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2017-12-16 14:31


BBC Radio


Religion Podcasts

Religion Podcasts

  • Thomas Becket

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 14, 2017 | 05:15 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who was Henry II's Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury and who was murdered by knights in Canterbury Cathedral (depicted by Matthew Paris, above). Henry believed that Becket owed him loyalty as he had raised him to the highest offices, and that he should agree to Henry's courts having jurisdiction over 'criminous clerics'. They fell out when Becket agreed to this jurisdiction verbally but would not put his seal on the agreement, the Constitutions of Clarendon. The rift deepened when Henry's heir was crowned without Becket, who excommunicated the bishops who took part. Becket's tomb became one of the main destinations for pilgrims for the next 400 years, including those in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales where he was the 'blisful martir'.WithLaura AsheAssociate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of OxfordMichael StauntonAssociate Professor in History at University College DublinAndDanica SummerlinLecturer in Medieval History at the University of SheffieldProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Constantine the Great

    In Our Time: Religion Oct 5, 2017 | 06:08 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, reputation and impact of Constantine I, known as Constantine the Great (c280s -337AD). Born in modern day Serbia and proclaimed Emperor by his army in York in 306AD, Constantine became the first Roman Emperor to profess Christianity. He legalised Christianity and its followers achieved privileges that became lost to traditional religions, leading to the steady Christianisation of the Empire. He built a new palace in Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople, as part of the decentralisation of the Empire, an Eastern shift that saw Roman power endure another thousand years there, long after the collapse of the empire in the West.WithChristopher KellyProfessor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Cambridgeand President of Corpus Christi CollegeLucy GrigSenior Lecturer in Roman History at the University of EdinburghandGreg WoolfDirector of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • al-Biruni

    In Our Time: Religion Aug 31, 2017 | 06:02 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Central Asian polymath al-Biruni and his eleventh-century book the India.Born in around 973 in the central Asian region of Chorasmia, al-Biruni became an itinerant scholar of immense learning, a master of mathematics, medicine, astronomy and many languages. He corresponded with the age's greatest scientist, Avicenna, and made significant contributions to many fields of knowledge.In 1017 al-Biruni became a member of the court of the ruler Mahmud of Ghazna. Over the course of the next thirteen years he wrote the India, a comprehensive account of Hindu culture which was the first book about India by a Muslim scholar. It contains detailed information about Hindu religion, science and everyday life which have caused some to call it the first work of anthropology.With:James MontgomeryProfessor of Classical Arabic at the University of CambridgeHugh KennedyProfessor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of LondonAmira BennisonSenior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Purgatory

    In Our Time: Religion May 25, 2017 | 05:32 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of the idea of Purgatory from C12th, when it was imagined as a place alongside Hell and Heaven in which the souls of sinners would be purged of those sins by fire. In the West, there were new systems put in place to pray for the souls of the dead, on a greater scale, with opportunities to buy pardons to shorten time in Purgatory. The idea was enriched with visions, some religious and some literary; Dante imagined Purgatory as a mountain in the southern hemisphere, others such as Marie de France told of The Legend of the Purgatory of Saint Patrick, in which the entrance was on Station Island in County Donegal. This idea of purification by fire had appalled the Eastern Orthodox Church and was one of the factors in the split from Rome in 1054, but flourished in the West up to the reformations of C16th when it was again particularly divisive.WithLaura AsheAssociate Professor of English and fellow of Worcester College at the University of OxfordMatthew TreherneProfessor of Italian Literature at the University of LeedsandHelen Foxhall ForbesAssociate Professor of Early Medieval History at Durham UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Baltic Crusades

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 24, 2016 | 06:40 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Baltic Crusades, the name given to a series of overlapping attempts to convert the pagans of North East Europe to Christianity at the point of the sword. From the 12th Century, Papal Bulls endorsed those who fought on the side of the Church, the best known now being the Teutonic Order which, thwarted in Jerusalem, founded a state on the edge of the Baltic, in Prussia. Some of the peoples in the region disappeared, either killed or assimilated, and the consequences for European history were profound.WithAleks PluskowskiAssociate Professor of Archaeology at the University of ReadingNora BerendFellow of St Catharine's College and Reader in European History at the Faculty of History at the University of CambridgeandMartin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Lakshmi

    In Our Time: Religion Oct 6, 2016 | 05:15 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, and of the traditions that have built around her for over 3,000 years. According to the creation story of the Puranas, she came to existence in the churning of the ocean of milk. Her prominent status grew alongside other goddesses in the mainly male world of the Vedas, as female deities came to be seen as the Shakti, the energy of the gods, without which they would be powerless. Lakshmi came to represent the qualities of blessing, prosperity, fertility, beauty and good fortune and, more recently, political order, and she has a significant role in Diwali, one of the most important of the Hindu festivals.WithJessica FrazierLecturer in Religious Studies at the University of KentResearch Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of OxfordJacqueline Suthren-HirstSenior Lecturer in South Asian Studies at the University of ManchesterandChakravarthi Ram-PrasadProfessor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Margery Kempe and English Mysticism

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 2, 2016 | 05:14 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the English mystic Margery Kempe (1373-1438) whose extraordinary life is recorded in a book she dictated, The Book of Margery Kempe. She went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Rome and Santiago de Compostela, purchasing indulgences on her way, met with the anchoress Julian of Norwich and is honoured by the Church of England each 9th November. She sometimes doubted the authenticity of her mystical conversations with God, as did the authorities who saw her devotional sobbing, wailing and convulsions as a sign of insanity and dissoluteness. Her Book was lost for centuries, before emerging in a private library in 1934.The image (above), of an unknown woman, comes from a pew at Margery Kempe's parish church, St Margaret's, Kings Lynn and dates from c1375.WithMiri RubinProfessor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of LondonKatherine LewisSenior Lecturer in History at the University of HuddersfieldAndAnthony BaleProfessor of Medieval Studies at Birkbeck University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Titus Oates and his 'Popish Plot'

    In Our Time: Religion May 12, 2016 | 05:18 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Titus Oates (1649-1705) who, with Israel Tonge, spread rumours of a Catholic plot to assassinate Charles II. From 1678, they went to great lengths to support their scheme, forging evidence and identifying the supposed conspirators. Fearing a second Gunpowder Plot, Oates' supposed revelations caused uproar in London and across the British Isles, with many Catholics, particularly Jesuit priests, wrongly implicated by Oates and then executed. Anyone who doubted him had to keep quiet, to avoid being suspected a sympathiser and thrown in prison. Oates was eventually exposed, put on trial under James II and sentenced by Judge Jeffreys to public whipping through the streets of London, but the question remained: why was this rogue, who had faced perjury charges before, ever believed?WithClare JacksonSenior Tutor and Director of Studies in History at Trinity Hall, University of CambridgeMark KnightsProfessor of History at the University of WarwickAndPeter HindsAssociate Professor of English at Plymouth UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • The Sikh Empire

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 7, 2016 | 05:14 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the Sikh Empire at the end of the 18th Century under Ranjit Singh, pictured above, who unified most of the Sikh kingdoms following the decline of the Mughal Empire. He became Maharaja of the Punjab at Lahore in 1801, capturing Amritsar the following year. His empire flourished until 1839, after which a decade of unrest ended with the British annexation. At its peak, the Empire covered the Punjab and stretched from the Khyber Pass in the west to the edge of Tibet in the east, up to Kashmir and down to Mithankot on the Indus River. Ranjit Singh is still remembered as "The Lion of the Punjab."WithGurharpal SinghProfessor in Inter-Religious Relations and Development at SOAS, University of LondonChandrika KaulLecturer in Modern History at the University of St AndrewsAndSusan StrongeSenior Curator in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert MuseumProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Mary Magdalene

    In Our Time: Religion Feb 25, 2016 | 05:16 am

    Mary Magdalene is one of the best-known figures in the Bible and has been a frequent inspiration to artists and writers over the last 2000 years. According to the New Testament, she was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified and was one of the first people to see Jesus after the resurrection. However, her identity has provoked a large amount of debate and in the Western Church she soon became conflated with two other figures mentioned in the Bible, a repentant sinner and Mary of Bethany. Texts discovered in the mid-20th century provoked controversy and raised further questions about the nature of her relations with Jesus.With:Joanne AndersonLecturer in Art History at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of LondonEamon DuffyEmeritus Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Magdalene CollegeJoan TaylorProfessor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College LondonProducer: Victoria Brignell.

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  • The Salem Witch Trials

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 26, 2015 | 05:35 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the outbreak of witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692-3, centred on Salem, which led to the execution of twenty people, with more dying in prison before or after trial. Some were men, including Giles Corey who died after being pressed with heavy rocks, but the majority were women. At its peak, around 150 people were suspected of witchcraft, including the wife of the governor who had established the trials. Many of the claims of witchcraft arose from personal rivalries in an area known for unrest, but were examined and upheld by the courts at a time of mass hysteria, belief in the devil, fear of attack by Native Americans and religious divisions.WithSusan Castillo-StreetHarriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita of American Studies at King's College LondonSimon MiddletonSenior Lecturer in American History at the University of SheffieldAndMarion GibsonProfessor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at Exeter University, Penryn Campus.Producer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Prester John

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 4, 2015 | 05:07 am

    In the Middle Ages, Prester John was seen as the great hope for Crusaders struggling to hold on to, then regain, Jerusalem. He was thought to rule a lost Christian kingdom somewhere in the East and was ready to attack Muslim opponents with his enormous armies. There was apparent proof of Prester John's existence, in letters purportedly from him and in stories from travelers who claimed they had met, if not him, then people who had news of him. Most pointed to a home in the earthly paradise in the Indies, outside Eden, with fantastical animals and unimaginable riches. Later, Portuguese explorers thought they had found him in Ethiopia, despite the mystified denials of people there. Melvyn Bragg asks why the legend was so strongly believed for so long, and what facts helped sustain the myths.WithMarianne O'DohertyAssociate Professor in English at the University of SouthamptonMartin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureAndAmanda PowerSenior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Sheffield.Producer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Josephus

    In Our Time: Religion May 21, 2015 | 06:05 am

    It is said that, in Britain from the 18th Century, copies of Josephus' works were as widespread and as well read as The Bible. Christians valued "The Antiquities of the Jews" in particular, for the retelling of parts of the Old Testament and apparently corroborating the historical existence of Jesus. Born Joseph son of Matthias, in Jerusalem, in 37AD, he fought the Romans in Galilee in the First Jewish-Roman War. He was captured by Vespasian's troops and became a Roman citizen, later describing the siege and fall of Jerusalem. His actions and writings made him a controversial figure, from his lifetime to the present day.WithTessa RajakProfessor Emeritus of Ancient History, University of ReadingPhilip AlexanderProfessor Emeritus of Jewish Studies, University of ManchesterAndMartin GoodmanProfessor of Jewish Studies, University of Oxford and President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish StudiesProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Matteo Ricci and the Ming Dynasty

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 16, 2015 | 05:50 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest who in the 16th century led a Christian mission to China. An accomplished scholar, Ricci travelled extensively and came into contact with senior officials of the Ming Dynasty administration. His story is one of the most important encounters between Renaissance Europe and a China which was still virtually closed to outsiders.WithMary LavenReader in Early Modern History at the University of CambridgeCraig ClunasProfessor of the History of Art at the University of OxfordandAnne GerritsenReader in History at the University of WarwickProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Al-Ghazali

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 19, 2015 | 06:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Al-Ghazali, a major philosopher and theologian of the late 11th century. Born in Persia, he was one of the most prominent intellectuals of his age, working in such centres of learning as Baghdad, Damascus and Jerusalem. He is now seen as a key figure in the development of Islamic thought, not just refining the theology of Islam but also building on the existing philosophical tradition inherited from the ancient Greeks.With:Peter AdamsonProfessor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in MunichCarole HillenbrandProfessor of Islamic History at Edinburgh and St Andrews UniversitiesRobert GleaveProfessor of Arabic Studies at the University of ExeterProducer: Victoria Brignell.

