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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Plato’s mistake

It started innocently enough at a lunch-time event with some friends at the Randolph Hotel in the centre of Oxford. ‘The trouble with Islam …’ began some self-opinioned pundit, and I knew where he was going. Simple. Islam lends itself to fanaticism, and that is why Muslims perpetrate so much violence in the name of religion. The pundit saw himself as Christian, and therefore a man of peace, so I had my cue. ‘Look out of the window. Over there in the fork of the road you see the Martyr’s Memorial. In 1555 the Wars of Religion were in full spate, Catholics were burning Protestants at the stake, Protestants were no less fanatical when their turn came, and things got even worse with the Civil War. So why are Muslims any worse?’

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What Matthew Shepard’s interment taught us about religion

On 26 October 2018, twenty years after two men in Wyoming brutally murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard, the Washington National Cathedral hosted a service to inter Shepard’s ashes in a permanent memorial. More than four thousand people attended the service that was co-led by the Reverend Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay elected bishop of […]

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A lesson in allegorical storytelling [podcast]

National Novel Writing Month challenges writers from all over the world to complete a 50,000-word novel within the month of November. To help guide our readers who have taken on the challenge, we reached out to three-time National Jewish Book Award winner Howard Schwartz. Howard offers a deeper reading of “The Lost Princess,” and his analysis demonstrates the power of allegories as literary devices.

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The fiddle and the city

The violin holds special importance to me as part of my upbringing in Detroit, both as part of the musical world of my Jewish community and as an example of the citywide belief in music education. The Detroit that I grew up in had a pulsating inner musical life from the many populations that Detroit attracted to and housed in its vast industrial landscape. For the Jews, the violin literally had a special resonance.

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It Keeps Me Seeking

Sometimes spouses will look back on the time of their getting to know one another and say, half-jokingly, that on a given occasion one was putting the other to the test.

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Why was Jerusalem important to the first Muslims?

With the completion of the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in the reign of ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705), Muslims demonstrated the importance of Jerusalem to the world. But why should Islam have had any interest in this city?

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Danger, devotion, and domestic life in Renaissance Italy

Renaissance Italians had many ways of warding off danger. They would hang strings of coral above their beds or place Agnus Dei—small pendants decorated with the Lamb of God and containing fragments of wax from the Easter candle burned at St Peter’s in Rome—in their infants’ cribs.

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Religion and literature in a secular age

There is a long history of people exploring the relationship between religion and literature. We might go back to sacred texts from different traditions and think, for instance, about why there is such a vast array of literary forms in the Judaeo-Christian Bible.

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Teenage rebellions: families divided by religion in the Reformation

Teenage rebellion is nothing new and religion can be a powerful flashpoint between parents and their children, convinced that the older generation has got it all wrong. As radical Islam attracts teenagers in 21st century Europe, so in early modern England the Reformation produced versions of Protestantism and Catholicism that provided powerful ways for children to reject their parents’ beliefs.

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Shariah: myths vs. realities

For many in the West today, “Shariah” is a word that evokes fear—fear of a medieval legal system that issues draconian punishments, fear of relegation of women and religious minorities to second-class citizenship, fear of Muslims living as separate communities who refuse to integrate with the rest of society, and fear that Muslims will seek to impose Shariah in America and Europe.

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Did Muslims forget about the Crusades?

The crusades are so ubiquitous these days that it is hard to imagine anyone ever forgetting them. People play video games like Assassin’s Creed (starring the Templars) and Crusader Kings II in droves, newsfeeds are filled with images of young men marching around in places like Charlottesville holding shields bearing the old crusader slogan “Deus vult” (God wills it!), and every year books about the crusades are published in their dozens, informing readers about the latest developments in crusader studies.

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Martin Luther’s Polish revolution

Last year, Playmobil issued one of its best-selling and most controversial figurines yet, a three-inch Martin Luther, with quill, book, and cheerful pink plastic face. This mini-Luther celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

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She Preached the Word

Ten things to know about women’s ordination in the United States

Pope Francis recently appointed three women for the first time to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an important advisory body to the Pope on matters of Catholic orthodoxy. He has also recently established a commission for studying the role of women deacons in the early Christian church. While encouraging for supporters of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has also made it clear that he is keeping the door firmly shut in terms of the possibility of women priests.

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Divine victory: the role of Christianity in Roman military conquests

The Roman Empire derived its strength from its military conquests: overseeing territories across Europe, Africa and Asia. Before Christianity, emperors were praised and honored for their successes on the battlefield; as Christianity took root throughout Rome, it was used as a means to elevate emperors to an even greater status: raising them from successful imperialists to divinely appointed leaders.

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