Iran Has Become a Prison

What I learned about the challenge of resisting a regime that locks up thousands of political prisoners. By Kian Tajbakhsh Amid the nationwide protests that have rocked Iran since the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, a riot and a fire broke out at Tehran’s Evin Prison on October 15. Iran’s security services reportedly responded with extreme severity, threatening to shoot prisoners unless they retreated to their cells. According to the authorities, eight prisoners died. Evin Prison occupies a special place both within the regime’s security apparatus and in the political imagination of … Continue reading Iran Has Become a Prison

The imperative betrayal

The mystery of why Judas forsook Jesus goes to the heart of Christianity. A newly translated gospel offers a new view David Brakke is the Joe R Engle Chair in the History of Christianity and professor of history at the Ohio State University. His books include The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity (2010) and The Gospel of Judas: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (2022). Why did Judas do it? The betrayal of Jesus of Nazareth by Judas Iscariot, one of his 12 disciples, has become the paradigmatic act of treachery in Western culture. Modern historians are sceptical of many and even … Continue reading The imperative betrayal

An unholy alliance

Authoritarian leaders who play the religious card are not mere hypocrites. There’s something far more troubling going on Suzanne Schneider is deputy director and core faculty at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. She is the author of Mandatory Separation: Religion, Education, and Mass Politics in Palestine (2018) and The Apocalypse and the End of History: Modern Jihad and the Crisis of Liberalism (2021). Viktor Orbán reportedly does not attend church. Benjamin Netanyahu eats at non-kosher restaurants. New York libertine Donald Trump lacks all manner of evident religious virtue. Yet it is a fact that today’s crop of aspiring authoritarians invoke religious themes and … Continue reading An unholy alliance

The Calvinist conquest

In the 17th century, Dutch proselytisers set out for Asia, Africa and the Americas. The legacy of their travels endures by Charles H Parker, is professor of history at Saint Louis University. His research focuses on early modern European and world history. His most recent book is Global Calvinism: Conversion and Commerce in the Dutch Empire, 1600-1800 (2022). At the turn of the 1600s, a handful of Protestant pastors and chaplains in Amsterdam began accompanying ships of the United East India Company (VOC) to small Dutch commercial settlements in Southeast Asia. These Calvinist (also Reformed Protestant) ministers went to faraway lands to … Continue reading The Calvinist conquest

The meaning of Purgatory

Think less of a holding pen for Heaven and more as a flow of love from the living, and the weirdness starts making sense by Magnus Course, is senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His books include Becoming Mapuche: Person and Ritual in Indigenous Chile (2011) and the co-authored Fluent Selves: Autobiography, Person, and History in Lowland South America (2014). He is working on a book provisionally titled ‘Leaving Purgatory: the Afterlives of an Afterlife’. Up until recently, there existed a place where pretty much everyone who’d ever lived and then died was thought to dwell. This place … Continue reading The meaning of Purgatory

Pivotal mental states

Spiritual highs and mental breakdowns are both products of the same evolved brain system granting us the power to transform Ari Brouwer is a PhD student in the department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and … Continue reading Pivotal mental states

Existential Comfort Without God

Can natural explanations to life’s big questions be as consoling as religious ones? BY TANIA LOMBROZOS Last month, Harvard University named a new Chief Chaplain: Greg Epstein, an atheist. As reported in The New York Times,1 Epstein, the campus humanist chaplain, was unanimously elected to “coordinate the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious communities on campus.” Perusing the hundreds of reader comments generated by the Times article revealed broad support. While some questioned whether an atheist could be a “real” chaplain, others suggested that appointing a humanist was a clever move—a way to … Continue reading Existential Comfort Without God

How to pray to a dead God

The modern world is disenchanted. God remains dead. But our need for transcendence lives on. How should we fulfil it? Ed Simon is a contributing editor for the History News Network and a staff writer at the literary site The Millions. His books include the anthology The God Beat: What Journalism Says about Faith and Why It Matters (2021), co-edited with Costica Bradatan; An Alternative History of Pittsburgh (2021); and Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology (forthcoming, 2022). He lives in Washington, DC. On an evening in 1851, a mutton-chopped 28-year-old English poet and critic looked out at the English Channel with his new bride. Walking … Continue reading How to pray to a dead God

10 Years of Rituals

Inside an exorcist’s diary. BY JOHN LAST We are living through a golden age of exorcism. Since the 1990s, when the famous Italian exorcist Gabriele Amorth revived the rite, the number of exorcists in the Roman Catholic Church has exploded, with training courses running in Rome forced to turn would-be exorcists away. The pope himself has endorsed the practice, as a growing number of Protestant churches promote “deliverance ministries” and other exorcisms as a central part of worship. And Hollywood has embraced it as a plot device, pouring cash into endless feature films, one tragically canceled TV series (and another critically acclaimed show that’s still ticking), and spending $400 million on a … Continue reading 10 Years of Rituals

Tales Of Technology And Faith

Sci-fi enables us to think about science and religion as mutually supportive elements of what it means to be human. BY AMANDA REES – Amanda Rees is a historian of science at the University of York. In 1948, L. Ron Hubbard is reported to have said, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” Two years later, he did just that. His short story, “Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science,” which appeared in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, laid the foundation of what evolved into the globally significant (and … Continue reading Tales Of Technology And Faith