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  • Zen

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 4, 2014 | 05:40 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zen. It's often thought of as a form of Buddhism that emphasises the practice of meditation over any particular set of beliefs. In fact Zen belongs to a particular intellectual tradition within Buddhism that took root in China in the 6th century AD. It spread to Japan in the early Middle Ages, where Zen practitioners set up religious institutions like temples, monasteries and universities that remain important today.GUESTSTim Barrett, Emeritus Professor in the Department of the Study of Religions at SOAS, University of LondonLucia Dolce, Numata Reader in Japanese Buddhism at SOAS, University of LondonEric Greene, Lecturer in East Asian Religions at the University of BristolProducer: Luke Mulhall.

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  • Hildegard of Bingen

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 26, 2014 | 05:55 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen. The abbess of a Benedictine convent, Hildegard experienced a series of mystical visions which she documented in her writings. She was an influential person in the religious world and much of her extensive correspondence with popes, monarchs and other important figures survives. Hildegard was also celebrated for her wide-ranging scholarship, which as well as theology covered the natural world, science and medicine. Officially recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2012, Hildegard is also one of the earliest known composers. Since their rediscovery in recent decades her compositions have been widely recorded and performed.With:Miri RubinProfessor of Medieval and Early Modern History and Head of the School of History at Queen Mary, University of LondonWilliam FlynnLecturer in Medieval Latin at the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of LeedsAlmut SuerbaumProfessor of Medieval German and Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Talmud

    In Our Time: Religion May 29, 2014 | 06:10 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history and contents of the Talmud, one of the most important texts of Judaism. The Talmud was probably written down over a period of several hundred years, beginning in the 2nd century. It contains the authoritative text of the traditional Jewish oral law, and also an account of early Rabbinic discussion of, and commentary on, these laws. In later centuries scholars wrote important commentaries on these texts, which remain central to most strands of modern Judaism.With:Philip AlexanderEmeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of ManchesterRabbi Norman SolomonFormer Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Jewish and Hebrew StudiesLaliv ClenmanLecturer in Rabbinic Literature at Leo Baeck College and a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King's College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Bishop Berkeley

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 20, 2014 | 07:20 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of George Berkeley, an Anglican bishop who was one of the most important philosophers of the eighteenth century. Bishop Berkeley believed that objects only truly exist in the mind of somebody who perceives them - an idea he called immaterialism. His interests and writing ranged widely, from the science of optics to religion and the medicinal benefits of tar water. His work on the nature of perception was a spur to many later thinkers, including David Hume and Immanuel Kant. The clarity of Berkeley's writing, and his ability to pose a profound problem in an easily understood form, has made him one of the most admired early modern thinkers.With:Peter MillicanGilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, OxfordTom StonehamProfessor of Philosophy at the University of YorkMichela MassimiSenior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Trinity

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 13, 2014 | 05:45 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Trinity. The idea that God is a single entity, but one known in three distinct forms - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - has been a central belief for most Christians since the earliest years of the religion. The doctrine was often controversial in the early years of the Church, until clarified by the Council of Nicaea in the late 4th century. Later thinkers including St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas recognised that this religious mystery posed profound theological questions, such as whether the three persons of the Trinity always acted together, and whether they were of equal status. The Trinity's influence on Christian thought and practice is considerable, although it is interpreted in different ways by different Christian traditions.With:Janet SoskiceProfessor of Philosophical Theology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus CollegeMartin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureThe Reverend Graham WardRegius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford and a Canon of Christ Church.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Hindu Ideas of Creation

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 5, 2013 | 05:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Hindu ideas about Creation. According to most Western religious traditions, a deity was the original creator of the Universe. Hinduism, on the other hand, has no single creation story. For thousands of years, Hindu thinkers have taken a variety of approaches to the question of where we come from, with some making the case for divine intervention and others asking whether it is even possible for humans to comprehend the nature of creation. The origin of our existence, and the nature of the Universe we live in, is one of the richest strands of Hindu thought.With:Jessica FrazierLecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of OxfordChakravarthi Ram-PrasadProfessor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster UniversityGavin FloodProfessor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Book of Common Prayer

    In Our Time: Religion Oct 17, 2013 | 05:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Book of Common Prayer. In 1549, at the height of the English Reformation, a new prayer book was published containing versions of the liturgy in English. Generally believed to have been supervised by Thomas Cranmer, the Book of Common Prayer was at the centre of the decade of religious turmoil that followed, and disputes over its use were one of the major causes of the English Civil War in the 1640s. The book was revised several times before the celebrated final version was published in 1662. It is still in use in many churches today, and remains not just a liturgical text of great importance but a literary work of profound beauty and influence.With:Diarmaid MacCullochProfessor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordAlexandra WalshamProfessor of Modern History at the University of CambridgeMartin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Prophecy

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 13, 2013 | 05:15 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the meaning and significance of prophecy in the Abrahamic religions. Prophets, those with the ability to convey divinely-inspired revelation, are significant figures in the Hebrew Bible and later became important not just to Judaism but also to Christianity and Islam. Although these three religions share many of the same prophets, their interpretation of the nature of prophecy often differs.With:Mona SiddiquiProfessor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of EdinburghJustin MeggittUniversity Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion and the Origins of Christianity at the University of CambridgeJonathan StöklPost-Doctoral Researcher at Leiden University.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Gnosticism

    In Our Time: Religion May 2, 2013 | 04:45 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Gnosticism, a sect associated with early Christianity. The Gnostics divided the universe into two domains: the visible world and the spiritual one. They believed that a special sort of knowledge, or gnosis, would enable them to escape the evils of the physical world and allow them access to the higher spiritual realm. The Gnostics were regarded as heretics by many of the Church Fathers, but their influence was important in defining the course of early Christianity. A major archaeological discovery in Egypt in the 1940s, when a large cache of Gnostic texts were found buried in an earthenware jar, enabled scholars to learn considerably more about their beliefs.With:Martin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureCaroline HumfressReader in History at Birkbeck College, University of LondonAlastair LoganHonorary University Fellow of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of ExeterProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Cult of Mithras

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 27, 2012 | 05:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the cult of Mithras, a mystery religion that existed in the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD. Also known as the Mysteries of Mithras, its origins are uncertain. Academics have suggested a link with the ancient Vedic god Mitra and the Iranian Zoroastrian deity Mithra, but the extent and nature of the connection is a matter of controversy.Followers of Mithras are thought to have taken part in various rituals, most notably communal meals and a complex seven-stage initiation system. Typical depictions of Mithras show him being born from a rock, enjoying food with the sun god Sol and stabbing a bull. Mithraic places of worship have been found throughout the Roman world, including an impressive example in London. However, Mithraism went into decline in the 4th century AD with the rise of Christianity and eventually completely disappeared. In recent decades, many aspects of the cult have provoked debate, especially as there are no written accounts by its members. As a result, archaeology has been of great importance in the study of Mithraism and has provided new insights into the religion and its adherents.With:Greg WoolfProfessor of Ancient History at the University of St AndrewsAlmut HintzeZartoshty Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS, University of LondonJohn NorthActing Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London.Producer: Victoria Brignell.

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  • The Upanishads

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 8, 2012 | 05:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Upanishads, the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism. Dating from about 700 BC, the Upanishads were passed down through an oral tradition in priestly castes and were not written down until the 6th century AD. They constitute the final part of the Vedas, the collection of texts which form the foundation of the Indian Hindu world, and were originally spoken during sacrificial rituals.Yet the Upanishads go beyond incantations performed during sacrifices, and ask profound questions about human existence and man's place in the cosmos. The concepts of Brahman (the universal cosmic power) and Atman (the deeper soul of the individual) are central to the understanding of the Upanishads. Each individual treatise has its own character. Some are poetic; some are scientific; others are dialogues between kings and sages or metaphysical reflections. More than one hundred Upanishads were produced, thirteen of which are regarded as the canonical scriptures of Hinduism.With:Jessica FrazierLecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of OxfordChakravarthi Ram-PrasadProfessor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster UniversitySimon BrodbeckLecturer in Religious Studies at the University of CardiffProducer: Natalia Fernandez.

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  • The Ontological Argument

    In Our Time: Religion Sep 27, 2012 | 05:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ontological Argument. In the eleventh century St Anselm of Canterbury proposed that it was possible to prove the existence of God using reason alone. His argument was ridiculed by some of his contemporaries, but was analysed and improved by later thinkers including Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. Other philosophers have been less kind, with the Enlightenment thinker David Hume offering one possible refutation. But the debate continued, fuelled by interventions from such heavyweights as Immanuel Kant and Kurt Gödel; and it remains one of the most discussed problems in philosophy.With:John HaldaneProfessor of Philosophy at the University of St AndrewsPeter MillicanProfessor of Philosophy at the University of OxfordClare CarlisleLecturer in Philosophy of Religion at King's College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • King Solomon

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 7, 2012 | 05:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the biblical king Solomon, celebrated for his wisdom and as the architect of the First Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Old Testament account of his life, Solomon was chosen as his father David's successor as Israelite king, and instead of praying for long life or wealth asked God for wisdom. In the words of the Authorised Version, "And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom." Solomon is an important figure in Judaism, Islam and Christianity alike, and is also credited with the authorship of several scriptural texts. His name is associated with the tradition of wisdom literature and with a large number of myths and legends. For many centuries Solomon was seen as the archetypal enlightened monarch, and his example influenced notions of kingship from the Middle Ages onwards.With:Martin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CulturePhilip AlexanderEmeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of ManchesterKatharine DellSenior Lecturer in Old Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow of St Catherine's College, CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • George Fox and the Quakers

