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In Our Time: Religion

In Our Time: Religion

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

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Arianism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the form of Christianity adopted by Ostrogoths in the 4th century AD, which they learned from Roman missionaries and from their own contact with the imperial court at Constantinople. This form spread to the Vandals and the Visigoths, who took it into Roman Spain and North Africa, and the Ostrogoths brought it deeper into Italy after the fall of the western Roman empire. Meanwhile, with the Roman empire in the east now firmly committed to the Nicene Creed not the Arian, the Goths and Vandals faced conflict or conversion, as Arianism moved from an orthodox view to being a heresy that would keep followers from heaven and delay the Second Coming for all. The image above is the ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, commissioned by Theodoric, ruler of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, around the end of the 5th century With Judith Herrin Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, Emeritus, at King's College London Robin Whelan Lecturer in Mediterranean History at the University of Liverpool And Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-04-15
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Medieval Pilgrimage

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea and experience of Christian pilgrimage in Europe from the 12th to the 15th centuries, which figured so strongly in the imagination of the age. For those able and willing to travel, there were countless destinations from Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela to the smaller local shrines associated with miracles and relics of the saints. Meanwhile, for those unable or not allowed to travel there were journeys of the mind, inspired by guidebooks that would tell the faithful how many steps they could take around their homes to replicate the walk to the main destinations in Rome and the Holy Land, passing paintings of the places on their route. The image above is of a badge of St Thomas of Canterbury, worn by pilgrims who had journeyed to his shrine. With Miri Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London Kathryn Rudy Professor of Art History at the University of St Andrews And Anthony Bale Professor of Medieval Studies and Dean of the School of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-02-18
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Saint Cuthbert

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Northumbrian man who, for 500 years, was the pre-eminent English saint, to be matched only by Thomas Becket after his martyrdom in 1170. Now at Durham, Cuthbert was buried first on Lindisfarne in 687AD, where monks shared vivid stories of his sanctifying miracles, his healing, and his power over nature, and his final tomb became a major site of pilgrimage. In his lifetime he was both hermit and kingmaker, bishop and travelling priest, and the many accounts we have of him, including two by Bede, tell us much of the values of those who venerated him so soon after his death. The image above is from a stained glass window in the south aisle of the nave in Durham Cathedral: 'St Cuthbert praying before his cell in the Farne Island' With Jane Hawkes Professor of Medieval Art History at the University of York Sarah Foot The Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral And John Hines Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-01-28
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John Wesley and Methodism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss John Wesley (1703 - 1791) and the movement he was to lead and inspire. As a student, he was mocked for approaching religion too methodically and this jibe gave a name to the movement: Methodism. Wesley took his ideas out across Britain wherever there was an appetite for Christian revival, preaching in the open, especially the new industrial areas. Others spread Methodism too, such as George Whitefield, and the sheer energy of the movement led to splits within it, but it soon became a major force. With Stephen Plant Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge Eryn White Reader in Early Modern History at Aberystwyth University And William Gibson Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford Brookes University and Director of the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
2020-12-10
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Deism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea that God created the universe and then left it for humans to understand by reason not revelation. Edward Herbert, 1583-1648 (pictured above) held that there were five religious truths: belief in a Supreme Being, the need to worship him, the pursuit of a virtuous life as the best form of worship, repentance, and reward or punishment after death. Others developed these ideas in different ways, yet their opponents in England's established Church collected them under the label of Deists, called Herbert the Father of Deism and attacked them as a movement, and Deist books were burned. Over time, reason and revelation found a new balance in the Church in England, while Voltaire and Thomas Paine explored the ideas further, leading to their re-emergence in the French and American Revolutions. With Richard Serjeantson Fellow and Lecturer in History at Trinity College, Cambridge Katie East Lecturer in History at Newcastle University And Thomas Ahnert Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-10-08
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The Covenanters

