Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The amorous and other adventures of “poor pilgarlic”

The word pilgarlic (or pilgarlik and pilgarlick) may not be worthy of a post, but a hundred and fifty years ago and some time later, people discussed it with great interest and dug up so many curious examples of its use that only the OED has more. (Just how many citations the archive of the OED contains we have no way of knowing, for the printed text includes only a small portion of the examples James A. H. Murray and his successors received.) There is not much to add to what is known about the origin of this odd word, but I have my own etymology of the curious word and am eager to publicize it.

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Crises and population health

On the day after the horrific shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the local state representative predicted what would happen next. “Nothing.”

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The IMF’s role in the evolution of economic orthodoxy since the Crisis

The IMF & World Bank’s Spring meetings with finance ministers and central bankers, which took place in Washington DC recently, are one key forum where the IMF performs its mandated role as conduit of international economic co-ordination. The IMF uses its knowledge bank, expertise and mandate for economic surveillance and coordination to act as global arbiter of legitimate or ‘sound’ policy.

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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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The gravity of gravitational waves

Rarely has a research field in physics gotten such sustained worldwide press coverage as gravity has received recently. A breathtaking sequence of events has kept gravity in the spotlight for months: the first detection(s) of gravitational waves from black-holes; the amazing success of LISA Pathfinder, ESA’s precursor mission to the LISA gravitational wave detector in space; the observation — first by gravitational waves with LIGO and Virgo, and then by all possible telescopes on Earth and in space — of the merger of two neutron stars, an astrophysical event that likely constitutes the cosmic factory of many of the chemical elements we find around us.

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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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Looking back at 100 years of flu [timeline]

This year is the centenary of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. However, it was only by 2010 that the industry had started universal flu vaccine trials, following the Swine flu pandemic in 2009. Explore the last hundred years of flu, as we mark the Spanish flu centenary, from the four major pandemics to the medical advances along the way, with this interactive timeline.

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The scientist as historian

Why should a trained scientist be seriously interested in science past? After all, science looks to the future. Moreover, as Nobel laureate immunologist Sir Peter Medawar once put it: “A great many highly creative scientists…take it for granted, though they are usually too polite or too ashamed to say so, that an interest in the history of science is a sign of failing or unawakened powers.”

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Economic inequality, politics, and capital

Economic inequality and campaign finance are two of the hottest topics in America today. Unfortunately, the topics are typically discussed separately, but they are actually intertwined.

The rise of US economic inequality that economist Thomas Piketty chronicles in his renowned book Capital in the Twenty-First Century – starting in the late 1970s and continuing through today – coincides remarkably with the US Supreme Court’s decision of Buckley v. Valeo.

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Three new chameleon species from Madagascar

Madagascar is famous for the immense diversity of animals that are found nowhere else in the world. Among its most famous animals number the chameleons: both the largest (Parson’s chameleon, Calumma parsonii, or Oustalet’s chameleon, Furcifer oustaleti, depending on how you define “large”) and smallest (the dwarf leaf chameleon, Brookesia micra) chameleons are native to Madagascar. In fact, about half of the over 200 species of chameleons are strictly Malagasy.

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Why We Need Religion

The power of the religious imagination [excerpt]

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.

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When and why does Islamic law oblige Muslims to fast?

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.

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History books for Dads [reading list]

In recent years, consumer surveys have shown an upward trend in Father’s Day gift-giving. According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. Father’s Day spending in 2017 hit record highs: reaching an estimated $15.5 billion. This change could be related to nature of modern fatherhood: today’s dads report spending an average of seven hours per week on child care (nearly triple what fathers reported 50 years ago). To celebrate Father’s Day, we put together a video collection of books we think dads will love. More details about each book can be found in the list below. If you have any reading suggestions for Father’s Day, please share in the comments section!

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Performing for their lives: LGBT individuals seeking asylum

The UN Refugee Convention promises safe haven to individuals who, having crossed an international boundary, can prove a well-founded fear of persecution based upon one of five categories. Least well-defined of these categories, and most ambiguous among them, is ‘membership in a particular social group.’ How does one prove lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender ‘membership’?

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Studying mass murder

In the twentieth century, 40 to 60 million defenseless people were massacred in episodes of genocide. The 21st century is not faring much better, with mass murder ongoing e.g. in Myanmar and Syria. Many of these cases have been studied well, both in detailed case studies and in comparative perspectives, but studying mass murder is no picnic.

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Improving care for the family and friends who care for cancer patients

Many individuals in the United States will receive a cancer diagnosis this year. Such a diagnosis is upsetting to those who receive it and overwhelming to those—relatives or friends—who love them. Cancer is rarely experienced in isolation. 

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