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 5, 2012 | 05:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of Quakerism. In the mid-seventeenth century an itinerant preacher, George Fox, became the central figure of a group known as the Religious Society of Friends, whose members believed it was possible to obtain contact with Christ without priestly intercession. The Quakers, as they became known, rejected the established Church and what they saw as the artificial pomp and artifice of its worship. They argued for religious toleration and for the equality of men and women. Persecuted for many years, particularly after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the Quakers survived to become an influential religious group, known for their pacifism and philanthropy. With:Justin ChampionProfessor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of LondonJohn CoffeyProfessor of Early Modern History at the University of LeicesterKate PetersFellow in History at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Erasmus

    In Our Time: Religion Feb 9, 2012 | 05:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus. In his lifetime Erasmus was almost universally recognised as the greatest classical scholar of his age, the translator and editor of numerous Latin and Greek texts. But above all he was a religious scholar who published important editions of the Bible which expunged many corruptions to the texts of the Scriptures. He was an outspoken critic of the Church, whose biting satire on its excesses, In Praise of Folly, was famed throughout Europe.When the Reformation began in 1517, however, Erasmus chose to remain a member of the Catholic Church rather than side with Martin Luther and the reformers, and a few years later he engaged in a celebrated debate with Luther on the subject of free will. Through his writings on the Church, on education and the wide gamut of humanist scholarship, Erasmus is remembered today as one of the greatest thinkers of the northern Renaissance.With:Diarmaid MacCullochProfessor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordEamon DuffyProfessor of the History of Christianity at the University of CambridgeJill KrayeProfessor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy and Librarian at the Warburg Institute, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Safavid Dynasty

    In Our Time: Religion Jan 12, 2012 | 06:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Safavid Dynasty, rulers of the Persian empire between the 16th and 18th centuries.In 1501 Shah Ismail, a boy of fifteen, declared himself ruler of Azerbaijan. Within a year he had expanded his territory to include most of Persia, and founded a ruling dynasty which was to last for more than two hundred years. At the peak of their success the Safavids ruled over a vast territory which included all of modern-day Iran. They converted their subjects to Shi'a Islam, and so created the religious identity of modern Iran - although they were also often ruthless in their suppression of Sunni practices. They thrived on international trade, and their capital Isfahan, rebuilt by the visionary Shah Abbas, became one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Under Safavid rule Persia became a cultural centre, producing many great artists and thinkers. With:Robert GleaveProfessor of Arabic Studies at the University of ExeterEmma LoosleySenior Lecturer at the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures at the University of ManchesterAndrew NewmanReader in Islamic Studies and Persian at the University of Edinburgh.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Concordat of Worms

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 15, 2011 | 05:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Concordat of Worms. This treaty between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, signed in 1122, put an end, at least for a time, to years of power struggle and bloodshed. The wrangling between the German kings and the Church over who had the ultimate authority to elect bishops, use the ceremonial symbols of office in his coronation and even choose the pope himself, was responsible for centuries of discord. The hatred between the two parties reached such a pinnacle that it resulted in the virtual destruction of Rome at the hands of the Normans in 1084.Nearly forty years later Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II came to a compromise; their agreement became known as the Concordat of Worms, named after the town where they met and signed the treaty. The Concordat created a historic distinction between secular power and spiritual authority, and more clearly defined the respective powers of monarchs and the Church. Although in the short term the Concordat failed to prevent further conflict, some historians believe that it paved the way for the modern nation-state.With:Henrietta LeyserEmeritus Fellow of St Peter's College, University of OxfordKate CushingReader in Medieval History at Keele University John Gillingham Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics and Political Science Producer: Natalia Fernandez.

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  • Judas Maccabeus

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 24, 2011 | 05:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the revolutionary Jewish leader Judas Maccabeus. Born in the second century BC, Judas led his followers, the Maccabees, in a rebellion against the Seleucid Empire, which was attempting to impose the Greek culture and religion on the Jews. After a succession of battles he succeeded and the Seleucid king granted the Jews religious freedom. But even after that freedom was granted the struggle for political independence continued, and it was not until twenty years after Judas's death that Judaea finally became an independent state. Thanks to an extensive, if often confused, historical record of these events, the story of the Maccabees is well known. Judas Maccabeus has become a celebrated folk hero, and one of his achievements, the restoration and purification of the Temple of Jerusalem after its desecration by the Seleucids, is commemorated every year at the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.With: Helen Bond, Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at Edinburgh University Tessa Rajak, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History at the University of ReadingPhilip Alexander, Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of ManchesterProducer: Natalia Fernandez.

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  • Shinto

    In Our Time: Religion Sep 22, 2011 | 05:13 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Japanese belief system Shinto.A religion without gods, scriptures or a founder, Shinto is perhaps better described as a system of belief. Central to it is the idea of kami, spirits or deities associated with places, people and things. Shinto shrines are some of the most prominent features of the landscape in Japan, where over 100 million people - most of the population - count themselves as adherents.Since its emergence as a distinct religion many centuries ago, Shinto has happily coexisted with Buddhism and other religions; in fact, adherents often practise both simultaneously. Although it has changed considerably in the face of political upheaval and international conflict, it remains one of the most significant influences on Japanese culture.With:Martin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureRichard Bowring Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of CambridgeLucia DolceSenior Lecturer in Japanese Religion and Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Wyclif and the Lollards

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 16, 2011 | 01:32 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss John Wyclif and the Lollards.John Wyclif was a medieval philosopher and theologian who in the fourteenth century instigated the first complete English translation of the Bible. One of the most important thinkers of the Middle Ages, he also led a movement of opposition to the Roman Church and its institutions which has come to be seen as a precursor to the Reformation. Wyclif disputed some of the key teachings of the Church, including the doctrine of transubstantiation. His followers, the Lollards, were later seen as dangerous heretics, and in the fifteenth century many of them were burnt at the stake. Today Lollardy is seen as the first significant movement of dissent against the Church in England.With:Sir Anthony KennyPhilosopher and former Master of Balliol College, OxfordAnne HudsonEmeritus Professor of Medieval English at the University of OxfordRob LuttonLecturer in Medieval History at the University of NottinghamProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Islamic Law and its Origins

    In Our Time: Religion May 5, 2011 | 07:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins and early development of Islamic law. The legal code of Islam is known as Sharia, an Arabic word meaning "the way". Its sources include the Islamic holy book the Qur'an, the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, and the opinions of legal scholars. In the 7th century, Sharia started to replace the tribal laws of pre-Islamic Arabia; over the next three hundred years it underwent considerable evolution as Islam spread. By 900 a body of religious and legal scholarship recognisable as classical Sharia had emerged.With:Hugh KennedyProfessor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of LondonRobert GleaveProfessor of Arabic Studies at the University of ExeterMona SiddiquiProfessor of Islamic Studies at the University of GlasgowProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Pelagian Controversy

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 21, 2011 | 04:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Pelagian Controversy.In the late 4th century a British monk, Pelagius, travelled to Rome, where he became a theologian and teacher, revered for his learning and ascetic lifestyle. But he soon aroused the ire of some of the Church's leading figures, preaching a Christian doctrine which many regarded as heretical. Pelagius believed that mankind was not inherently depraved, and disputed the necessity of original sin. His opinions were highly controversial and led to fierce division. Pelagius's most prominent opponent was the African bishop St Augustine of Hippo. Their dispute resulted in the persecution and eventual condemnation of Pelagius and his followers, and was to be of long-lasting significance to the future of the Church.With:Martin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureCaroline HumfressReader in History at Birkbeck College, University of LondonJohn MilbankProfessor in Religion, Politics and Ethics and the Director of the Centre for Theology and Philosophy at Nottingham UniversityProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Bhagavad Gita

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 31, 2011 | 06:30 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Bhagavad Gita.The Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse section of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, is one of the most revered texts of Hinduism. Written in around 200 BC, it narrates a conversation between Krishna, an incarnation of the deity, and the Pandava prince Arjuna. It has been described as a concise summary of Hindu theology, a short work which offers advice on how to live one's life.The Gita is also a philosophical work of great richness and influence. First translated into English in the 18th century, it was quickly taken up in the West. Its many admirers have included Mahatma Gandhi, whose passion for the work is one reason that the Bhagavad Gita became a key text for followers of the Indian Independence movement in the first half of the twentieth century.With:Chakravarthi Ram-PrasadProfessor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster UniversityJulius LipnerProfessor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion and Fellow of Clare Hall at the University of CambridgeJessica FrazierResearch Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Lecturer in Religious Studies at Regent's College, LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Maimonides

    In Our Time: Religion Feb 15, 2011 | 06:33 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of Maimonides.Widely regarded as the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period, Maimonides was also a physician and rabbinical authority. Also known as Rambam, his writings include a 14-volume work on Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, which is still widely used today, and the Guide for the Perplexed, a central work of medieval philosophy. Although undoubtedly a titan of Jewish intellectual history, Maimonides was also profoundly influenced by the Islamic world. He exerted a strong influence on later Islamic philosophy, as well as on thinkers ranging from Thomas Aquinas to Leibniz and Newton.With:John HaldaneProfessor of Philosophy at the University of St AndrewsSarah StroumsaAlice and Jack Ormut Professor of Arabic Studies and currently Rector at the Hebrew University of JerusalemPeter AdamsonProfessor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • Daoism

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 15, 2010 | 09:57 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daoism. An ancient Chinese tradition of philosophy and religious belief, Daoism first appeared more than two thousand years ago. For centuries it was the most popular religion in China; in the West its religious aspects are not as well known as its practices, which include meditation and Feng Shui, and for its most celebrated text, the Daodejing.The central aim in Daoism is to follow the 'Dao', a word which roughly translates as 'The Way'. Daoists believe in following life in its natural flow, what they refer to as an 'effortless action'. This transcendence can be linked to Buddhism, the Indian religion that came to China in the 2nd century BC and influenced Daoism - an exchange which went both ways. Daoism is closely related to, but has also at times conflicted with, the religion of the Chinese Imperial court, Confucianism. The spirit world is of great significance in Daoism, and its hierarchy and power often take precedence over events and people in real life. But how did this ancient and complex religion come to be so influential?With:Tim Barrett Professor of East Asian History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of LondonMartin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and CultureHilde De WeerdtFellow and Tutor in Chinese History at Pembroke College, University of Oxford Producer: Natalia Fernandez.

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  • Foxe's Book of Martyrs

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 18, 2010 | 04:22 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss John Foxe and his book Actes and Monuments, better known today as Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Born in 1517, John Foxe was an early Protestant who was forced to flee the persecutions which ensued when the Catholic Mary came to the English throne in 1553. He was a horrified observer on the Continent as more than three hundred of his countrymen were burnt at the stake. In exile he began work on a substantial work of scholarship, bringing together eyewitness accounts of these horrifying deaths.First published in 1563, Foxe's Book of Martyrs was one of the most elaborate early books produced, and thanks to vivid woodcut illustrations reached an audience far beyond the literate elite. Its stories of Protestant martyrdom became powerful Church propaganda in the late sixteenth century and were used by those who wished to banish Catholicism from England permanently. But despite its use as an instrument of religious factionalism, Foxe's work remains one of the key and most read books of the early modern period. With:Diarmaid MacCullochProfessor of Church History at the University of OxfordJustin ChampionProfessor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of LondonElizabeth EvendenLecturer in Book History at Brunel UniversityProducer: Thomas Morris.

