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.
For some, mediating forms may include physical things like churches and communion wafers. For others, mediating forms may also include bodily states such as the experiences of worship, or patterned behavior such as prayer.
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.
Pursuing this question in conversation with undergraduates inside and outside of the classroom for over ten years, I have found that the vast majority of young women experience hookup culture as disempowering.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Although often divided between believers and non-believers, or sacred and secular, spirituality is not dichotomous. Some believers accept the concept of God, but reject the literal existence of God. Some non-believers dismiss religious parables as fiction, but embrace the history and culture that comes with religion. This excerpt from “Why We Need Religion” examines these intermediate positions, and explores how religious imagination helps us find connection and meaning in a mystifying world.
An important prophetic tradition maintains that “Islam was built upon five ‘foundations.’” The Five Pillars, (the profession of faith [shahadah], daily prayers [salat], almsgiving [zakat], the fast of Ramadan [sawm], and the pilgrimage to Mecca [Hajj]) blend the theological with the legal and represent the fundamental principles of personal and collective faith, worship, and social responsibility that unite all Muslims and distinguish Islam from other religions.
Delta Airlines was one of more than a dozen companies to cut ties with the NRA after the school shooting in February 2018 that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida. In a similar spirit six months earlier, CEOs from major American corporations spoke out against racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Trump’s inadequate response to the violence of white supremacists and their racist rhetoric prompted CEOs from Merck, General Electric, Apple, Goldman Sachs, Unilever, Armor, Dow, and Pepsi to separate themselves from him.
Ninety-two years ago this month, a confrontation took place on the Boston Common between New England’s Protestant establishment and a coalition of secular activists. Representing these two positions were J. Frank Chase, chief agent for the New England Watch and Ward Society, and H.L. Mencken, the well-known Baltimore journalist and editor of the avant-garde American Mercury.
In 1890, a strange letter with “hieroglyphic script” arrived at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School. It was sent from a reservation in the Oklahoma Territory to a Kiowa student named Belo Cozad. Cozad, who did not read or write in English, was able to understand the letter’s contents—namely, its symbols that offered an update about his family.
When Stephen Hawking died recently, a report echoed around the internet that he had rejected atheism in his last hours and turned to God. The story was utterly false; Hawking experienced no such deathbed conversion. Similar spurious accounts circulated after the deaths of other notoriously secular figures, including Christopher Hitchens and, back in the day, Charles Darwin.