American attitudes and laws towards religious arbitration tribunals generally. By observing how Jewish rabbinical courts are regulated by US law and function within their religious communities, one sees that Islamic courts could be another example of the kind of religious arbitration that is a well-established feature of the American religious life.

Read More

Q&A with R. Andrew Chesnut on Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte, a skeleton saint, has attracted millions of devotees over the past decade. In the US she’s become especially popular among Euro-American LGBTQ individuals. We spoke to R. Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death, about the history and origins of Santa Muerte, why she has gained popularity recently, and the process and challenges of his research on the Bony Lady.

Read More

J. S. Bach and the celebration of the Reformation

The figure most closely identified with the Protestant Reformation is, of course, Martin Luther. But after him probably comes Johann Sebastian Bach, who spent much of his musical career in the service of Luther’s church. As the world marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on 31 October 2017, we can remember that Bach and his contemporaries also took careful note of Reformation anniversaries, commemorating them in liturgy and music.

Read More

9.5 myths about the Reformation

Did the The Reformation laid the foundations of the modern world? This year marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation and Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Castle Church. But how much of what we think about it is actually true? To coincide with this occasion, Peter Marshall addresses 9.5 common myths about the Reformation.

Read More

The Protestant Reformation and the upside of historical amnesia

On October 31, the Western world will mark a momentous date: 500 years since an obscure German monk, Martin Luther, putatively nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door of Wittenberg, Saxony, thereby launching Protestant Christianity and, if you believe some historians, the modern world. That many people can’t remember what the Protestant Reformation was all about might not please scholars.

Read More
The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic

The art of witchcraft: six illustrations [slideshow]

Witchcraft dates back 5,000 years to the beginning of writing. Its history offers glimpses into the human psyche and has excited the minds of artists, playwrights, and novelists for centuries. Referencing The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic, we’ve pulled together a slideshow of six fascinating facts about the history of witchcraft.

Read More

Divali in the White House?

When Barack Obama became the first U.S. President to celebrate Divali in the White House in 2009, he sent a message to South Asian Americans that they are a part of the American national narrative. His actions were not only about lighting lamps and the remembrance of Indic myths, but they were also about the […]

Read More