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  • The Delphic Oracle

    In Our Time: Religion Sep 30, 2010 | 04:29 am

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Delphic Oracle, the most important source of prophecies in the ancient world. In central Greece, on the flank of Mount Parnassus, lies the ruined city of Delphi. For over a thousand years, between approximately 800 BC and 400 AD, this was the most sacred place in the ancient world. Its chief attraction was the Delphic Oracle, which predicted the future and offered petitioners advice.Travellers journeyed for weeks for a chance to ask the oracle a question. The answers, given by a mysterious priestess called the Pythia, were believed to come straight from the god Apollo. At the height of Greek civilisation the oracle was revered, and its opinion sought in some of the most significant conflicts of the age. Its activities were documented by historians including Xenophon and Plutarch, and it was regularly depicted in Greek tragedy, most famously Sophocles's masterpiece Oedipus the King.With: Paul CartledgeA G Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge UniversityEdith HallProfessor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of LondonNick LoweReader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.

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  • William James's 'The Varieties of Religious Experience'

    In Our Time: Religion May 13, 2010 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss 'The Varieties of Religious Experience' by William James. The American novelist Henry James famously made London his home and himself more English than the English. In contrast, his psychologist brother, William, was deeply immersed in his American heritage. But in 1901, William came to Britain too. He had been invited to deliver a series of prestigious public lectures in Edinburgh. In them, he attempted a daringly original intellectual project. For the first time, here was a close-up examination of religion not as a body of beliefs, but as an intimate personal experience. When the lectures were printed, as 'The Varieties of Religious Experience', they were an instant success.They laid the ground for a whole new area of study - the psychology of religion - and influenced figures from the psychiatrist Carl Jung to the novelist Aldous Huxley. To date, James's book has been reprinted thirty-six times and has been hailed as one of the best non-fiction books of the twentieth century.With:Jonathan ReeFreelance philosopherJohn HaldaneProfessor of Philosophy at the University of St AndrewsGwen Griffith-DicksonEmeritus Professor of Divinity at Gresham College and Director of the Lokahi FoundationProducer: Natasha Emerson.

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  • Calvinism

    In Our Time: Religion Feb 25, 2010 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests Justin Champion, Susan Hardman Moore and Diarmaid MacCulloch discuss the ideas of the religious reformer John Calvin - the theology known as Calvinism, or Reformed Protestantism - and its impact.John Calvin, a Frenchman exiled to Geneva, became a towering figure of the 16th century Reformation of the Christian Church. He achieved this not through charismatic oratory, but through the relentless rigour of his analysis of the Bible. In Geneva, he oversaw an austere, theocratic and sometimes brutal regime. Nonetheless, the explosion of printing made his theology highly mobile. The zeal he instilled in his followers, and the persecution which dogged them, rapidly spread the faith across Europe, and on to the New World in America.One of Calvin's most striking tenets was 'predestination': the idea that, even before the world began, God had already decided which human beings would be damned, and which saved. The hope of being one of the saved gave Calvinists a driving energy which has made their faith a galvanic force in the world, from business to politics.Anxiety about salvation, meanwhile, led to a constant introspection which has left its mark on literature.Justin Champion is Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London; Susan Hardman Moore is Senior Lecturer in Divinity at the University of Edinburgh; Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford.

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  • The Siege of Munster

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 5, 2009 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests Diarmaid MacCulloch, Lucy Wooding and Charlotte Methuen discuss the Siege of Munster in 1534-35.In the early 16th century, the Protestant Reformation revolutionised Christian belief. But one radical group of believers stood out. The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and formal clergy, and believed that all goods should be held in common. They were also convinced that the Second Coming was imminent.In 1534, in the north-western German city of Munster, a group of Anabaptists attempted to establish the 'New Jerusalem', ready for the Last Days before the coming Apocalypse.But the city was besieged by its ousted Prince-Bishop, and under the reign of its self-appointed King, a 25-year-old Dutchman called Jan van Leyden, it descended into tyranny. Books were burned, dissenters were executed and women were forced to marry. As starvation spread, King Jan lived in luxury with his 16 wives. The horrors of Munster have resonated through the European memory ever since.Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford; Charlotte Methuen is University Research Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford and Lecturer in Church History and Liturgy at Ripon College Cuddesdon; Lucy Wooding is Lecturer in Early Modern History at King's College, London.

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  • St Thomas Aquinas

    In Our Time: Religion Sep 17, 2009 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg discusses the life, works and enduring influence of the medieval philosopher and theologian St Thomas Aquinas with Martin Palmer, John Haldane and Annabel Brett. St Thomas Aquinas' ideas remain at the heart of the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church today and inform philosophical debates on human rights, natural law and what constitutes a 'just war'.Martin Palmer is Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews; Annabel Brett is Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

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  • Sunni and Shia Islam

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 25, 2009 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests Amira Bennison, Robert Gleave and Hugh Kennedy discuss the split between the Sunni and the Shia. This schism came to dominate early Islam, and yet it did not spring at first from a deep theological disagreement, but rather from a dispute about who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad, and on what grounds. The supporters of the Prophet's cousin Ali argued for the hereditary principle; their opponents championed systems of selection. Ali's followers were to become the Shia; the supporters of selection were to become Sunnis.It is a story that takes us from Medina to Syria and on into Iraq, that takes in complex family loyalties, civil war and the killing at Karbala of the Prophet's grandson. Husayn has been commemorated as a martyr by the Shia ever since, and his death helped to formalise the divide as first a political and then a profoundly theological separation.Amira Bennison is Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge; Robert Gleave is Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter; Hugh Kennedy is Professor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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  • St Paul

    In Our Time: Religion May 28, 2009 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests Helen Bond, John Haldane and John Barclay discuss the influence of St Paul on the early Christian church and on Christian theology generally. St Paul joined the Christian church in a time of confusion and wonder. Jesus had been crucified and resurrected and the Christians believed they were living at the end of the world. Paul's impact on Christianity is vast: he imposed an identity on the early Christians and a coherent theology that thinkers from St Augustine to Martin Luther have grappled with. Crucially, Paul is responsible for changing Christianity from a Jewish reform movement into a separate and universal religion.Helen Bond is Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh; John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews; John Barclay is the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University.

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  • The Siege of Vienna

    In Our Time: Religion May 14, 2009 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests Andrew Wheatcroft, Claire Norton and Jeremy Black discuss the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, when the Ottoman Empire tried to capture the capital city of the Hapsburg monarchs. The ensuing tale of blood and drama helped define the boundaries of Europe. In June 1683, a man called Kara Mustafa made a journey to Vienna. That a Muslim Turk should come to a Catholic city was not unusual, but Kara Mustafa did so at the head of the Ottoman Army. Vienna was the capital of the Hapsburg Empire and he intended to take it. The ensuing siege has been held responsible for many things, from the invention of the croissant to the creation of Viennese coffee. But most importantly, it has come to be seen as a clash of civilisations, one that helped to define a series of boundaries, between Europe and Asia, Christian and Muslim, Hapsburg and Ottoman, that influence the view between Vienna and Istanbul to this day. But to see the siege as a defining moment in east/west relations may be to read back into history an idea that was not true at the time.Claire Norton is Lecturer in History at St Mary's University College, London; Andrew Wheatcroft is Professor of International Publishing at Stirling University; Jeremy Black is Professor of History at the University of Exeter.

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  • The Baroque Movement

    In Our Time: Religion Oct 23, 2008 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the culture of the Baroque. What do the music of Bach, the Colonnades of St Peter’s, the paintings of Caravaggio and the rebuilding of Prague have in common? The answer is the Baroque – a term used to describe a vast array of painting, music, architecture and sculpture from the 17th and 18th centuries.Baroque derives from the word for a misshapen pearl and denotes an art of effusion, drama, grandeur and powerful emotion. Strongly religious it became the aesthetic of choice of absolute monarchs. But the more we examine the Baroque, the more subtle and mysterious it becomes. It is impossible to discuss 17th century Europe without it, yet it is increasingly hard to say what it is. It was coined as a term of abuse, denounced by thinkers of the rational Enlightenment and by Protestant cultures which read into Baroque the excess, decadence and corruption they saw in the Catholic Church.With Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge; Nigel Aston, Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Leicester and Helen Hills, Professor of Art History at the University of York

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  • Miracles

    In Our Time: Religion Sep 25, 2008 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the five thousand and the general subject of miracles. Miracles have been part of human culture for thousands of years. From St Augustine in the 4th century through the medieval cult of saints to David Hume in the 18th, miracles have captured the imaginations of believers and sceptics alike. The way they have been celebrated, interpreted, dissected and refuted is a whole history of arguments between philosophy, science and religion. They have also been used by the corrupt and the powerful to gain their perverse ends. Miracles have been derided and proved to be fraudulent and yet, for many, the miraculous maintain a grip on our imagination, our language and our belief to this day. With Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture;Janet Soskice, Reader in Philosophical Theology at Cambridge University; Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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  • Dante's Inferno

    In Our Time: Religion Jul 3, 2008 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Dante’s ‘Inferno’ - a medieval journey through the nine circles of Hell. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. This famous phrase is written above the gate of Hell in a 14th century poem by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. The poem is called the ‘Divine Comedy’ and Hell is known as ‘Dante’s Inferno’.It is a lurid vision of the afterlife complete with severed heads, cruel and unusual punishments and devils in frozen lakes. But the inferno is much more than a trip into the macabre - it is a map of medieval spirituality, a treasure house of early renaissance learning, a portrait of 14th century Florence, and an acute study of human psychology. It is also one of the greatest poems ever written. With, Margaret Kean, University Lecturer in English and College Fellow at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford; John Took, Professor of Dante Studies at University College London and Claire Honess, Senior Lecturer in Italian at the University of Leeds and Co-Director of the Leeds Centre for Dante Studies.

