26 December 2013

For a liberal theological reading of the Bible

For a liberal theological reading of the Bible, by Sagnik Dutta (Frontline, 10 January 2014)

Reverend Winnie Varghese, the Rector of St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery in New York City, has been at the forefront of efforts to reach out to the Indian members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community in the United States. As a priest, she believes that a liberal theological reading of the Bible is possible. The underlying message of liberation and compassion towards the marginalised sections of society is foregrounded in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Winnie Varghese is a native Texan with family roots in Kerala and religious roots in the Mar Thoma Church of Kerala. In an email interview to Frontline, she talked about how she had been able to reconcile her religious beliefs with her sexual orientation, her understanding of the impact of the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the ways in which liberal religious voices could be foregrounded in the debate on LGBT rights.

07 December 2013

Islamist conservatism in Malaysia

Islamist conservatism in Malaysia, by Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid (New Mandala, 7 December 2013)

The transmission of Islam in the Malay-Indonesian world remains entrenched in history as one of the foremost examples of peaceful proselytisation of religion on a trans-continental scale. So successful was the continuous process from around the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, that the Islamic faith (agama) became comfortably embedded as a definitive criterion, apart from the Malay language (bahasa Melayu) and rulership (kerajaan), of Malayness – in reference to the broad category of Southeast Asia’s indigenous population who were previously adherents of animism and variants of Hindu-Buddhist religious traditions prevalent in the archipelago. The sources, modalities, timing and other details of the genesis of Islam among the Malays had always been diverse – there were sufis or Muslim mystics and shias; Arabs, Chinese, Indians and Bengalis; sayyids, sheikhs and itinerant missionaries; merchants, traders and political escapees from the flux engulfing their lands of origin or transit.

02 December 2013

More Latinos Convert from Catholics to Protestants; the Latin Wave in the Anglican Church

You can't get much more "Anglo" than the Anglican Communion, known in the United States as the "Episcopal Church." But in border areas like Texas, this church is starting to show the effects of an influx of Hispanics into its congregations. Long associated with attending Roman Catholic churches, the Hispanic Episcopalians reflect a growing trend of Latinos in Protestant churches across the U.S. Episcopalians are not known to be quite as adoring of the Virgin Mary as the Roman Catholics; but in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in her trademarked green cloak, is prominently displayed in the front of St. Matthew's Cathedral. It was installed during a special bilingual ceremony in 2003.

08 November 2013

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict (Pew Research)

Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2011-2012 find high levels of concern about sectarian tensions in several countries where Sunnis and Shias live side by side. These concerns are particularly pronounced in Lebanon, where fully two-thirds of all Muslims, including about half of Shias and 80% of Sunnis, say sectarian tensions are a very big or moderately big problem. Roughly half of all Muslims in Iraq, more than four-in-ten in Afghanistan and nearly a quarter in Iran say the same. The polls were conducted from November 2011 to May 2012 among a total of more than 5,000 Muslims in five countries with substantial numbers of both Shias and Sunnis (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon).2 Although Shias make up only about 10%-13% of the world’s Muslims, three of the five countries surveyed (Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan) have Shia-majority populations.3 Several of the countries polled also have a recent history of sectarian violence. This includes Lebanon, where a civil war was fought along sectarian lines from 1975 to 1991, and Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other suspected sectarian attacks have occurred in the last few years.
See also Related Article: Muslim holiday of Ashura brings into focus Shia-Sunni differences (Pew Research, 14 November 2013)


05 November 2013

75 Years Later: How the World Shrugged Off Kristallnacht

 75 Years Later: How the World Shrugged Off Kristallnacht, by Klaus Wiegrefe (Der Spiegel, 5 November 2013)

This week marks the 75th anniversary of what Leipzig-based historian Dan Diner has called the "catastrophe before the catastrophe." This prompted the German Foreign Ministry to take the unusual step of asking 48 countries that had diplomatic missions in Germany in 1938 to search their archives for reports on the November pogrom. For months, the Foreign Ministry has been receiving copies of historical documents previously unknown to experts. Beginning next Monday, the Foreign Ministry and the Berlin Centrum Judaicum will display a selection of the documents at the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse, in an exhibition titled "From the Inside to the Outside: The 1938 November Pogroms in Diplomatic Reports from Germany."