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the bonds that Scottish Presbyterians made between themselves and their monarchs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to maintain their form of worship. These covenants bound James VI of Scotland to support Presbyterians yet when he became James I he was also expected to support episcopacy. That tension came to a head under Charles I who found himself on the losing side of a war with the Covenanters, who later supported Parliament before backing the future Charles II after he had pledged to support them. Once in power, Charles II failed to deliver the religious settlement the Covenanters wanted, and set about repressing them violently. Those who refused to renounce the covenants were persecuted in what became known as The Killing Times, as reflected in the image above. With Roger Mason Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews Laura Stewart Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of York And Scott Spurlock Professor of Scottish and Early Modern Christianities at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-03-12
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The Rapture

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by the Anglican priest John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), drawn from his reading of scripture, in which Jesus would suddenly take His believers up into the air, and those left behind would suffer on Earth until He returned with His church to rule for a thousand years before Final Judgement. Some believers would look for signs that civilization was declining, such as wars and natural disasters, or for new Roman Empires that would harbour the Antichrist, and from these predict the time of the Rapture. Darby helped establish the Plymouth Brethren, and later his ideas were picked up in the Scofield Reference Bible (1909) and soon became influential, particularly in the USA. With Elizabeth Phillips Research Fellow at the Margaret Beaufort Institute at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University Crawford Gribben Professor of Early Modern British History at Queen?s University Belfast and Nicholas Guyatt Reader in North American History at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-09-26
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Sir Thomas Browne

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the range, depth and style of Browne (1605-82) , a medical doctor whose curious mind drew him to explore and confess his own religious views, challenge myths and errors in science and consider how humans respond to the transience of life. His Religio Medici became famous throughout Europe and his openness about his religion, in that work, was noted as rare when others either kept quiet or professed orthodox views. His Pseudodoxia Epidemica challenged popular ideas, whether about the existence of mermaids or if Adam had a navel, and his Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial was a meditation on what matters to humans when handling the dead. In 1923, Virginia Woolf wrote, "Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, but those that do are the salt of the earth." He also contributed more words to the English language than almost anyone, such as electricity, indigenous, medical, ferocious, carnivorous ambidextrous and migrant. With Claire Preston Professor of Renaissance Literature at Queen Mary University of London Jessica Wolfe Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill And Kevin Killeen Professor of English at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-06-06
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Judith beheading Holofernes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how artists from the Middle Ages onwards have been inspired by the Bible story of the widow who killed an Assyrian general who was besieging her village, and so saved her people from his army and from his master Nebuchadnezzar. A symbol of a woman's power and the defiance of political tyranny, the image of Judith has been sculpted by Donatello, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and, in the case of Caravaggio, Liss and Artemisia Gentileschi, been shown with vivid, disturbing detail. What do these interpretations reveal of the attitudes to power and women in their time, and of the artists' own experiences? The image of Judith, above is from a tapestry in the Duomo, Milan, by Giovanni or Nicola Carcher, 1555 With Susan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery John Gash Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen And Ela Nutu Hall Research Associate at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, at the University of Sheffield Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-02-14
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Papal Infallibility

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why, in 1870, the Vatican Council issued the decree ?pastor aeternus? which, among other areas, affirmed papal infallibility. It meant effectively that the Pope could not err in his teachings, an assertion with its roots in the early Church when the bishop of Rome advanced to being the first among equals, then overall head of the Christian Church in the West. The idea that the Pope could not err had been a double-edged sword from the Middle Ages, though; while it apparently conveyed great power, it also meant a Pope was constrained by whatever a predecessor had said. If a later Pope were to contradict an earlier Pope, then one of them must be wrong, and how could that be?if both were infallible? With Tom O?Loughlin Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham Rebecca Rist Professor in Medieval History at the University of Reading And Miles Pattenden Departmental Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
2019-01-10
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The Thirty Years War