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  • The Arab Conquests

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 26, 2008 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Arab conquests - an extraordinary period in the 7th and 8th centuries when the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula conquered the Middle East, Persia, North Africa and Southern Europe and spread the ideas of the Islamic religion. In 632 the prophet Muhammad died and left behind the nascent religion of Islam among a few tribes in the Arabian Desert. They were relatively small in number, they were divided among themselves and they were surrounded by vast and powerful empires. Yet within 100 years Arab armies controlled territory from Northern Spain to Southern Iran and Islamic ideas had begun to profoundly refashion the societies they touched. It is one of the most extraordinary and significant events in world history that began the slow and profound transformation of Greek and Persian societies into Islamic ones. But how did the Arab armies achieve such extensive victories, how did they govern the people they conquered and what was the relationship between the achievements of the Arabs and the religious beliefs they carried with them?With Hugh Kennedy, Professor of Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; Amira Bennison, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge and Robert Hoyland, Professor in Arabic and Middle East Studies at the University of St Andrews

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  • The Metaphysical Poets

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 19, 2008 | 04:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Metaphysical poets, a diffuse group of 17th century writers including John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert. Mourning the death of a good friend in 1631, the poet Thomas Carew declared: “The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds O'erspread, was purg'd by thee; the lazy seeds Of servile imitation thrown away, And fresh invention planted.”The gardener in question was a poet, John Donne, and from his fresh invention blossomed a group of 17th century writers called the metaphysical poets. Concerned with sex and death, with science and empire, the metaphysical poets challenged the conventions of Elizabethan poetry with drama and with wit. And they showed that English, like Italian and French, was capable of true poetry.Unashamedly modern, they were saluted by another great modernist, T.S. Eliot, who admired their genius for imagery, the freshness of their language and the drama of their poetic character.But what do we mean by metaphysical poetry, how did it reflect an age of drama and discovery and do poets as different as John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert really belong together in the canon of English literature? With Tom Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London; Julie Sanders, Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham; and Tom Cain, Professor of Early Modern Literature at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne

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  • The Dissolution of the Monasteries

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 27, 2008 | 04:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Was Henry’s decision to destroy monastic culture in this country a tyrannical act of grand larceny or the pious destruction of a corrupt institution? When he was an old man, Michael Sherbrook remembered the momentous events of his youth: “All things of price were either spoiled, plucked away or defaced to the uttermost…it seemed that every person bent himself to filch and spoil what he could. Nothing was spared but the ox-houses and swincotes…” He was talking about the destruction of Roche Abbey, but it could have been Lewes or Fountains, Glastonbury, Tintern or Walsingham, names that haunt the religious past as their ruins haunt the landscape. These were the monasteries, suddenly and for many shockingly, destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII.The conflict was played out with a mix of violence, heroism, political manoeuvring and genuine theological disputation. But what was lost in terms of architecture, painting, treasure and in the religious habits of the monasteries themselves and of the common people who lived with them?With Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University; Diane Purkiss, Fellow and Tutor at Keble College, Oxford; George Bernard, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Southampton

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  • The Greek Myths

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 13, 2008 | 04:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek myths from Achilles to Zeus. Are you a touch narcissistic? Do you have the body of an Adonis? Are you willing to undertake Herculean tasks or Promethean ventures? Perhaps you have an Oedipus complex? If you answer to any or perhaps all of these you owe something to the Greek myths, a collection of weird and wonderful stories that, like Penelope’s shroud or the needlework of Arachne, were constantly woven and unpicked across centuries of Greek and Roman civilisation. The myths have a cast of thousands including mighty Zeus, Jason and the Argonauts, wily Odysseus, beautiful Aphrodite and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. They are funny, shocking, quirky and epic and have retained their power and their wisdom from the ancient world to the modern. With Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London; Richard Buxton, Professor of Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol; Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University

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  • The Fisher King

    In Our Time: Religion Jan 17, 2008 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests will be delving into the world of medieval legend in pursuit of the powerful and enigmatic Fisher King. In the world of medieval romance there are many weird and wonderful creatures – there are golden dragons and green knights, sinister enchantresses and tragic kings, strange magicians and spears that bleed and talk. And yet, in all this panoply of wonder, few figures are more mysterious than the Fisher King.Blighted by a wound that will not heal and entrusted as the keeper of the Holy; the Fisher King is also a version of Christ, a symbol of sexual anxiety and a metaphor for the decay of societies and civilisations. The Fisher King is a complex and poetic figure and has meant many things to many people. From the age of chivalry to that of psychoanalysis, his mythic even archetypal power has influenced writers from Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century to TS Eliot in the 20th. WithCarolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Stephen Knight, Distinguished Research Professor in English Literature at Cardiff University; Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh, Cardiff University and Director of the Folklore Society

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  • The Nicene Creed

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 27, 2007 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Nicene Creed which established the Divinity of Christ. "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds." Thus begins the Nicene Creed, a statement of essential faith spoken for over 1600 years in Christian Churches - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. But what has become a universal statement was written for a very particular purpose - to defeat a 4th century theological heresy called Arianism and to establish that Jesus Christ was, indeed, God. The story of the Creed is in many ways the story of early Christianity – of delicate theology and robust politics. It changed the Church and it changed the Roman Empire, but that it has lasted for nearly 2000 years would seem extraordinary to those who created it. With Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Caroline Humfress, Reader in History at Birkbeck College, University of London; Andrew Louth, Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at the University of Durham.

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  • The Pilgrim Fathers

    In Our Time: Religion Jul 5, 2007 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Pilgrim Fathers and their 1620 voyage to the New World on the Mayflower. Every year on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans go home to their families and sit down to a meal. It’s called Thanksgiving and it echoes a meal that took place nearly 400 years ago, when a group of religious exiles from Lincolnshire sat down, after a brutal winter, to celebrate their first harvest in the New World. They celebrated it in company with the American Indians who had helped them to survive.These settlers are called the Pilgrim Fathers. They were not the first and certainly not the largest of the early settlements but their Plymouth colony has retained a hold on the American imagination which the larger, older, violent and money-driven settlement of Jamestown has not.With Kathleen Burk, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London; Harry Bennett, Reader in History and Head of Humanities at the University of Plymouth; Tim Lockley, Associate Professor of History at the University of Warwick

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  • Ockham's Razor

    In Our Time: Religion May 31, 2007 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophical ideas of William Ockham including Ockham's Razor. In the small village of Ockham, near Woking in Surrey, stands a church. Made of grey stone, it has a pitched roof and an unassuming church tower but parts of it date back to the 13th century. This means they would have been standing when the village witnessed the birth of one of the greatest philosophers in Medieval Europe. His name was William and he became known as William of Ockham.William of Ockham’s ideas on human freedom and the nature of reality influenced Thomas Hobbes and helped fuel the Reformation. During a turbulent career he managed to offend the Chancellor of Oxford University, disagree with his own ecclesiastical order and get excommunicated by the Pope. He also declared that the authority of rulers derives from the people they govern and was one of the first people so to do. Ockham’s razor is the idea that philosophical arguments should be kept as simple as possible, something that Ockham himself practised severely on the theories of his predecessors. But why is William of Ockham significant in the history of philosophy, how did his turbulent life fit within the political dramas of his time and to what extent do we see his ideas in the work of later thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes and even Martin Luther?With Sir Anthony Kenny, philosopher and former Master of Balliol College, Oxford; Marilyn Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University; Richard Cross, Professor of Medieval Theology at Oriel College, Oxford

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  • Spinoza

    In Our Time: Religion May 3, 2007 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg discusses the Dutch Jewish Philosopher Spinoza. For the radical thinkers of the Enlightenment, he was the first man to have lived and died as a true atheist. For others, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he provides perhaps the most profound conception of God to be found in Western philosophy. He was bold enough to defy the thinking of his time, yet too modest to accept the fame of public office and he died, along with Socrates and Seneca, one of the three great deaths in philosophy. Baruch Spinoza can claim influence on both the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century and great minds of the 19th, notably Hegel, and his ideas were so radical that they could only be fully published after his death. But what were the ideas that caused such controversy in Spinoza’s lifetime, how did they influence the generations after, and can Spinoza really be seen as the first philosopher of the rational Enlightenment?With Jonathan Rée, historian and philosopher and Visiting Professor at Roehampton University; Sarah Hutton, Professor of English at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth; John Cottingham, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading.

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  • St Hilda

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 5, 2007 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 7th century saint, Hilda, or Hild as she would have been known then, wielded great religious and political influence in a volatile era. The monasteries she led in the north of England were known for their literacy and learning and produced great future leaders, including 5 bishops. The remains of a later abbey still stand in Whitby on the site of the powerful monastery she headed there. We gain most of our knowledge of Hilda's life from The Venerable Bede who wrote that she was 66 years in the world, living 33 years in the secular life and 33 dedicated to God. She was baptised alongside the king of Northumbria and with her royal connections, she was a formidable character. Bede writes: “Her prudence was so great that not only indifferent persons but even kings and princes asked and received her advice”. Hild and her Abbey at Whitby hosted the Synod which decided when Easter would be celebrated, following a dispute between different traditions. Her achievements are all the more impressive when we consider that Christianity was still in its infancy in Northumbria. So what contribution did she make to establishing Christianity in the north of England? How unusual was it for a woman to be such an important figure in the Church at the time? How did her double monastery of both men and women operate on a day-to-day basis? And how did she manage to convert a farmhand into England's first vernacular poet?With John Blair, Fellow in History at The Queen's College, Oxford; Rosemary Cramp, Emeritus Professor in Archaeology at Durham University; Sarah Foot, Professor of Early Medieval History at Sheffield University.

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  • The Jesuits

    In Our Time: Religion Jan 18, 2007 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order of priests who became known as “the school masters of Europe”. Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared. By the 17th century there were more than 500 schools established across Europe. Their ideas about a standardised curriculum and teaching became the basis for many education systems today.They were also among the greatest patrons of art in early modern Europe, using murals and theatre to get their message across. To their enemies they were a sinister collective whose influence reached into the courts of kings. Their wealth and their adaptability to local customs abroad provoked suspicion, prompting their eventual suppression in the late 18th century. They were re-established in 1814 and now have more than twenty thousand members.So why was education so important to the Jesuit movement? How much influence did they really have in the courts and colonies of Europe? And were they really at the heart of conspiracies to murder kings?With Nigel Aston, Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Leicester; Simon Ditchfield, Reader in History at the University of York; Dame Olwen Hufton, Emeritus Fellow of Merton College, Oxford.

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  • Hell

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 21, 2006 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss hell and its representation in literature and the visual arts, through the ages from Ancient Egypt to modern Christianity. Why do certain religions have a Satan figure and others don’t? And why did hell shift from the underworld to here on earth in 20th Century representations?A fiery vault beneath the earth or as Sartre put it, other people - it seems our ideas of hell are inevitably shaped by religious and cultural forces. For Homer and Virgil it’s a place you can visit and return from, often a wiser person for it. With Christianity it’s a one way journey and a just punishment for a sinful, unrepentant life. Writers and painters like Dante and Hieronymus Bosch gave free rein to their imaginations, depicting a complex hierarchical world filled with the writhing bodies of tormented sinners. In the 20th century hell can be found on earth in portrayals of war and the Holocaust but also in the mind, particularly in the works of TS Eliot and Primo Levi. So what is the purpose of hell and why is it found mainly in religions concerned with salvation? Why has hell proved so inspirational for artists through the ages, perhaps more so than heaven? And why do some ideas of hell require a Satan figure while others don't?With Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Margaret Kean, Tutor and Fellow in English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford; Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.