25 October 2013

Growth of the Nonreligious (Pew Research)

Growth of the Nonreligious (Pew Research, 2 July 2013)

About half of Americans say the growing number of “people who are not religious” is bad for American society. But a similar share say either that this trend is good or that it does not make much difference, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
Link: Growth of the Nonreligious (Pew Research, 2 July 2013)

Related Links:

14 October 2013

Malaysian court upholds ban on Christian use of 'Allah'

The Malaysian Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision against a government ban on the use of the term "Allah" by Malaysian Christians.The Court of Appeal judges said the ban did not infringe the rights of minority religions because the use of the name “Allah is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity.”

01 October 2013

A Portrait of Jewish Americans (Pew)

A Portrait of Jewish Americans (Pew Research, 1 October 2013)

American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, according to a major new survey by the Pew Research Center. But the survey also suggests that Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.

The Pope: how the Church will change (La Republica)

The Pope: how the Church will change (La Republica, 1 October 2013): Italian / English

Dialogue between Francis and La Repubblica's founder, Eugenio Scalfari: "Starting from the Second Vatican Council, open to modern culture". The conversation in the Vatican after the Pope's letter to La Repubblica: "Convert you? Proselytism is solemn nonsense. You have to meet people and listen to them."
Su Repubblica il dialogo con Francesco: "Ripartire dal Concilio, aprire alla cultura moderna". Il colloquio in Vaticano dopo la lettera di Bergoglio pubblicata dal nostro giornale: "Convertirla? Il proselitismo è una solenne sciocchezza. Bisogna conoscersi e ascoltarsi". "La Santa Sede è troppo vaticano-centrica. Basta cortigiani"

29 September 2013

2013 Hispanic Values Survey on Shifting Religious Identities and Experiences influencing Hispanic Approaches to Politics

Excerpt: The Changing Religious Profile of Hispanics
A majority of Hispanics identify as Catholic (53%), one-quarter (25%) identify as Protestant — nearly evenly divided between evangelical Protestant (13%) and mainline Protestant (12%)—and 12% of Hispanics are religiously unaffiliated. Few Hispanics (6%) identify with a non-Christian religion. When comparing today’s Hispanic adults to their childhood religious affiliations, Catholic affiliation drops by 16 percentage points (from 69% to 53%). Evangelical Protestant affiliation has increased by 6percentage points (from 7% to 13%), while the percentage of those claiming no religious affiliation has increased by 7 percentage points (from 5% to 12%).


19 September 2013

A Big Heart Open to God: The Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis

A Big Heart Open to God: The Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis: America Magazine  /  Thinking Faith / ChoisirStimmen der Zeit / Razón y fe / La Civiltà Cattolica 

This interview with Pope Francis took place over the course of three meetings during August 2013 in Rome. The interview was conducted in person by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal. Father Spadaro conducted the interview on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica, America and several other major Jesuit journals around the world. The editorial teams at each of the journals prepared questions and sent them to Father Spadaro, who then consolidated and organized them.
Links to the Fulltext of the Papal Interview:

12 September 2013

Convent in Japan invites outsiders to try a prayerful life

When Akiko and Fumiko, aged 28 and 23 respectively, arrived at the Trappistine convent of Our Lady of Imari, they were not initiates to the order, but they weren’t casual visitors either. They had set aside the following three months for a program in which they would labor and live with the sisters as temporary members of the community. The convent started this program as a way to give young people a chance to make prayer the center of their lives, not only during their stay but in their lives afterward. Prayer is like the pulse of this convent, which sits on a mountain overlooking Imari Bay in Saga Prefecture, some 940km west of Tokyo. The first prayers begin promptly at 3:50 am, and the day ends with a Marian hymn at 7:40 in the evening. The traditional form of Christian devotion at Our Lady of Imari focuses on the Mass and the daily “office”, or schedule of seven prayer sessions. Akiko and Fumiko joined in this experience and devoted more than four hours to prayer each day, in addition to three and a half hours set aside for study and about three hours for manual labor.