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the war in Europe which begain in 1618 and continued on such a scale and with such devastation that its like was not seen for another three hundred years. It pitched Catholics against Protestants, Lutherans against Calvinists and Catholics against Catholics across the Holy Roman Empire, drawing in their neighbours and it lasted for thirty gruelling years, from the Defenestration of Prague to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Many more civilians died than soldiers, and famine was so great that even cannibalism was excused. This topic was chosen from several hundred suggested by listeners this autumn. The image above is a detail from a painting of The Battle of White Mountain on 7-8 November 1620, by Pieter Snayers (1592-1667) With Peter Wilson Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford Ulinka Rublack Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John?s College And Toby Osborne Associate Professor in History at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-12-06
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Hope

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of hope. To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora's box or jar, in Hesiod's story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, 'what may I hope' was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it. With Beatrice Han-Pile Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex Robert Stern Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield And Judith Wolfe Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-11-22
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of the German theologian, born in Breslau/Wroclaw in 1906 and killed in the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 9th April 1945. Bonhoeffer developed ideas about the role of the Church in the secular world, in particular Germany after the Nazis took power in 1933 and demanded the Churches' support. He strongly opposed anti-Semitism and, with a role in the Military Intelligence Department, took part in the resistance, plotting to kill Hitler and meeting with contacts in the Allies. Bonhoeffer's ideas on Christian ethics and the relationship between Christianity and humanism spread more widely from the 1960s with the discovery of unpublished works, including those written in prison as he awaited execution. With Stephen Plant Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge Eleanor McLaughlin Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the University of Winchester and Lecturer in Ethics at Regent?s Park College at the University of Oxford And Tom Greggs Marischal Chair of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-09-27
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Augustine's Confessions

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Augustine of Hippo's account of his conversion to Christianity and his life up to that point. Written c397AD, it has many elements of autobiography with his scrutiny of his earlier life, his long relationship with a concubine, his theft of pears as a child, his work as an orator and his embrace of other philosophies and Manichaeism. Significantly for the development of Christianity, he explores the idea of original sin in the context of his own experience. The work is often seen as an argument for his Roman Catholicism, a less powerful force where he was living in North Africa where another form of Christianity was dominant, Donatism. While Augustine retells many episodes from his own life, the greater strength of his Confessions has come to be seen as his examination of his own emotional development, and the growth of his soul. With Kate Cooper Professor of History at the University of London and Head of History at Royal Holloway Morwenna Ludlow Professor of Christian History and Theology at the University of Exeter and Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-03-15
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The Siege of Malta, 1565

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the event of which Voltaire, two hundred years later, said 'nothing was more well known'. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire. Victory would mean control of trade across the Mediterranean and a base for attacks on Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, even Rome. It would also mean elimination of Malta's defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, driven by the Ottomans from their base in Rhodes in 1522 and whose raids on his shipping had long been a thorn in his side. News of the Great Siege of Malta spread fear throughout Europe, though that turned to elation when, after four months of horrific fighting, the Ottomans withdrew, undermined by infighting between their leaders and the death of the highly-valued admiral, Dragut. The Knights Hospitaller had shown that Suleiman's forces could be contained, and their own order was reinvigorated. The image above is the Death of Dragut at the Siege of Malta (1867), after a painting by Giuseppe Cali. Dragut (1485 ? 1565) was an Ottoman Admiral and privateer, known as The Drawn Sword of Islam and as one of the finest generals of the time. With Helen Nicholson Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff University Diarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford and Kate Fleet Director of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-01-11
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Thomas Becket

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who was Henry II's Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury and who was murdered by knights in Canterbury Cathedral (depicted by Matthew Paris, above). Henry believed that Becket owed him loyalty as he had raised him to the highest offices, and that he should agree to Henry's courts having jurisdiction over 'criminous clerics'. They fell out when Becket agreed to this jurisdiction verbally but would not put his seal on the agreement, the Constitutions of Clarendon. The rift deepened when Henry's heir was crowned without Becket, who excommunicated the bishops who took part. Becket's tomb became one of the main destinations for pilgrims for the next 400 years, including those in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales where he was the 'blisful martir'. With Laura Ashe Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of Oxford Michael Staunton Associate Professor in History at University College Dublin And Danica Summerlin Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Sheffield Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-12-14
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Constantine the Great