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  • The Diet of Worms

    In Our Time: Religion Oct 12, 2006 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Diet of Worms, an event that helped trigger the European Reformation. Nestled on a bend of the River Rhine, in the South West corner of Germany, is the City of Worms. It’s one of the oldest cities in central Europe; it still has its early city walls, its 11th century Romanesque cathedral and a 500-year-old printing industry, but in its centre is a statue of the monk, heretic and founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. In 1521 Luther came to Worms to explain his attacks on the Catholic Church to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and the gathered dignitaries of the German lands. What happened at that meeting, called the Diet of Worms, tore countries apart, set nation against nation, felled kings and plunged dynasties into suicidal bouts of infighting. But why did Martin Luther risk execution to go to the Diet, what was at stake for the big players of medieval Europe and how did events at the Diet of Worms irrevocably change the history of Europe? With Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University; David Bagchi, Lecturer in the History of Christian Thought at the University of Hull; Reverend Dr Charlotte Methuen, Lecturer in Reformation History at the University of Oxford.

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  • The Spanish Inquisition

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 22, 2006 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish Inquisition, the defenders of medieval orthodoxy. The word ‘Inquisition’ has its roots in the Latin word 'inquisito' which means inquiry. The Romans used the inquisitorial process as a form of legal procedure employed in the search for evidence. Once Rome's religion changed to Christianity under Constantine, it retained the inquisitorial trial method but also developed brutal means of dealing with heretics who went against the doctrines of the new religion. Efforts to suppress religious freedom were initially ad hoc until the establishment of an Office of Inquisition in the Middle Ages, founded in response to the growing Catharist heresy in South West France. The Spanish Inquisition set up in 1478 surpassed all Inquisitorial activity that had preceded it in terms of its reach and length. For 350 years under Papal Decree, Jews, then Muslims and Protestants were put through the Inquisitional Court and condemned to torture, imprisonment, exile and death. How did the early origins of the Inquisition in Medieval Europe spread to Spain? What were the motivations behind the systematic persecution of Jews, Muslims and Protestants? And what finally brought about an end to the Spanish Inquisition 350 years after it had first been decreed? With John Edwards, Research Fellow in Spanish at the University of Oxford; Alexander Murray, Emeritus Fellow in History at University College, Oxford;Michael Alpert, Emeritus Professor in Modern and Contemporary History of Spain at the University of Westminster

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  • Fairies

    In Our Time: Religion May 11, 2006 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the literary and visual depiction of fairies, supernatural creatures that inhabit a half-way world between this one and the next.'They stole little Bridget for seven years long; When she came down again her friends were all gone. They took her lightly back, between the night and morrow; They thought that she was fast asleep, but she was dead with sorrow. They have kept her ever since deep within the lake, On a bed of flag-leaves, watching till she wake.' When the 19th century Anglo-Irish poet Richard Allingham wrote his poem The Fairies, he was replicating a belief about supernatural figures who steal children that stretched back to ancient Persian myths that date from 3000 BC. So universal is the terror of losing a child that the images of a lonely lost child and a mother who loses her child to fairies exist in civilisations everywhere. Demon Figures and Fairies have undergone a series of transformations according to their historical context, but what remains constant is their supernatural power and their association with the very human concerns of marriage, death and loss. In what way have fairies changed in guise and purpose throughout history? How did ancient fairy lore sit with the Christianity of the Middle Ages? How were fairies appropriated for the purpose of the 16th century witchcraft trials and why did fairies obsess so many Victorian artists and writers? And why is it that stories about fairies exist all over the world and what is our fascination with them?With Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh at Cardiff University and Secretary of the Folklore Society; Diane Purkiss, Fellow and Tutor of English at Keble College, Oxford; Nicola Bown, Lecturer in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.

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  • The Oxford Movement

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 13, 2006 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Oxford Movement in the Church of England in the 19th century. Cardinal John Henry Newman is perhaps the most significant Christian theologian of the nineteenth century. He began as an evangelical, becoming a High Anglican before converting to Roman Catholicism in 1845. His is the story of the diversity of Victorian religious life. But his path also marks the waning of the ideas of Protestant nationhood at the close of the eighteenth century and the reaffirmation of the Catholic tradition at the turn of the twentieth century. For over a decade, between 1833 and 1845, Newman and his fellow travellers, the Oxford Movement, argued that the Church of England was a holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They sought to assert the Catholic nature of their Church just as secularism, liberalism, non-conformism, and even Roman Catholicism, seemed to threaten her. They published tracts, preached and brought their social mission to some of the poorest urban parishes. Why between 1833 and 1845 was the voice of reaction such a loud one? What was the Oxford Movement and what motivated them? How did they present their ideas to the Anglican clergy at large and what did the clergy make of them? And why did they leave such a powerful legacy for the Church of England, its character and its churches? With Sheridan Gilley, Emeritus Reader in Theology at the University of Durham; Frances Knight, Senior Lecturer in Church History at the University of Wales, Lampeter; Simon Skinner, Fellow and Tutor in History at Balliol College, Oxford.

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  • Heaven

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 22, 2005 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas of heaven and the afterlife. The great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote 'that in the end language can only be related to what is experienced here, and given that the hereafter is not here, we can only infer'. Aquinas encapsulated a great human conundrum that has preoccupied writers and thinkers since ancient times: what might heaven be like. And although human language is constrained by experience, this has not stopped an outpouring of artistic, theological and literary representations of heaven. In the early Middle Ages men ascended up a ladder to heaven. In his Divine Comedy, Dante divided heaven into ten layers encompassing the planets and the stars. And the 17th century writer John Bunyan saw the journey of the soul to heaven as a spiritual struggle in his autobiography, The Pilgrim's Progress. But what exactly is heaven and where is it? How does the Protestant conception of the afterlife differ from the Catholic conception? How does one achieve salvation and what do the saved do when they get there? And, if heaven is so interesting, why has western culture been so spellbound by hell? With Valery Rees, Renaissance scholar and senior member of the Language Department at the School of Economic Science; Martin Palmer, Theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; John Carey, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Oxford University.

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  • Greyfriars and Blackfriars

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 10, 2005 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans, known as the Blackfriars and Greyfriars. "Just as it is better to light up others than to shine alone, it is better to share the fruits of one's contemplation with others than to contemplate in solitude". Thus St Thomas Aquinas described his vocation, not only as a teacher, but also as a Dominican friar and philosopher at the University of Paris. In the 13th century, the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans were a great force for change in Catholic Europe. They thrived in the emerging towns and cities of the High Middle Ages, leading crusades and changing the way the Church dealt with heretics. They were the evangelists who transformed the Church's preaching of the Christian message to the people. On top of all this, these two orders were also responsible for reconciling Classical and Christian philosophy; their studies of Aristotle paved the way for the Renaissance. They also managed to change the curriculum at the universities of Paris and Oxford. But the Blackfriars and the Greyfriars did not come from the great monasteries of the time; they started out as itinerant preachers surviving upon the charity of the faithful. So how did these two orders come to dominate the spiritual and academic life of the 13th century, and how did they manage to accumulate such huge wealth while professing allegiance to lives of poverty? With Henrietta Leyser, medieval historian and Fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford; Alexander Murray, medieval historian and Emeritus Fellow of University College, Oxford; Anthony Kenny, philosopher and former Master of Balliol College, Oxford.

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  • Paganism in the Renaissance

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 16, 2005 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss paganism in the Renaissance. For hundreds of years in the Middle Ages, the only way to read Ovid was through the prism of a Christian moralising text. Ovid's sensual tales of metamorphosis and pagan gods were presented as veiled allegories, and the famous story of Zeus descending to Danae in a shower of gold was explained as the soul receiving divine illumination. But in 1478 Botticelli finished Primavera, the first major project on a mythological theme for a thousand years, and by 1554 Titian completed a very different version of Danae - commissioned by a Cardinal, no less - where she expectantly awaits her union with Zeus in what is a nakedly sexual pose. What happened to bring the myths and eroticism of antiquity back into the culture of Europe? And how was it possible for a Church that was prosecuting for heresy, to exalt in pagan imagery, even in the Vatican itself?With Tom Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London; Charles Hope, Director of the Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of the Classical Tradition, University of London; Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London.

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  • Abelard and Heloise

    In Our Time: Religion May 5, 2005 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the story of Abelard and Heloise, a tale of literature and philosophy, theology and scandal, and above all love in the high Middle Ages. They were two of the greatest minds of their time and Abelard, a famous priest and teacher, wrote of how their affair began in his biography, Historia Calamitatum, “Her studies allowed us to withdraw in private, as love desired, and then with our books open before us, more words of love than of reading passed between us, and more kissing than teaching. My hands strayed oftener to her bosom than to the pages; love drew our eyes to look on each other more than reading kept them on our texts”. Years later, when she was an Abbess at the head of her own convent, Heloise wrote to Abelard: “Even during the celebration of Mass, when our prayers should be purer, lewd visions of those pleasures take such a hold upon my unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness instead of on prayers”. With Anthony Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London; Henrietta Leyser, Medieval Historian and Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford; Michael Clanchy, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the Institute of Historical Research.

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  • Angels

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 24, 2005 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the heavenly host of Angels. George Bernard Shaw made the observation that "in heaven an angel is nobody in particular", but there is nothing commonplace about this description of angels from the Bible's book of Ezekiel:"They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.... As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle." With angels like that, it is easy to see why they have caused so much controversy over the centuries.What part have angels played in western religion? How did they get their halos and their wings? And what are they really: Gods or men?With Martin Palmer, theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Valery Rees, Renaissance Scholar at the School of Economic Science; John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy, University of St Andrews.

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  • The Venerable Bede

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 25, 2004 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Venerable Bede. In 731 AD, in the most far-flung corner of the known universe, a book was written that represented a height of scholarship and erudition that was not to be equalled for centuries to come. It was called the Ecclesiastical History of the Angle Peoples and its author was Bede. A long way from Rome, in a monastery at Jarrow in the North East of England, his works cast a light across the whole of Western Civilisation and Bede became a bestseller, an internationally renowned scholar and eventually a saint. His Ecclesiastical History has been in copy or in print ever since it was written in the eighth century and his edition of the Bible remains the Catholic Church's most authoritative Latin version to this day.How did Bede achieve such ascendancy from such an obscure part of Christendom? And what was so remarkable about his work?With Richard Gameson, Reader in Medieval History at the University of Kent at Canterbury; Sarah Foot, Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Sheffield; Michelle Brown, a manuscript specialist from the British Library.

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  • Zoroastrianism

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 11, 2004 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses Zoroastrianism. "Now have I seen him with my own eyes, knowing him in truth to be the wise Lord of the good mind and of good deeds and words." Thus spake the real Zarathustra, the prophet and founder of the ancient and modern religion of Zoroastrianism. It has claims to be the world's first monotheistic creed and perhaps as long ago as 1200 BC Zarathustra also said, "I point out the way, it is the truth, it is for all living". Truth is a central tenet of the religion which holds that people must above all do good things, hear good things and see good things.How was the religion established in Ancient Persia, what is its body of beliefs and how have they been developed and disseminated?With Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Curator of Ancient Iranian Coins in the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum; Farrokh Vajifdar, Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society; Alan Williams, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Religion at the University of Manchester.