Pope Francisco writes to La Repubblica: "An open dialogue with non-believers"

Pope Francisco writes to La Repubblica: "An open dialogue with non-believers" (La Republica, 11 September 2013): Italian / English / Spanish

Writing in one of Italy's major secular newspapers, Pope Francis called for a "sincere and rigorous dialogue" between the church and nonbelievers as an "intimate and indispensable expression" of Christian love. The pope's words appeared in a 2,600-word letter published in the Sept. 11 edition of the Rome daily La Repubblica, in reply to recent articles by Eugenio Scalfari, a co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the newspaper. According to the National Catholic Reporter columnist, John L. Allen, Jr., Pope Francis makes three main points in this letter: 
  1. God has never abandoned the covenant with the Jewish people, and the church "can never be grateful enough" to the Jews for preserving their faith despite the horrors of history, especially the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
  2. God's mercy "does not have limits" and therefore it reaches nonbelievers, too, for whom sin would not be the lack of faith in God, but rather, failure to obey one's conscience.
  3. Truth is not "variable or subjective," but Francis says he avoids calling it "absolute" -- truth possesses us, he said, not the other way around, and it's always expressed according to someone's "history and culture, the situation in which they live, etc."

26 August 2013

Muslim Brotherhood: A Force Throughout The Muslim World

Muslim Brotherhood: A Force Throughout The Muslim World, by Krishnadev Calamur (NPR, 17 August 2013)

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has a presence in dozens of Muslim countries, has been banned, repressed or restricted for much of its more than eight-decade history in Egypt, the place where it was born. After ruling Egypt for the past year, the group was effectively ousted when the military overthrew Mohammed Morsi as president on July 3. The security forces have cracked down on the Brotherhood and its supporters this past week, resulting in leaving hundreds dead.

For Arab World's Christians, An Uncertain Fate

For Arab World's Christians, An Uncertain Fate (NPR All Things Considered, 25 August 2013)

As Egypt plunges into unrest amid the military-backed government's crackdown on demonstrators, the country's Christian minority has been targeted by Islamic extremists. Dozens of churches have been burned, ransacked and looted since the government began fighting against supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohammed Morsi two weeks ago.

24 August 2013

Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior (PNAS)

Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior, by Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January 26, 2012)

Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed. 

22 August 2013

‘Strong’ Catholic Identity at a Four-Decade Low in U.S. (Pew Research)

The percentage of U.S. Catholics who consider themselves “strong” members of the Roman Catholic Church has never been lower than it was in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new data from the General Social Survey (GSS). About a quarter (27%) of American Catholics called themselves “strong” Catholics last year, down more than 15 points since the mid-1980s and among the lowest levels seen in the 38 years since strength of religious identity was first measured in the GSS, a long-running national survey carried out by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

18 August 2013

Syria refugees swell Christian community in Turkey

Syria refugees swell Christian community in Turkey (BBC News Magazine, 10 August 2013)

Syria's Christians belong to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, but chased away by the threat of violence some are heading for neighbouring Turkey, where they have been greeted with considerable enthusiasm.

Science and Islam (BBC Documentary)

Part 1 of 3: The Language of Science

Physicist Jim Al-Khalili travels through Syria, Iran, Tunisia and Spain to tell the story of the great leap in scientific knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries. Its legacy is tangible, with terms like algebra, algorithm and alkali all being Arabic in origin and at the very heart of modern science - there would be no modern mathematics or physics without algebra, no computers without algorithms and no chemistry without alkalis.For Baghdad-born Al-Khalili this is also a personal journey and on his travels he uncovers a diverse and outward-looking culture, fascinated by learning and obsessed with science. From the great mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, who did much to establish the mathematical tradition we now know as algebra, to Ibn Sina, a pioneer of early medicine whose Canon of Medicine was still in use as recently as the 19th century, he pieces together a remarkable story of the often-overlooked achievements of the early medieval Islamic scientists.

