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  • 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 08/08/2013

    Charles C. Haynes: Dispelling the Myth of a ‘Christian Nation’

    Charles C. Haynes is senior scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center and director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington.Culture warriors, pseudo historians and opportunistic politicians have spent the last several decades peddling the myth that America was founded as a “Christian nation.”The propaganda appears to be working. A majority of the American people (51 percent) believes that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the State of the First Amendment survey released last month by the First Amendment Center.Because language about a Christian America has long been a staple of Religious Right rhetoric, it’s not surprising that acceptance of this patently false interpretation of the Constitution is strongest among evangelicals (71 percent) and conservatives (67 percent).But even many non-evangelical Christians (47 percent) and liberals (33 percent) appear to believe the fiction of a constitutionally mandated Christian America is historical fact.Forgive me for being snippy, but read the Constitution....

  • 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 08/05/2013

    Attack on Reza Aslan puts his Jesus book in the spotlight

    Not every scholarly study of early Christianity rockets to best-seller status thanks to an attack by a belligerent cable-network reporter.But that became the fate last week of Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, just out from Random House in the United States while, in Britain, the Westbourne Press is rushing the book forward from its original August 18 publication date.The fortunes of Zealot offer a cautionary tale for scholars who publish on touchy subjects—or perhaps a primer on how to provoke conservative-media hostility, and then to capitalize on it, even if you're no religious or intellectual radical....

  • Originally published 07/28/2013

    A religious legacy, with its leftward tilt, is reconsidered

    For decades the dominant story of postwar American religious history has been the triumph of evangelical Christians. Beginning in the 1940s, the story goes, a rising tide of evangelicals began asserting their power and identity, ultimately routing their more liberal mainline Protestant counterparts in the pews, on the offering plate and at the ballot box.But now a growing cadre of historians of religion are reconsidering the legacy of those faded establishment Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, tracing their enduring influence on the movements for human rights and racial justice, the growing “spiritual but not religious” demographic and even the shaded moral realism of Barack Obama — a liberal Protestant par excellence, some of these academics say.After decades of work bringing evangelicals, Mormons and other long-neglected religious groups into the broader picture, these scholars contend, the historical profession is overdue for a “mainline moment.”

  • 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 05/17/2013

    Geza Vermes, scholar of "Historical Jesus," dies at 88

    Geza Vermes, a religious scholar who argued that Jesus as a historical figure could be understood only through the Jewish tradition from which he emerged, and who helped expand that understanding through his widely read English translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, died on May 8 in Oxford, England. He was 88.His death was confirmed by David Ariel, the president of the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, where Dr. Vermes was most recently an honorary fellow.Dr. Vermes, born in Hungary to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity when he was 6, was among many scholars after World War II who sought to reveal a “historical Jesus” by painting an objective portrait of the man who grew up in Nazareth about 2,000 years ago and emerged as a religious leader when he was in his 30s....

  • Originally published 05/14/2013

    Candida Moss debunks the ‘myth’ of Christian persecution

    Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, “The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.”Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”...

  • Originally published 05/09/2013

    Christians have persecution complex, Candida Moss says

    A historian claims that many stories about the persecution of early Christians were invented or exaggerated to further the religion. Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame maintains Christianity is so laden with such tales that it has given rise to a myth of persecution among modern believers. A Catholic, Moss expects her claims to be the source of irritation to the faithful - but that they're missing the point.Moss, from South Bend, Indiana, claims only a handful of martyrdom stories ever actually occurred and there was no widespread Roman persecution. The stories were largely invented to inspire loyalty among the masses.Moss says that modern Christians to drop the victim complex inherited from them. "Christians were never the victims of sustained, targeted persecution. The idea of the persecuted church is almost entirely the invention of the 4th century and later," she adds....

  • Originally published 04/29/2013

    Jesus and Muhammad

    Credit: Wiki Commons.Originally posted on Informed Comment.I’ve always liked Andrew Sullivan even when I disagree with him. I’m going to disagree with him, or more specifically Alexis de Tocqueville and one of his readers who quotes him:

  • Originally published 04/01/2013

    Pope Francis links Turin Shroud to Jesus Christ as cloth is shown on television for Easter

    Francis made his first remarks on the mysterious cloth since being elected Pope in a special video message as the shroud was shown live on television for only the second time in its history.His remarks came on Holy Saturday, which falls between the commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.Francis referred to the 14ft-long strip of sepia fabric, which is imprinted with the face and body of a bearded man, as “the Holy Shroud” and asked: “How is it that the faithful, like you, pause before this icon of a man scourged and crucified? It is because the Man of the Shroud invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth....

  • Originally published 03/29/2013

    Easter by the numbers

    Christians will mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter by donning their Sunday best, attending church and going on egg hunts. But what's the history of the holiday? And how much will we actually spend on those yummy chocolate rabbits? Read some fast facts about Easter below.77 -- Percent of Americans who identify themselves as Christian, as of December 2012....

  • 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 03/04/2013

    Aberystwyth centre to edit Welsh saints' medieval manuscripts [AUDIO]

    New research is beginning into the lives of medieval saints in Wales.The University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth has been awarded a research grant of £750,000 to edit medieval manuscripts, and produce an online digital resource for the public....