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  • Witchcraft

    In Our Time: Religion Oct 21, 2004 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss witchcraft in Reformation Europe. In 1486 a book was published in Latin, it was called Maleus Mallificarum and it very soon outsold every publication in Europe bar the Bible. It was written by Heinrich Kramer, a Dominican Priest and a witchfinder. "Magicians, who are commonly called witches" he wrote, "are thus termed on account of the magnitude of their evil deeds. These are they who by the permission of God disturb the elements, who drive to distraction the minds of men, such as have lost their trust in God, and by the terrible power of their evil spells, without any actual draught or poison, kill human beings.""Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" says Exodus, and in the period of the Reformation and after, over a hundred thousand men and women in Europe met their deaths after being convicted of witchcraft.Why did practices that had been tolerated for centuries suddenly become such a threat? What brought the prosecutions of witchcraft to an end, and was there anything ever in Europe that could be truly termed as a witch?With Alison Rowlands, Senior Lecturer in European History at the University of Essex; Lyndal Roper, Fellow and Tutor in History at Balliol College, University of Oxford; Malcolm Gaskill, Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Churchill College, Cambridge.

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  • Toleration

    In Our Time: Religion May 20, 2004 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and politics behind the idea of religious toleration. In 1763 Voltaire remarked that "of all religions, the Christian is undoubtedly that which should instil the greatest toleration, although so far the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men". Christian intolerance was brutally enforced across Western Europe in the Middle Ages and the Reformation, with inquisitions, executions, church courts and brandings with hot irons. But during the English Civil War a variety of Christian sects sprang up which challenged the imposition of state religion and opened the floodgates to religious diversity.What were the politics and philosophy behind the idea of toleration in England? Did the rise of toleration go hand in hand with the rise of the secular, or were tolerationists – in fact – deeply religious? And how does toleration differ from tolerance?With Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London; David Wootton, Professor of Intellectual History at Queen Mary, University of London; Sarah Barber, Senior Lecturer in History at Lancaster University.

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  • The Fall

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 8, 2004 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of original sin and its influence in Christian Europe. Genesis tells the Bible’s story of creation, but it also carries within it a tale of the ‘fall of mankind’. After their primal transgression, Adam and Eve are banished from Eden and cursed by God:“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.”What effect has this passage had on western culture, and how did the concept of an ‘original sin’ influence gender and morality in Christian Europe?With Martin Palmer, theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Griselda Pollock, Professor of Art History at the University of Leeds; John Carey, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Oxford University.

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  • The Norse Gods

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 11, 2004 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Vikings’ myths. Thor’s huge hammer, the wailing Valkyrie, howling wolves and fierce elemental giants give a rowdy impression of the Norse myths. But at the centre of their cosmos stands a gnarled old Ash tree, from which all distances are measured and under which Valhalla lies. In the first poem of The Poetic Edda, where the stories of the Norse Gods are laid down in verse, the Seeress describes it in her prophesy: “I know that an ash-tree stands called Yggdrasil,a high tree soaked with shining loamfrom there come the dews which fall in the valley, ever green, it stands over the well of fate.” It is from this tree that the father of the Gods, Odin, will ultimately hang himself: an image of divine sacrifice so problematic for thirteenth century Christians that they left it out when they wrote the myths down.What was the theology that inspired the Vikings and what role did their myths and religion play in their daily lives?With Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Heather O’Donoghue, Vigfusson Rausing Reader in Ancient Icelandic Literature in the Department of English at Oxford University; John Hines, Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University.

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  • The Devil

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 11, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the Devil. In the Gospel according to John he is ‘a murderer from the beginning’, ‘a liar and the father of lies’, and Dante calls him ‘the ill Worm that pierces the world’s core’. But Milton’s description of him as a powerful rebel was so attractive that William Blake declared that Milton was ‘of the Devil’s party, without knowing it’. To ordinary folk the Devil has often been regarded as a trickster, a tempter, sometimes even a figure of fun rather than of fear. How did this contradictory character come into being? Why did it take so long for him to become an established figure in Christianity? And if the Devil did not exist, would we have had to invent him? With Martin Palmer, theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Alison Rowlands, Senior Lecturer in European History at the University of Essex; David Wootton, Professor of Intellectual History at Queen Mary, University of London.

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  • St Bartholomew's Day Massacre

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 27, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. In Paris, in the high summer of 1572, a very unusual wedding was happening in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Henri, the young Huguenot King of Navarre, was marrying the King of France’s beloved sister, Margot, a Catholic. Theirs was a union designed to bring together the rival factions of France and finally end the French Wars of Religion. Paris was bustling with Huguenots and Catholics and, though the atmosphere was tense, the wedding went off without a hitch. And as they danced together at the Louvre, it seemed that the flower of French nobility had finally come together to bury its differences.That wasn’t to be: on St Bartholomew’s Day, four days after the ill-starred nuptials, so many Protestants were killed in the streets of Paris that the River Seine ran red with their blood. Was the wedding a trap? Who was to blame for the carnage and what impact did it have on the Reformation in Europe?With Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University and author of a new book: Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700; Mark Greengrass, Professor of History at the University of Sheffield; Penny Roberts, Lecturer in History at the University of Warwick.

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  • The Schism

    In Our Time: Religion Oct 16, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss events surrounding the medieval division of the Christian Church. In 1054, Cardinal Humbert stormed into the Cathedral of Constantinople and charged down the aisle. In his hand was a Papal Bull – a deed of excommunication - and he slammed it down onto the altar. As he swept out of the startled church, the Papal Legate and his entourage stopped at the door and symbolically shook the sullied dust of Eastern Christianity from their Catholic boots. The Pope of Rome had decreed that the Patriarch of Constantinople was denied his place in heaven, and soon afterwards the Patriarch excommunicated the Pope in return.It was the culmination of an argument over a single word in the Nicene Creed - but after a thousand years of being one Church, so began a permanent rift.But what were the real underlying reasons behind the split, what were its effects and why did it take until December 1965 for the excommunications to be finally revoked?With Henrietta Leyser, medieval historian and Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford; Norman Housley, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Leicester; Jonathan Shepard, editor of the Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire.

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  • The Apocalypse

    In Our Time: Religion Jul 17, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Apocalypse. George Bernard Shaw dismissed it as “the curious record of the visions of a drug addict” and if the Orthodox Christian Church had had its way, it would never have made it into the New Testament. But the Book of Revelation was included and its images of apocalypse, from the Four Horsemen to the Whore of Babylon, were fixed into the Christian imagination and its theology. As well as providing abundant imagery for artists from Durer to Blake, ideas of the end of the world have influenced the response to political, social and natural upheavals throughout history. Our understanding of history itself owes much to the apocalyptic way of thinking. But how did this powerful narrative of judgement and retribution evolve, and how does it still shape our thinking on the deepest questions of morality and history? With Martin Palmer, theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Marina Benjamin, journalist and author of Living at the End of the World; Justin Champion, Reader in the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway College, University of London.

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  • Blood

    In Our Time: Religion May 22, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss blood. For more than 1500 years popular imagination, western science and the Christian Church colluded in a belief that blood was the link between the human and the divine. The Greek physician, Galen, declared that it was blood that contained the force of life and linked the body to the soul, the Christian Church established The Eucharist – the taking of the body and blood of Christ. In our blood was our individuality, it was thought, our essence and our blood lines were special. Transfusion threatened all that and now itself is being questioned.Why is it that blood was used to define both man and messiah? And how has the tradition of blood in religious thought been affected by the progress of medicine?With Miri Rubin, Professor of European History at Queen Mary, University of London; Dr Anne Hardy, Reader in the History of Medicine at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London; Jonathan Sawday, Professor of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde.

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  • The Holy Grail

    In Our Time: Religion May 15, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Holy Grail.Tennyson wrote:“A cracking and a riving of the roofs,And rending, and a blast, and overheadThunder, and in the thunder was a cry.And in the blast there smote along the hallA beam of light seven times more clear than day:And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail”.The sacred allure of the Grail has fascinated writers and ensnared knights for a thousand years. From Malory to Monty Python, it has the richest associations of any artefact in British myth. But where does the story spring from? What does it symbolise and why are its stories so resolutely set in these Isles and so often written by the French?With Dr Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University; Dr Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh at the University College of Wales in Cardiff.

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  • Redemption

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 13, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss redemption. In St Paul's letter to the Galatians, he wrote: "Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery". This conception of Redemption as freedom from bondage is crucial for Judeo-Christian thought. In Christianity, the liberation is from original sin, a transformation from the Fall to salvation - not just for mankind but for individual human beings. The content of that journey is moral, gaining redemption by becoming better.So why is the idea of transformation so appealing to human beings? To what extent were Christian views of Redemption borrowed from Judaism? How did philosophers such as Marx reinterpret the concept of Redemption and can redemption retain its value in a world without God? Does its continuing power signify a deep psychological need in humankind?With Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford; Janet Soskice, Reader in Modern Theology and Philosophical Theology at Cambridge University; Stephen Mulhall, Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Oxford University.

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  • The Lindisfarne Gospels

    In Our Time: Religion Feb 20, 2003 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Lindisfarne Gospels. In 597 Pope Gregory the Great ordered that a mission of monks be sent from Rome to convert Britain to its own brand of Christianity - lest it be submerged by the pagan beliefs of the Anglo-Saxon overlords. Just over 100 years later, the Lindisfarne Gospels were produced - lavish and ornate manuscripts, central to the story of how Britain came to be unified by the flag of the Roman Church – and they came to embody a set of beliefs and ideas that dominated Britain for a thousand years. Was the Rome mission in the 6th century the only strand of Christianity to sweep through Britain? Why did Northumbria become a key battleground for ideological dispute? How successful were the Lindisfarne Gospels in unifying the different strands of Christianity? To what extent did they serve as a founding statement of Christian identity in Britain?With Dr Michelle Brown, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library and author of A Guide to Western Historical Scripts: From Antiquity to 1600; Dr Richard Gameson, Reader in Medieval History at Kent University and editor of St Augustine and the Conversion of England; Professor Clare Lees, Professor of Medieval Literature at King's College London and author of Tradition and Belief: Religious Writing in Late Anglo-Saxon England.

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  • Muslim Spain

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 21, 2002 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Muslim Spain. In 711 a small army of North African Berbers invaded Spain and established an Iberian Islamic culture that would last for over 700 years. Despite periods of infighting and persecution, Muslim Spain was a land where Muslims, Jews and Christians co-existed in relative peace and harmony. Its capital, Cordoba, although not unique amongst Spanish cities, became the centre and focus for generations of revered and respected philosophers, physicians and scholars. By the 10th century Cordoba was one of the largest cities in the world. But what some historians refer to as Cordoba’s Golden Age came to an end in the 11th century, when the society was destabilised by new threats from Africa to the South and Christendom to the North. However, it was not until 1492, when Granada fell to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, that Islamic Spain was well and truly over.In that same year the Jews were expelled from its shores and Christopher Columbus set sail to lead Spanish Christian expansionism into the new world. But how did Muslims, Jews and Christians interact in practice? Was this period of apparent tolerance underpinned by a respect for each other’s sacred texts? What led to the eventual collapse of Cordoba and Islamic Spain? And are we guilty of over-romanticising this so-called golden age of co-existence? With Tim Winter, a convert to Islam and lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University; Martin Palmer, Anglican lay preacher and theologian and author of The Sacred History of Britain, Mehri Niknam, Executive Director of the Maimonides Foundation, a joint Jewish-Muslim Interfaith Foundation in London.