Part 2 of 3: The Empire of Reason

Physicist Jim Al-Khalili travels through Syria, Iran, Tunisia and Spain to tell the story of the great leap in scientific knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries. Al-Khalili travels to northern Syria to discover how, a thousand years ago, the great astronomer and mathematician Al-Biruni estimated the size of the earth to within a few hundred miles of the correct figure. He discovers how medieval Islamic scholars helped turn the magical and occult practice of alchemy into modern chemistry. In Cairo, he tells the story of the extraordinary physicist Ibn al-Haytham, who helped establish the modern science of optics and proved one of the most fundamental principles in physics - that light travels in straight lines.Prof Al-Khalili argues that these scholars are among the first people to insist that all scientific theories are backed up by careful experimental observation, bringing a rigour to science that didn't really exist before.

Part 3 of 3: The Power of Doubt

Physicist Jim Al-Khalili tells the story of the great leap in scientific knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries.Al-Khalili turns detective, hunting for clues that show how the scientific revolution that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe had its roots in the earlier world of medieval Islam. He travels across Iran, Syria and Egypt to discover the huge astronomical advances made by Islamic scholars through their obsession with accurate measurement and coherent and rigorous mathematics.He then visits Italy to see how those Islamic ideas permeated into the West and ultimately helped shape the works of the great European astronomer Copernicus, and investigates why science in the Islamic world appeared to go into decline after the 16th and 17th centuries, only for it to re-emerge in the present day.Al-Khalili ends his journey in the Royan Institute in the Iranian capital Tehran, looking at how science is now regarded in the Islamic world.


"The Life of Muhammad" (BBC / PBS Documentary)

A ground-breaking three-part series presented by Rageh Omaar charts the life of Muhammad, a man who - for the billion and half Muslims across the globe - is the messenger and final prophet of God.

In line with Islamic tradition the programme does not depict any images of the face of Muhammad, or feature any dramatic re-constructions of Muhammad's life.

Part 1: The Seeker
In a journey that is both literal and historical, and beginning in Muhammad's birthplace of Mecca, Omaar investigates the Arabia Muhammad was born into - a world of tribal loyalties and polytheistic religion. Drawing on the expertise and comment of some of the world's leading academics and commentators on Islam, the programme examines Muhammad's first marriage to Khadijah and how he received the first of the revelations that had such a profound effect both on his life, and on the lives of those closest to him.

Part 2: Holy Wars
In this second episode of The Life of Muhammad, presenter Rageh Omaar continues to chart the story of The Prophet Muhammad. Drawing on the expertise and comment from some of the world's leading academics and commentators on Islam, Omaar assesses and shines a light on key events in Muhammad's life including the Night Journey to Jerusalem, his life threatening departure from Mecca, through to the establishment of the Constitution of Medina and the eight year war with the Meccan tribes.

Part 3: Holy Peace
In the final episode of The Life of Muhammad, presenter Rageh Omaar continues to chart the story of The Prophet Muhammad. Drawing on the expertise and comment from some of the world's leading academics and commentators on Islam, Omaar analyses and investigates key events during the later part of his life, including the introduction of a moral code known as Sharia and the concept of Jihad. The programme also explores Muhammad's use of marriage to build alliances, and looks at the key messages included in his final sermon.


19 June 2013

LGBT in Changing Times Attitudes, Experiences and Growing Acceptance (Pew)

With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule later this month on same-sex marriage, the Pew Research Center is releasing a series of reports that explore attitudes about sexual orientation and identity. The series is based on several new Pew Research surveys – one of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults in the U.S.; another of the American public as a whole; and another of publics in 39 countries. It will also include a new analysis of media coverage and the social media conversation about the same-sex marriage issue.

