Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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

Creeds and Christian freedom

It is no exaggeration to say that, historically speaking, next to the Bible the early Christian creeds are the most important texts of Christianity. Paradoxically in many western churches today these texts are regarded with a high degree of suspicion. Creeds are recited but are little understood, and in the minds of many might as well be abolished altogether.

Read More

The feminist roots of modern witchcraft [excerpt]

Throughout modern history, witchcraft has been predominately practiced by women. Historically, women were considered more likely than men to partake in magic due to their inherent moral weakness and uncontrolled sexual nature. Unsurprisingly, as witchcraft spread throughout the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, it captured the interest of the growing feminist movement.

Read More

Buddhist nationalists and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar part II: the rise of religious nationalism and Islamophobia

Since August over 420,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar, citing human rights abuses and seeking temporary refuge in Bangladesh. In part one we looked at the background and context of the Rohingya crisis. In this second part of Sarah Seniuk’s and Abby Kulisz’s interview with Michael Jerryson, they look at the role of Buddhist nationalism and the impact of Islamophobia in the developing crisis.

Read More

Can marriage officers refuse to marry same-sex couples?

Freedom of religion and same-sex equality are not inherently incompatible. But sometimes they do seem to be on a collision course. This happens, for instance, when religiously devout marriage officers refuse to marry same-sex couples. In the wake of legal recognition of same-sex marriage around the world, states have grappled with civil servants who cannot reconcile their legal duties with their religious beliefs.

Read More

Energy and contagion in Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

Emile Durkheim was a foundational figure in the disciplines of sociology and anthropology, yet recapitulations of his work sometimes overlook his most intriguing ideas, ideas which continue to have contemporary resonance. Here, I am going to discuss two such ideas from Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (originally published in 1912 and then in English in 1915), his concept of energy and contagion.

Read More

American personhood in the era of Trump

After the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August, 2017, the people of the United States waited anxiously for a response from their president. Sure enough, the first response came that day, denunciatory but equivocal. He condemned the violence coming from “many sides,” a response many found dissatisfactory considering that it was not counterprotesters but the alt-right who were responsible.

Read More

Why do so many people believe in miracles?

Belief in miracles is widespread. According to recent surveys 72% of people in the USA and 59% of people in the UK believe that miracles take place. Why do so many people believe in miracles in the present age of advanced science and technology? Let us briefly consider three possible answers to this question. The first possible answer is simply that miracles actually do take place all the time.

Read More

Buddhist nationalists and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar part I: an introduction to the current crisis

Who are the Rohingya and what is exactly happening to them right now? Since August over 420,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar, citing human rights abuses and seeking refuge in Bangladesh. Sarah Seniuk and Abby Kulisz interview Michael Jerryson, a scholar who works on Buddhist-Muslim relations in Southeast Asia, in order to learn more about the background to this current crisis.

Read More

Mapping Reformation Europe

Maps convey simple historical narratives very clearly–but how useful are simple stories about the past? Many history textbooks and studies of the Reformation include some sort of map that claims to depict Europe’s religious divisions in the sixteenth century.

Read More

The death of secularism

Secularism is under threat. From Turkey to USA, India to Russia, parts of Europe and the Middle East, secularism is being attacked from all sides: from the left, from the right, by liberal multiculturalists and illiberal totalitarians, abused by racists and xenophobes as a stick with which to beat minorities in diverse societies, subverted by religious fundamentalists planning its destruction.

Read More

Stoicism, Platonism, and the Jewishness of Early Christianity

The last few decades have taught us that speaking of Stoicism, Platonism, and Judaism as constituting a single context for understanding Early Christianity is not a contradiction (Stoicism and Platonism here; Judaism there), but rather entirely correct. The roots of Christianity are obviously Jewish, but in the Hellenistic and Roman periods Judaism itself was part of Greco-Roman culture.

Read More