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, reputation and impact of Constantine I, known as Constantine the Great (c280s -337AD). Born in modern day Serbia and proclaimed Emperor by his army in York in 306AD, Constantine became the first Roman Emperor to profess Christianity. He legalised Christianity and its followers achieved privileges that became lost to traditional religions, leading to the steady Christianisation of the Empire. He built a new palace in Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople, as part of the decentralisation of the Empire, an Eastern shift that saw Roman power endure another thousand years there, long after the collapse of the empire in the West. With Christopher Kelly Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Cambridge and President of Corpus Christi College Lucy Grig Senior Lecturer in Roman History at the University of Edinburgh and Greg Woolf Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-10-05
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al-Biruni

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Central Asian polymath al-Biruni and his eleventh-century book the India.Born in around 973 in the central Asian region of Chorasmia, al-Biruni became an itinerant scholar of immense learning, a master of mathematics, medicine, astronomy and many languages. He corresponded with the age's greatest scientist, Avicenna, and made significant contributions to many fields of knowledge.In 1017 al-Biruni became a member of the court of the ruler Mahmud of Ghazna. Over the course of the next thirteen years he wrote the India, a comprehensive account of Hindu culture which was the first book about India by a Muslim scholar. It contains detailed information about Hindu religion, science and everyday life which have caused some to call it the first work of anthropology.With:James MontgomeryProfessor of Classical Arabic at the University of CambridgeHugh KennedyProfessor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of LondonAmira BennisonSenior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.
2017-08-31
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Purgatory

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of the idea of Purgatory from C12th, when it was imagined as a place alongside Hell and Heaven in which the souls of sinners would be purged of those sins by fire. In the West, there were new systems put in place to pray for the souls of the dead, on a greater scale, with opportunities to buy pardons to shorten time in Purgatory. The idea was enriched with visions, some religious and some literary; Dante imagined Purgatory as a mountain in the southern hemisphere, others such as Marie de France told of The Legend of the Purgatory of Saint Patrick, in which the entrance was on Station Island in County Donegal. This idea of purification by fire had appalled the Eastern Orthodox Church and was one of the factors in the split from Rome in 1054, but flourished in the West up to the reformations of C16th when it was again particularly divisive. With Laura Ashe Associate Professor of English and fellow of Worcester College at the University of Oxford Matthew Treherne Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Leeds and Helen Foxhall Forbes Associate Professor of Early Medieval History at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-05-25
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Baltic Crusades

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Baltic Crusades, the name given to a series of overlapping attempts to convert the pagans of North East Europe to Christianity at the point of the sword. From the 12th Century, Papal Bulls endorsed those who fought on the side of the Church, the best known now being the Teutonic Order which, thwarted in Jerusalem, founded a state on the edge of the Baltic, in Prussia. Some of the peoples in the region disappeared, either killed or assimilated, and the consequences for European history were profound. With Aleks Pluskowski Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading Nora Berend Fellow of St Catharine's College and Reader in European History at the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and Martin Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2016-11-24
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Lakshmi

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, and of the traditions that have built around her for over 3,000 years. According to the creation story of the Puranas, she came to existence in the churning of the ocean of milk. Her prominent status grew alongside other goddesses in the mainly male world of the Vedas, as female deities came to be seen as the Shakti, the energy of the gods, without which they would be powerless. Lakshmi came to represent the qualities of blessing, prosperity, fertility, beauty and good fortune and, more recently, political order, and she has a significant role in Diwali, one of the most important of the Hindu festivals. With Jessica Frazier Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford Jacqueline Suthren-Hirst Senior Lecturer in South Asian Studies at the University of Manchester and Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2016-10-06
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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.
2016-06-02
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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.
2016-05-12
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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.
2016-04-07
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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.
2016-02-25
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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.
2015-11-26
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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.
2015-06-04
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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.
2015-05-21
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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.
2015-04-16
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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.
2015-03-19
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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.
2014-12-04
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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.
2014-06-26
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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.
2014-05-29
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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.
2014-03-20
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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.
2014-03-13
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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.
2013-12-05
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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 MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford Alexandra Walsham Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge Martin Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture Producer: Thomas Morris.
2013-10-17
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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.
2013-06-13
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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.
2013-05-02
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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.
2012-12-27
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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.
2012-11-08
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The Ontological Argument