Same-Sex Marriage State-by-State (Pew)

Same-Sex Marriage State-by-State (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 6 June 2013)

Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage following a ruling by the state's highest court in 2003. To date, courts, legislatures and voters in 12 states – Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state – and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. In addition, eight states – California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Wisconsin – have civil unions or domestic-partnership provisions for same-sex couples. Meanwhile, 30 states have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage.

In Gay Marriage Debate, Both Supporters and Opponents See Legal Recognition as 'Inevitable' (Pew Research)

The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 1-5 among 1,504 adults, finds that support for same-sex marriage continues to grow: For the first time in Pew Research Center polling, just over half (51%) of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. Yet the issue remains divisive, with 42% saying they oppose legalizing gay marriage. Opposition to gay marriage – and to societal acceptance of homosexuality more generally – is rooted in religious attitudes, such as the belief that engaging in homosexual behavior is a sin.

At the same time, more people today have gay or lesbian acquaintances, which is associated with acceptance of homosexuality and support for gay marriage. Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (87%) personally know someone who is gay or lesbian (up from 61% in 1993). About half (49%) say a close family member or one of their closest friends is gay or lesbian. About a quarter (23%) say they know a lot of people who are gay or lesbian, and 31% know a gay or lesbian person who is raising children. The link between these experiences and attitudes about homosexuality is strong. For example, roughly two-thirds (68%) of those who know a lot of people who are gay or lesbian favor gay marriage, compared with just 32% of those who don’t know anyone.

See also: LGBT in Changing Times (Pew Research Center)

18 June 2013

Divided by Ancient Disputes: Sunnis, Shi‘ites & the Future of the Middle East

Americans wonder what is going on in the Middle East these days, especially the civil and religious strife that is tearing Syria apart – and, potentially, Lebanon and Iraq along with it. Modern Christians, even Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, have little appetite for going to battle over religious differences. Within the House of Islam, however, ancient antagonisms between Sunni and Shi‘ite Muslims are alive and well; indeed, they are currently devastating the heartland of the religion. What is the source of the division between Sunnis and Shi‘ites, and how prevalent is this bifurcation in the whole Islamic world, a community of more than 1.6 billion people?

31 May 2013

“Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation (Pew)

“Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 9 October 2012)

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%

18 May 2013

The Religious Affiliation of U.S. Immigrants (Pew Forum)

Over the past 20 years, the United States has granted permanent residency status to an average of about 1 million immigrants each year. ... U.S. government statistics show that a smaller percentage come from Europe and the Americas than did so 20 years ago, and a growing share now come from Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa region. With this geographic shift, it is likely that the religious makeup of legal immigrants also has been changing. ... While Christians continue to make up a majority of legal immigrants to the U.S., the estimated share of new legal permanent residents who are Christian declined from 68% in 1992 to 61% in 2012. Over the same period, the estimated share of green card recipients who belong to religious minorities rose from approximately one-in-five (19%) to one-in-four (25%). This includes growing shares of Muslims (5% in 1992, 10% in 2012) and Hindus (3% in 1992, 7% in 2012). The share of Buddhists, however, is slightly smaller (7% in 1992, 6% in 2012), while the portion of legal immigrants who are religiously unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular) has remained relatively stable, at about 14% per year.

14 May 2013

The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross (History Channel)

Part 1: First Crusade

Part2: First Crusade (continued)

Part 3: Second & Third Crusades

Part 4: Fourth Crusade

The Crusades (BBC)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Secret Files of the Inquisition (PBS Documentary)

Based on previously unreleased secret documents from European Archives including the Vatican, the 4-part series, Secret Files of the Inquisition unveils the incredible true story of the Catholic Church's 500-year struggle to remain the world's only true Christian religion.

