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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Protestantism in Hollywood

Hollywood and Christianity often seem to be at war. There is a long list of movies that have attracted religious condemnation, from Gone with the Wind with its notorious “damn,” to The Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ. In his latest book, historian and award-winning commentator William Romanowski explores the complicated and remarkable relationship between Protestants and the American film industry. In it he reveals the surprising story of how mainline church leaders opposed government censorship, preferring instead self-regulation by both the industry and individual conscience.

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The Arab Spring Needs a Season of Reconciliation

By Daniel Philpott
What is the meaning of justice in the wake of massive injustices? This question confronts the countries of the Arab Spring, just as it confronted tens of countries emerging from war and dictatorship over the past generation. How the Arab Spring countries address the evils of yesterday affects their prospects for peace and democracy tomorrow. Today only Tunisia is reasonably stable.

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Mea Culpa

By Samuel Brown
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and the after-effects of a highly divisive campaign against gay marriage in California have brought intense media scrutiny to the Mormons and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of the attention has been salutary: the academic study of Mormonism is finally taking off, and respected presses are publishing important new books on Mormonism.

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‘A Beautiful Model’: Moral imitation in Islam

By F. E. Peters
The Imitatio Christi, composed by the German monk Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471), is a classic of Christian spirituality, widely read and translated from Latin into a variety of languages. It is not of course an instructional manual for the imitation of Christ — how does one imitate the Son of God? — nor Jesus of Nazareth, the man born of woman who was revealed to be the Son of God. Kempis’ famous work has little to do with the Jesus of the Gospels and more to do with Aristotle and the theology faculty at the University of Paris (he disapproved) and the Fathers of the Desert in early Christian Egypt (he approved, with reservations; they were a bit excessive in their asceticism).

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Indian forces massacre Sikhs in Amritsar

This Day in World History
After months of standoff between India’s government and Sikh dissidents, the Indian army attacked those dissidents who had taken refuge in the holiest Sikh shrine — the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India — on June 6, 1984. The fighting left hundreds dead and more captured. The attack also enraged many Sikhs across India, which would have fatal consequences for Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who had ordered the assault.

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Sisters in their finest moments

Carole Garibaldi Rogers
Oral histories of American Catholic women religious repeatedly reveal courageous steps out from traditional roles into ministries that serve the poor and marginalized. They also illuminate historical trends in both the church and society.

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Behind the controversy: Sisters serve

By Carole Garibaldi Rogers
As women religious in the US once again stand accused of misdeeds by the hierarchy, it is worth asking: What have these women done? They have said over and over with their lives that they are simply following the Gospel message to serve the poor. And that deep-rooted conviction underlies almost all of the 94 oral history interviews I conducted with American Catholic nuns, first in the early 1990s and most recently in 2009-2010.

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Who are the women behind the latest Vatican reprimands?

By Carole Garibaldi Rogers
The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church could have selected any number of unifying actions to mark the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). They have chosen instead a divisive path: to reprimand the leadership of American Catholic nuns.

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A look back on the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible

By Gordon Campbell
The celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible were in one respect a surprise. As the Archbishop of Canterbury commented at the end of the year, the KJB had not been treated “simply as a possession of religious believers”, much less as a “preserve of the Church”, but rather as part of a wider cultural legacy throughout the English-speaking world. This did not reflect, in the Archbishop’s tolerant view, a diminution of the Bible’s standing as a sacred text, but rather extended its significance beyond the spiritual to the cultural sphere.

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Atheist solidarity: Jason Rosenhouse rallys for reason

Jason Rosenhouse is Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University. His most recent book is Among The Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Lines. After years of emersion in creationist culture, Rosenhouse shares his feelings on what it was like to finally stand amongst his fellow non-believers at the Reason Rally.

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Four myths about Zen Buddhism’s “Mu Koan”

By Steven Heine
The Mu Koan (or Wu Gongan in Chinese pronunciation), in which master Joshu says “Mu” (literally “No,” but implying Nothingness) to an anonymous monk’s question of whether a dog has the Buddha-nature, is surely the single most famous expression in Zen Buddhist literature and practice. By virtue of its simplicity and indirection, this expression becomes emblematic of East Asian spirituality and culture more generally. Entire books have been published on the topic on both sides of the Pacific.

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eResurrection?

By Reverend John Piderit, S.J.
In an age of video, TV, camcorders, and iPhones, adept users can capture important events in a digital medium that can be transmitted quickly to people around the world. What would a resurrection appearance of Jesus have looked like if an alert apostle had an iPhone and, assuming the apostle was not immediately told by Jesus to “put that iPhone away”, the apostle captured a minute of Jesus’s appearance with the iPhone video running? Of course, this is a hypothetical and no answer could possibly be definitive. But the question raises interesting issues.

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The Feast of Passover

By Marc Brettler
Passover, as it is now celebrated, is a creation of the rabbis, and many of its rituals are a reaction to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. It has a long and complex history, and even in the biblical period, was celebrated in a variety of ways.

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Questions about Easter, baptism, and the renewal of life

It’s Good Friday and a good time to discuss the reflection and renewal that many Christians seek on Easter Sunday. The day commemorating Jesus’s resurrection, Easter marks the end of Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. In the early church, baptism and Easter were strongly linked. We sat down with Garry Wills, author of the new book Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism, to discuss the role of baptism in the lives of two early Christian saints: Augustine and Ambrose.

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What is Shariʿah?

By Tamara Sonn
For many people, the term shariʿah sets off alarm bells. Visions of court-ordered amputations and stoning arise in the popular imagination. Commentators point out that the European Court of Human Rights has pronounced some components of shariʿah, particularly those dealing with pluralism and public freedoms, incompatible with fundamental principles of democracy. And fears of “creeping shariʿah” have inspired hundreds of Web sites warning that Muslim fanatics intend to reestablish the caliphate and bring the entire world under Islam’s harsh legal system.

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What one atheist learned from hanging out with creationists

By Jason Rosenhouse
In May 2000 I began a post-doctoral position in the Mathematics Department at Kansas State University. Shortly after I arrived I learned of a conference for homeschoolers to be held in Wichita, the state’s largest city. Since that was a short drive from my home, and since anything related to public education in Kansas had relevance to my new job, I decided, on a whim, to attend.

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