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ontological Argument. In the eleventh century St Anselm of Canterbury proposed that it was possible to prove the existence of God using reason alone. His argument was ridiculed by some of his contemporaries, but was analysed and improved by later thinkers including Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. Other philosophers have been less kind, with the Enlightenment thinker David Hume offering one possible refutation. But the debate continued, fuelled by interventions from such heavyweights as Immanuel Kant and Kurt Gödel; and it remains one of the most discussed problems in philosophy. With: John Haldane Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews Peter Millican Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford Clare Carlisle Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at King's College London Producer: Thomas Morris.
2012-09-27
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King Solomon

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the biblical king Solomon, celebrated for his wisdom and as the architect of the First Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Old Testament account of his life, Solomon was chosen as his father David's successor as Israelite king, and instead of praying for long life or wealth asked God for wisdom. In the words of the Authorised Version, "And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom." Solomon is an important figure in Judaism, Islam and Christianity alike, and is also credited with the authorship of several scriptural texts. His name is associated with the tradition of wisdom literature and with a large number of myths and legends. For many centuries Solomon was seen as the archetypal enlightened monarch, and his example influenced notions of kingship from the Middle Ages onwards.With:Martin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CulturePhilip AlexanderEmeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of ManchesterKatharine DellSenior Lecturer in Old Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow of St Catherine's College, CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.
2012-06-07
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George Fox and the Quakers

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of Quakerism. In the mid-seventeenth century an itinerant preacher, George Fox, became the central figure of a group known as the Religious Society of Friends, whose members believed it was possible to obtain contact with Christ without priestly intercession. The Quakers, as they became known, rejected the established Church and what they saw as the artificial pomp and artifice of its worship. They argued for religious toleration and for the equality of men and women. Persecuted for many years, particularly after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the Quakers survived to become an influential religious group, known for their pacifism and philanthropy. With:Justin ChampionProfessor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of LondonJohn CoffeyProfessor of Early Modern History at the University of LeicesterKate PetersFellow in History at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge.Producer: Thomas Morris.
2012-04-05
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Erasmus

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus. In his lifetime Erasmus was almost universally recognised as the greatest classical scholar of his age, the translator and editor of numerous Latin and Greek texts. But above all he was a religious scholar who published important editions of the Bible which expunged many corruptions to the texts of the Scriptures. He was an outspoken critic of the Church, whose biting satire on its excesses, In Praise of Folly, was famed throughout Europe.When the Reformation began in 1517, however, Erasmus chose to remain a member of the Catholic Church rather than side with Martin Luther and the reformers, and a few years later he engaged in a celebrated debate with Luther on the subject of free will. Through his writings on the Church, on education and the wide gamut of humanist scholarship, Erasmus is remembered today as one of the greatest thinkers of the northern Renaissance.With:Diarmaid MacCullochProfessor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordEamon DuffyProfessor of the History of Christianity at the University of CambridgeJill KrayeProfessor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy and Librarian at the Warburg Institute, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
2012-02-09
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The Safavid Dynasty