Links to the official websites of the documentary:
The last person to be officially executed by the Roman Catholic Church under the Roman Inquisition (discussed in Part 3 of this documentary series) on charges of apostasy from the Catholic faith is the Italian priest, scientist and philosopher, Giordano Bruno. He was accused of Copernicanism, infinite universe and the possibility of other habitable worlds besides earth. He refused a full and unconditional recantation at his trial, and the Inquisitor, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, S.J., pronounced the guilty verdict and handed him over to civil authorities for execution in 1600. The last person to be executed by the Spanish Inquisition on charges of heresy and apostasy is Cayetano Ripoll, who was accused of renouncing Catholicism for Deism, and executed on 26 July 1826. Infamous for its ferocious persecutions of Jews (discussed in Part 2 of this documentary series) and Moors (Muslims), the Spanish Inquisition was only abolished in 1834. The Roman Inquisition went into decline in the aftermath of the scandal involving the young Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara who was secretly baptised and forcibly removed from his Jewish parents and placed under the protection of Pope Pius IX (discussed in Part 4 of this documentary series).

More on the Inquisition:

PART 1: The Land of Terror - France

France 1308 - High in the Pyrenees in the southwest of what is now France, in a time when the Church of Rome proclaims itself the one true religion, heresy has taken hold. Inquisitors are sent to exterminate the heresies by hunting down the condemning believers to burn at the stake. In 1308 the entire village of Montaillou is taken prisoner of the Inquisition. No one is safe - not even the village priest and the chatelaine of its castle. From the secret files - the extraordinary revelations of village life under the Inquisition.

PART 2: The Tears of Spain

Spain 1468 - A land where Christians, Muslims and Jews have lived in tolerance for centuries. That time is ending. A young King and Queen proclaim themselves Catholic Monarchs and start an Inquisition. Jews who had converted to Christianity are accused of secretly sabotaging the Christian faith. They become the pawns in a game of chess with dire consequences. Thousands perish in a ritual called the act of faith. In Zaragossa, the inquisitor is assassinated - setting off a wave of reprisals. Mothers will die to protect their children - and the highest in the land will pay the ultimate price. It is the beginning of the Spanish empire and a long dark night that will last for centuries.

PART 3: The War on Ideas - Italy

Italy 1522 - The decadence of a Medici Pope in Rome outrages the devout priest in Germany named Martin Luther. In the face of the Protestant Reformation, a fanatical monk sets out to exterminate the heresy. On his path to power he will create the Roman Inquisition. And he will become the most hated Pope in history. Powerful leaders of the Catholic Church are arrested and imprisoned, accused of reading books banned by the Church. Free-thinking students are silenced. Darkness descends on the centers of learning and Renaissance. The Roman Inquisition leaves a legacy that lasts into the twentieth century.

PART 4: The End of the Inquisition

The secret files of the Inquisition are locked away for centuries. A Spanish priest devotes his life to exposing the brutal records of the Inquisition. Napoleon spreads the ideas of the Enlightenment. He conquers Italy, abolishes the Inquisition and orders its files sent to Paris. Spain's greatest painter, Goya, will depict the Inquisition for the first time - and then run for his life. The kidnapping of a young Jewish boy secretly baptized will be one of the desperate last attempts at exerting the power of the Inquisition. A devoted father fights to get back his son. The boy becomes a symbol for a Pope who is about to lose his dominion on earth.

13 May 2013

Vatican presents the Pontifical Yearbook 2013

Presentation of Pontifical Yearbook 2013 (Vatican Information Service, 13 May 2013)


The statistical information, which refers to the year 2011, reveals details about the Catholic Church in the 2,979 ecclesiastical circumscriptions around the planet. The number of Catholics in the world increased from 1.196 million in 2010 to 1.214 million in 2011, an increase of eighteen million faithful, corresponding to a growth of 1.5%. Over the last three years the presence of baptised Catholics in the world has remained stable at around 17.5%.The number of Catholics with respect to the total population varies considerably between the continents. Their numbers have increased in Africa (by 4.3%), which has reported a 2.3% increase of its population between 2010 and 2011. In Asia, an increase in Catholics greater to an increase in the population was also recorded (of 2% compared to 1.2%). In the Americas and in Europe the increase in numbers of Catholics is equal to the population increase (.3%). In 2011, the total of baptised Catholics had a distribution of, by continent: the Americas (48.8%); Europe (23.5%); Africa (16%); Asia (10.9%); and Oceania (.8%).
 Link:  Presentation of Pontifical Yearbook 2013

