In Our Time: Religion

In Our Time: Religion

United Kingdom

Discussion of religious movements and the theories and individuals behind them.

Episodes

Margery Kempe and English Mysticism  

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. With Miri Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London Katherine Lewis Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Huddersfield And Anthony Bale Professor of Medieval Studies at Birkbeck University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Titus Oates and his 'Popish Plot'  

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? With Clare Jackson Senior Tutor and Director of Studies in History at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge Mark Knights Professor of History at the University of Warwick And Peter Hinds Associate Professor of English at Plymouth University Producer: Simon Tillotson.

The Sikh Empire  

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." With Gurharpal Singh Professor in Inter-Religious Relations and Development at SOAS, University of London Chandrika Kaul Lecturer in Modern History at the University of St Andrews And Susan Stronge Senior Curator in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Mary Magdalene  

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 Anderson Lecturer in Art History at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London Eamon Duffy Emeritus Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Magdalene College Joan Taylor Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College London Producer: Victoria Brignell.

The Salem Witch Trials  

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. With Susan Castillo-Street Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita of American Studies at King's College London Simon Middleton Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of Sheffield And Marion Gibson Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at Exeter University, Penryn Campus. Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Prester John  

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. With Marianne O'Doherty Associate Professor in English at the University of Southampton Martin Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture And Amanda Power Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Sheffield. Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Josephus  

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. With Tessa Rajak Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, University of Reading Philip Alexander Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies, University of Manchester And Martin Goodman Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Oxford and President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Matteo Ricci and the Ming Dynasty  

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. With Mary Laven Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge Craig Clunas Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford and Anne Gerritsen Reader in History at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Al-Ghazali  

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 Adamson Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich Carole Hillenbrand Professor of Islamic History at Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities Robert Gleave Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter Producer: Victoria Brignell.

Zen  

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. GUESTS Tim Barrett, Emeritus Professor in the Department of the Study of Religions at SOAS, University of London Lucia Dolce, Numata Reader in Japanese Buddhism at SOAS, University of London Eric Greene, Lecturer in East Asian Religions at the University of Bristol Producer: Luke Mulhall.

Hildegard of Bingen  

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 Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History and Head of the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London William Flynn Lecturer in Medieval Latin at the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds Almut Suerbaum Professor of Medieval German and Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford. Producer: Thomas Morris.

The Talmud  

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 Alexander Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester Rabbi Norman Solomon Former Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Jewish and Hebrew Studies Laliv Clenman Lecturer in Rabbinic Literature at Leo Baeck College and a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King's College London Producer: Thomas Morris.

Bishop Berkeley  

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 Millican Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford Tom Stoneham Professor of Philosophy at the University of York Michela Massimi Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh. Producer: Thomas Morris.

The Trinity  

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 Soskice Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus College Martin Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture The Reverend Graham Ward Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford and a Canon of Christ Church. Producer: Thomas Morris.

Hindu Ideas of Creation  

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 Frazier Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University Gavin Flood Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Oxford. Producer: Thomas Morris.

The Book of Common Prayer  

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.

Prophecy  

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 Siddiqui Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh Justin Meggitt University Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion and the Origins of Christianity at the University of Cambridge Jonathan Stökl Post-Doctoral Researcher at Leiden University. Producer: Thomas Morris.

Gnosticism  

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 Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture Caroline Humfress Reader in History at Birkbeck College, University of London Alastair Logan Honorary University Fellow of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter Producer: Thomas Morris.

The Cult of Mithras  

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 Woolf Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews Almut Hintze Zartoshty Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS, University of London John North Acting Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London. Producer: Victoria Brignell.

The Upanishads  

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 Frazier Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University Simon Brodbeck Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Cardiff Producer: Natalia Fernandez.

0:00/0:00
Video player is in betaClose