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Safavid Dynasty, rulers of the Persian empire between the 16th and 18th centuries.In 1501 Shah Ismail, a boy of fifteen, declared himself ruler of Azerbaijan. Within a year he had expanded his territory to include most of Persia, and founded a ruling dynasty which was to last for more than two hundred years. At the peak of their success the Safavids ruled over a vast territory which included all of modern-day Iran. They converted their subjects to Shi'a Islam, and so created the religious identity of modern Iran - although they were also often ruthless in their suppression of Sunni practices. They thrived on international trade, and their capital Isfahan, rebuilt by the visionary Shah Abbas, became one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Under Safavid rule Persia became a cultural centre, producing many great artists and thinkers. With:Robert GleaveProfessor of Arabic Studies at the University of ExeterEmma LoosleySenior Lecturer at the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures at the University of ManchesterAndrew NewmanReader in Islamic Studies and Persian at the University of Edinburgh.Producer: Thomas Morris.
2012-01-12
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The Concordat of Worms

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Concordat of Worms. This treaty between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, signed in 1122, put an end, at least for a time, to years of power struggle and bloodshed. The wrangling between the German kings and the Church over who had the ultimate authority to elect bishops, use the ceremonial symbols of office in his coronation and even choose the pope himself, was responsible for centuries of discord. The hatred between the two parties reached such a pinnacle that it resulted in the virtual destruction of Rome at the hands of the Normans in 1084.Nearly forty years later Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II came to a compromise; their agreement became known as the Concordat of Worms, named after the town where they met and signed the treaty. The Concordat created a historic distinction between secular power and spiritual authority, and more clearly defined the respective powers of monarchs and the Church. Although in the short term the Concordat failed to prevent further conflict, some historians believe that it paved the way for the modern nation-state.With:Henrietta LeyserEmeritus Fellow of St Peter's College, University of OxfordKate CushingReader in Medieval History at Keele University John Gillingham Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics and Political Science Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
2011-12-15
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Judas Maccabeus

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the revolutionary Jewish leader Judas Maccabeus. Born in the second century BC, Judas led his followers, the Maccabees, in a rebellion against the Seleucid Empire, which was attempting to impose the Greek culture and religion on the Jews. After a succession of battles he succeeded and the Seleucid king granted the Jews religious freedom. But even after that freedom was granted the struggle for political independence continued, and it was not until twenty years after Judas's death that Judaea finally became an independent state. Thanks to an extensive, if often confused, historical record of these events, the story of the Maccabees is well known. Judas Maccabeus has become a celebrated folk hero, and one of his achievements, the restoration and purification of the Temple of Jerusalem after its desecration by the Seleucids, is commemorated every year at the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.With: Helen Bond, Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at Edinburgh University Tessa Rajak, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History at the University of ReadingPhilip Alexander, Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of ManchesterProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
2011-11-24
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Shinto

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Japanese belief system Shinto.A religion without gods, scriptures or a founder, Shinto is perhaps better described as a system of belief. Central to it is the idea of kami, spirits or deities associated with places, people and things. Shinto shrines are some of the most prominent features of the landscape in Japan, where over 100 million people - most of the population - count themselves as adherents.Since its emergence as a distinct religion many centuries ago, Shinto has happily coexisted with Buddhism and other religions; in fact, adherents often practise both simultaneously. Although it has changed considerably in the face of political upheaval and international conflict, it remains one of the most significant influences on Japanese culture.With:Martin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureRichard Bowring Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of CambridgeLucia DolceSenior Lecturer in Japanese Religion and Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
2011-09-22
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Wyclif and the Lollards

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss John Wyclif and the Lollards.John Wyclif was a medieval philosopher and theologian who in the fourteenth century instigated the first complete English translation of the Bible. One of the most important thinkers of the Middle Ages, he also led a movement of opposition to the Roman Church and its institutions which has come to be seen as a precursor to the Reformation. Wyclif disputed some of the key teachings of the Church, including the doctrine of transubstantiation. His followers, the Lollards, were later seen as dangerous heretics, and in the fifteenth century many of them were burnt at the stake. Today Lollardy is seen as the first significant movement of dissent against the Church in England.With:Sir Anthony KennyPhilosopher and former Master of Balliol College, OxfordAnne HudsonEmeritus Professor of Medieval English at the University of OxfordRob LuttonLecturer in Medieval History at the University of NottinghamProducer: Thomas Morris.
2011-06-16
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