01 May 2013

The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Pew)

The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 30 April 2013)

A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims around the globe finds that most adherents of the world’s second-largest religion are deeply committed to their faith and want its teachings to shape not only their personal lives but also their societies and politics. In all but a handful of the 39 countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims say that Islam is the one true faith leading to eternal life in heaven and that belief in God is necessary to be a moral person. Many also think that their religious leaders should have at least some influence over political matters. And many express a desire for sharia – traditional Islamic law – to be recognized as the official law of their country.

Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project

The Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project is a beta website furnishing demographic data and survey results on global religions across the countries of the world.
Link: Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project

23 April 2013

Einfuehrung in Zen Meditation (Introduction to Zen Meditation) - by Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle

Part I:

Part II:

Justice is not enough!

Justice is not enough! By Muqtedar Khan (Huffington Post, 22 April 2013)

How do we teach young Muslims to struggle for justice, but without resorting to terror tactics? How do we teach them that a just cause is not a justification for unjust means? Anger is forbidden. To act in anger, even in the pursuit of justice is Un-Islamic. How do we teach our child that how one responds to injustice is the true measure of one's values and a true reflection of who we are? How do we teach them that our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught us -- la darar wa la dirar -- do no harm and do not reciprocate harm.

Yes, Muhammad taught Muslims neither to initiate harm nor to reciprocate harm. This tradition is very widely known, at least to Muslims who know their religion. It is #32 in the famous collection of traditions by Imam al-Nawawi. Do not do injustice. Do not respond to injustice with injustice. The sources are there, why do we not have the will to teach our children what really are our beliefs? Because the Islamization of Muslim politics, has politicized Islam, and we teach only those sources of our faith that serve our geopolitics. What will happen to the dream of the Palestinian state, the hope of referendum in Kashmir, if Muslims don't get angry? When will we teach our children that practicing one's values is more important than advancing one's politics? Muslims who believe that their religion is beautiful and commands beautiful deeds (Ihsan) must stand up and teach these values.

16 April 2013

A Response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

In 2013, marking the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (1963), Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. issued the first ever clergy response to King's letter.

08 April 2013

Useful Resources for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Useful Resources for the Study of the Historical Jesus


(Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, Santa Clara University Bannan Institute, 2012-13, 7 March 2013)

Extended Interview with Amy-Jill Levine (PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly)

Conversations from St. Norbert College featuring Amy-Jill Levine

Reassessing Jewish-Christian Relations (Burke Lectureship on Religion & Society 6/2001)

THE JEWISHNESS OF JESUS (ChurchNext with Chris Yaw)

(Point of Inquiry with CHris Mooney & Indre Viskontas)

2010 SHAFFER LECTURE SERIES - "GALILEE, JESUS AND CHRISTOLOGY" (Yale Divinity School, Convocation 2010)

Lecture I: Galilee as Matrix for the Jesus Movement: Cultural and Socio-Economic Conditions (12 October 2010)

Lecture II: Locating Jesus in Galilee - Pitfalls and Challenges (13 October 2010)

Lecture III. Towards a Galilean Christology (14 October 2010)


2006 SHAFFER LECTURE SERIES - "On the Danger of Making Jesus a Christian: The Test Case of Law and Morality"

Lecture I: The Jewish Jesus on Jewish Divorce (10 October 2006)

Lecture II: The Jewish Jesus and the Sabbath (11 October 2006)

Historical Jesus:

Jesus: The Parable of God





"Believers, Scholars, and Culture: Assessing the Impact of Two Centuries of Critical Biblical Scholarship"
Panelists: John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, and N.T. Wright

MEL GIBSON'S PASSION - A PANEL DISCUSSION (Yale Divinity School, 26 March 2004)


SCHOLARS SEARCH FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS (discussing John Dominic Crossan & E.P. Sanders: