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  • Originally published 05/05/2014

    Was the Great War a Holy War?

    When Europe went to war a hundred years ago this summer, all the nations involved loudly claimed to see God’s hand in the struggle.

  • Originally published 08/13/2013

    Elizabeth Castelli: Reza Aslan—Historian?

    Elizabeth Castelli is the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Religion at Barnard College.The “most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done,” in which anchor Lauren Green challenged the legitimacy of author Reza Aslan for writing Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, seemed to be popping up everywhere on social media last week. The absurdity of the spectacle was multifold: Why—why?!—would a Muslim want to write about Jesus, Green kept asking, as though a nefarious plot to undermine Christianity were somehow afoot. Meanwhile, Aslan made a show of insisting that he possesses not only the academic credentials and but also the professional duty to do so (“My job as a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject is to write about religions”). The story was quickly framed as a battle between the right-wing Islamophobes of Fox News and Aslan, the defender of intellectual life and scholarship....

  • Originally published 08/13/2013

    Joseph Margulies: Invoking God in America

    Joseph Margulies is a professor at Northwestern University Law School and the author of "What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity."In one recent week, time took two heroes. So far as I know, the legendary civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers and the esteemed public intellectual Robert Bellah never met. They lived on opposite ends of the country and traveled in different circles. But they were connected in an important, symbolic way, and their passing within a few days of each other provides the occasion to reflect on their common lesson for modern American life.

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Robert Bellah, sociologist of religion who mapped the American soul, dies at 86

    Robert N. Bellah, a distinguished sociologist of religion who sought nothing less than to map the American soul, in both the sacred and secular senses of the word, died on July 30 in Oakland, Calif. He was 86.His death, from complications of recent heart surgery, was announced by the University of California, Berkeley, where he was the Elliott professor emeritus of sociology.Throughout his work, Professor Bellah was concerned with the ways in which faith shapes, and is shaped by, American civic life. He was widely credited with helping usher the study of religion — a historically marginalized subject in the social sciences — into the sociological fold.“Modern America has a soul, not only a body, and Bellah probed that soul more deeply and subtly than anyone in his field or his time,” Steven M. Tipton, a professor in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, wrote in an e-mail on Monday....

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    Some Mormons search the Web and find doubt

    In the small but cohesive Mormon community where he grew up, Hans Mattsson was a solid believer and a pillar of the church. He followed his father and grandfather into church leadership and finally became an “area authority” overseeing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout Europe.When fellow believers in Sweden first began coming to him with information from the Internet that contradicted the church’s history and teachings, he dismissed it as “anti-Mormon propaganda,” the whisperings of Lucifer. He asked his superiors for help in responding to the members’ doubts, and when they seemed to only sidestep the questions, Mr. Mattsson began his own investigation.But when he discovered credible evidence that the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist and that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures were rife with historical anomalies, Mr. Mattsson said he felt that the foundation on which he had built his life began to crumble....

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    New Gettysburg museum explores role of faith in Civil War

    When Confederate soldiers bore down on Gettysburg, Pa., in 1863, a quiet seminary building atop a ridge was transformed — first into a Union lookout, then a field hospital for 600 wounded soldiers.Now the structure that stood at the center of the Civil War’s bloodiest and most pivotal battle is being transformed once again.On July 1, marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Schmucker Hall, located on the campus of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, will reopen as a museum reflecting on the epic battle, the costly war and the complex role of faith.Seminary Ridge Museum will take visitors into the minds of those who fought and explore their conflicting ideas of freedom....

  • Originally published 06/07/2013

    Jonathan Zimmerman: Protecting Children and Faith

    Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in suburban Philadelphia. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (Yale University Press).In 1907 Mark Twain published a scathing attack on Christian Science, which held that all illness lay in the mind. In his trademark satirical style, Twain congratulated the religion for providing “life-long immunity from imagination-manufactured disease.”The other kinds of disease were real, Twain insisted, and their victims required medicine – not prayer – to get better. But Twain also condemned the growing movement to prosecute faith healers and parents for withholding medical care from children who died.A century later, we know much more about what makes people sick and well. As Twain understood, though, we still need to balance the protection of children with the religious liberty of their parents. And that’s why we should retain narrowly crafted laws exempting parents from child-abuse charges if they resist medical care for religious reasons....

  • Originally published 03/13/2013

    Shape-shifting Jesus described in ancient Egyptian text

    A newly deciphered Egyptian text, dating back almost 1,200 years, tells part of the crucifixion story of Jesus with apocryphal plot twists, some of which have never been seen before.Written in the Coptic language, the ancient text tells of Pontius Pilate, the judge who authorized Jesus' crucifixion, having dinner with Jesus before his crucifixion and offering to sacrifice his own son in the place of Jesus. It also explains why Judas used a kiss, specifically, to betray Jesus — because Jesus had the ability to change shape, according to the text  — and it puts the day of the arrest of Jesus on Tuesday evening rather than Thursday evening, something that contravenes the Easter timeline.

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    ‘Death sandwich’ in Book of Genesis

    “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” reads the opening words of the King James bible. According to new research, those words might be considered a slice of creation-angled bread in ametaphorical sandwich — one with a rather morbid filling.Using a free online analytics tool dubbed “Search Visualizer” that transforms text queries into color-coded visual charts, researchers at Keele University in the U.K. and Amridge University in the U.S. have reportedly discovered an ancient literary trick in the Judeo-Christian Bible’s famous foundational book. That trick, known as inclusio or “bracketing,” involves placing similar material at the beginning and end of something; in Genesis’ cases, the writers appear to have enclosed a midsection thematically dominated by “death” with intro and outro passages devoted to “life.”...The researchers call this the “Genesis Death Sandwich,” reports Science Daily. (It’s also not a bad way to draw attention to your research.)...

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    Jonathan Zimmerman: The Religious Roots of the Minimum Wage

    Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (Yale University Press).Will raising the minimum wage put more money in the pockets of America’s working poor? Or will it have the opposite effect, throwing more poor people out of work?That’s the question we ask whenever anyone proposes a hike in the minimum wage, as President Obama did in his State of the Union Address. But it’s also the wrong question, diverting us from the biggest one of all: what are the rights that we share as human beings?Minimum-wage opponents say we all have the right to pursue our own happiness—and to maximize our self-interest—so long as we respect others’ right to do the same. Proponents counter that everyone has a right to certain necessities of life—food, clothing, and shelter—and that no one can be happy if some of us are deprived.And the proponents have Pope Benedict XVI on their side....