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  • The Soul

    In Our Time: Religion Jun 6, 2002 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Soul. In his poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ WB Yeats wrote:An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unlessSoul clap its hands and sing, and louder singFor every tatter in its mortal dress. For Plato it was the immortal seat of reason, for Aristotle it could be found in plants and animals and was the essence of every being - but it died when the body died. For some it is the fount of creativity, for others the spark of God in man. What is the soul made of and where does it live? Is it the key to our individuality as humans? And when we die will our souls find paradise or purgatory, rebirth, resurrection or simply annihilation? With Richard Sorabji, Gresham Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College; Ruth Padel, poet and author; Martin Palmer, Theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture.

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  • Marriage

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 21, 2002 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of marriage.‘To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’ These marriage vows have been recited at church weddings since 1552, whenever two individuals have willingly pledged to enter into a relationship for life. But before the wedding service was written into the Book of Common Prayer, marriages were much more informal: couples could simply promise themselves to one another at any time or place and the spoken word was as good as the written contract. The ancients permitted polygamy and the taking of concubines so how did monogamy come to be the favoured mode in the West? Were procreation, financial stability, companionship, or love the reasons to get married? And what role has the state and the church played in legislating on personal affairs? With Janet Soskice, Reader in Modern Theology and Philosophical Theology, Cambridge University; Frederik Pedersen, Lecturer in History, Aberdeen University; Christina Hardyment, Social historian and journalist.

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  • The Buddha

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 14, 2002 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and teachings of The Buddha. Two and a half thousand years ago a young man meditated on life and death and found enlightenment. In that moment he saw his past lives spread out before him and he realised that all life, indeed the very fabric of existence, was made of suffering. That man was Siddhartha Gautama but we know him as The Buddha. He taught us that we have not one but many lives and are constantly reborn in different forms according to the laws of Karma: an immortality that binds us to a cosmic treadmill of death, decay, rebirth and suffering from which the only escape is Nirvana. Buddhism was quickly established as a major religion in South East Asia but now two millenia later it is one of the fastest growing religions of the Western world. Why has it captured the spirit of our times? Is it because there is no compulsion to believe in God? And what is it that Western converts hope to get from Buddhism - truth and enlightenment or simply a spiritual satisfaction that Western religion cannot provide? With Peter Harvey, Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sunderland; Kate Crosby, Lecturer in Buddhist Studies, SOAS; Mahinda Deagallee, Lecturer in the Study of Religions, Bath Spa University College and a Buddhist Monk from the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka.

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  • Yeats and Mysticism

    In Our Time: Religion Jan 31, 2002 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg explores the strange and mystical world of the poet W B Yeats. Celtic folklore, the Theosophical society, the Golden Dawn group, seances and a wife who communicated with the spirit world all had a huge effect on the work of this great Irish poet. He published his first collection in 1889 and won the Nobel prize for literature in 1923.At the close of the nineteenth century he published one of his best known works. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven: “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,Enwrought with golden and silver light,The blue and the dim and the dark clothsOf night and light and the half-light,I would spread the cloths under your feet:But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”But Yeats the dreamer and the poet was also a mystic, a philosopher and a practitioner of magic.From the occult subcultures of Victorian London to the outlandish folklore of the Irish Peasantry, Yeats’ obsession with the spiritual world infused his poetic mind and even drove him to describe his own religion.Why was the period so alive with spiritualism?And how did the poems reflect the dreams? With Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford University; Warwick Gould, Director of the Institute of English Studies, University of London; Brenda Maddox, author of George’s Ghosts: A New Life of W B Yeats.

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  • Catharism

    In Our Time: Religion Jan 17, 2002 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cathars, a medieval European Christian sect accused of heresy. In 1215 Pope Innocent III called the greatest meeting of Catholic minds for a hundred years. He hoped that the Fourth Lateran Council would represent the crowning glory of a Papacy that was more powerful than ever before, and it laid down decrees to standardise Christian belief across the whole of Western Europe and heal the papal schism of a generation before. But despite the wealth and power of the Vatican, all was not as it should have been in the Catholic world; Jerusalem was lost, the Crusades were failing, and in the regions of Europe the spectre of heresy moved over the land. It loomed largest in the wealthy Languedoc region of Southern France, where celibate vegetarians called Cathars were proving more popular than Jesus. The Pope moved against the Cathars but why was Catharism such a threat, what were its beliefs and what was the intellectual and spiritual climate that made the high middle ages the era of the heretic?With Malcolm Barber, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Reading; Miri Rubin, Professor of Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London; Euan Cameron, Professor of Modern History at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

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  • Third Crusade

    In Our Time: Religion Nov 29, 2001 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the highs and lows of the Third Crusade. In 1095 Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade and by the end of the 11th century an army of Franks had driven what they called the ‘infidel arab’ out of Jerusalem. The Crusaders held the city for over eighty years until Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, seized it back in 1187. The Muslim world celebrated as the Christian world shuddered and Pope Gregory VIII issued a Papal Bull for restoring the Holy City to Christian Rule.The Kings of Europe clamoured for the honour to take up the challenge. However, the Third Crusade did not get off to a ripping start. The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, set off at the head of the greatest crusader army ever assembled but drowned whilst crossing a small stream in Armenia. This left Phillip of France and ultimately Richard of England to take on Saladin’s supremacy in the Middle East. What happened in that famous encounter? How did the names of Saladin and Richard the Lionheart come to bear such a weight of reputation across the centuries and were the crusades racial, imperial or religious wars? With Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University and author of many books on the Crusades, Carole Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh, Tariq Ali, novelist, playwright and author of The Book of Saladin.

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  • Humanism

    In Our Time: Religion Feb 8, 2001 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Humanism. On the 3rd January 106 BC Marcus Tullius Cicero, lawyer, politician, Roman philosopher and the founding father of Humanism was born. His academy, the Studia Humanitas taught ‘the art of living well and blessedly through learning and instruction in the fine arts’, his version of ‘humanitas’ put man not God at the centre of the world.Centuries later, Cicero’s teachings had been metamorphosed into ‘Classical Humanism’, a faith in the soft arts of the Greek world. But how did Cicero’s ideas become Renaissance ideals? How did a small Greek curriculum later become a world philosophy? The human centred creed is credited with giving us human rights and democracy but has also been blamed for the most unspeakable horrors of the modern age. Have his ideas been distorted through the centuries for political ends? And why do some contemporary thinkers think the Humanist tradition is responsible for Elitism, Sexism and even Nazism?With Tony Davies, Professor and Head of the Department of English, University of Birmingham and author of Humanism; Lisa Jardine, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary College, University of London and Honorary Fellow of Kings College Cambridge; Simon Goldhill, Reader in Greek Literature and Culture at Kings College Cambridge.

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  • Science and Religion

    In Our Time: Religion Jan 25, 2001 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the areas of conflict and agreement between science and religion.What space should science leave to religion? What ground should religion give to science?Do they need to give ground to each other at all? The American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould tackles the old problem in his book Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. In it he writes: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that co-ordinate or explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important but utterly different realm of human purposes”.In other words ‘science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven’. But do the two realms really exclude each other? Can religion and science be so easily divided?With Stephen Jay Gould, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology, Harvard University; John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy, University of St Andrews and Stanton Lecturer in Divinity, Cambridge University; Hilary Rose, sociologist and Visiting Professor of Social Policy, Bradford University.

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  • The Age of Doubt

    In Our Time: Religion Mar 9, 2000 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg examines the spread of religious doubt over the last three centuries. Nietzsche proclaimed that God was Dead in 1882, Hegel in fact beat him to it apprising his Berlin students of God’s demise as early as 1827. By the end of the 19th century echoes of the death of God can be heard everywhere: in the revolutionary politics of Lenin, in the poetry of Tennyson and the psychoanalysis of Freud. The march of Science seemed to challenge the authority of the Bible at every turn and by the twentieth century almost all the great writers, artists and intellectuals had abandoned the certainty of their belief in God.So who or what was responsible for this sudden spread of religious doubt? If God could truly be said to be dead then who fired the first shot? Have we educated ourselves out of Christ only to embrace the bleaker creed of Mamon? Is God a human construct or did God construct us? Is there an argument from design, or was the Big Bang morally pointless, without what we could call a mind at all? Did Darwin and natural selection rebut the idea of a divine purpose?With A N Wilson, novelist, biographer, journalist and author of God’s Funeral; Victoria Glendinning, author, journalist and biographer of Anthony Trollope and Jonathan Swift.

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  • Prayer

    In Our Time: Religion Dec 23, 1999 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg examines the purpose and effects of prayer. Why do people pray? What did prayer ever do, the cry goes up, for those millions upon millions of non-combatants, civilians, children, innocents, whose lives have been ended by a savage variety of brutality? Do we pray for the benefit of God or for our own sake? Is it a “good Christian weapon” as Martin Luther defined it and as Mahatma Ghandi put it “the most potent instrument of action”; or is prayer simply the most essential form of self analysis? Or was Ovid right to see prayer as a way of changing the mind of God, when he wrote in The Art of Love, “Even the Gods are moved by the voice of entreaty”. People have prayed since the dawn of language - but why, and has it done us any good?With Professor Russell Stannard, physicist, religious writer and author of The God Experiment; Andrew Samuels, Jungian analyst and Professor of Analytical Psychology, University of Essex.

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  • Fundamentalism

    In Our Time: Religion Apr 22, 1999 | 03:00 am

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the roots and the consequences of religious fundamentalism. It still surprises many Western liberal intellectuals that religion survives at all. That fundamentalism flourishes is even more of a mystery. And if we shift the reach of fundamentalism to include the baser totalitarianisms, then the 20th century stands as sad and tragic exemplar of the power and the violence of what often begins as a belief in wholeness, oneness and fundamental values.The latter half of the 20th century particularly has seen the surprising and unexpected rise of religious fundamentalism - in all the major faiths. Violent acts have been done in the name of these forms of religion - suicide missions by Moslem extremists; attacks on abortion clinics by Protestant fundamentalists in the USA; killings at the Hebron mosque by a member of a Far Right Jewish religious group. Not surprisingly, the rise of religious fundamentalism is commonly seen as one of the most threatening forces now. But is it?With Karen Armstrong, writer on the history of religious ideas and author of A History of God: From Abraham to the Present; Tariq Ali, film-maker, writer and author of The Book of Saladin.

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