Cover image of In Our Time: Religion

In Our Time: Religion

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

Popular episodes

All episodes

The best episodes ranked using user listens.

Podcast cover

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 AsheAssociate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of OxfordMichael StauntonAssociate Professor in History at University College DublinAndDanica SummerlinLecturer in Medieval History at the University of SheffieldProducer: Simon Tillotson.


14 Dec 2017

Rank #1

Podcast cover

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 AndersonLecturer in Art History at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of LondonEamon DuffyEmeritus Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Magdalene CollegeJoan TaylorProfessor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College LondonProducer: Victoria Brignell.


25 Feb 2016

Rank #2

Similar Podcasts

Podcast cover


Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss witchcraft in Reformation Europe. In 1486 a book was published in Latin, it was called Maleus Mallificarum and it very soon outsold every publication in Europe bar the Bible. It was written by Heinrich Kramer, a Dominican Priest and a witchfinder. "Magicians, who are commonly called witches" he wrote, "are thus termed on account of the magnitude of their evil deeds. These are they who by the permission of God disturb the elements, who drive to distraction the minds of men, such as have lost their trust in God, and by the terrible power of their evil spells, without any actual draught or poison, kill human beings.""Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" says Exodus, and in the period of the Reformation and after, over a hundred thousand men and women in Europe met their deaths after being convicted of witchcraft.Why did practices that had been tolerated for centuries suddenly become such a threat? What brought the prosecutions of witchcraft to an end, and was there anything ever in Europe that could be truly termed as a witch?With Alison Rowlands, Senior Lecturer in European History at the University of Essex; Lyndal Roper, Fellow and Tutor in History at Balliol College, University of Oxford; Malcolm Gaskill, Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Churchill College, Cambridge.


21 Oct 2004

Rank #3

Podcast cover

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 PhillipsResearch Fellow at the Margaret Beaufort Institute at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham UniversityCrawford GribbenProfessor of Early Modern British History at Queen’s University Belfastand Nicholas GuyattReader in North American History at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson


26 Sep 2019

Rank #4

Most Popular Podcasts

Podcast cover

The Nicene Creed

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Nicene Creed which established the Divinity of Christ. "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds." Thus begins the Nicene Creed, a statement of essential faith spoken for over 1600 years in Christian Churches - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. But what has become a universal statement was written for a very particular purpose - to defeat a 4th century theological heresy called Arianism and to establish that Jesus Christ was, indeed, God. The story of the Creed is in many ways the story of early Christianity – of delicate theology and robust politics. It changed the Church and it changed the Roman Empire, but that it has lasted for nearly 2000 years would seem extraordinary to those who created it. With Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Caroline Humfress, Reader in History at Birkbeck College, University of London; Andrew Louth, Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at the University of Durham.


27 Dec 2007

Rank #5

Podcast cover


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 PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureCaroline HumfressReader in History at Birkbeck College, University of LondonAlastair LoganHonorary University Fellow of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of ExeterProducer: Thomas Morris.


2 May 2013

Rank #6

Podcast cover

The Buddha

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and teachings of The Buddha. Two and a half thousand years ago a young man meditated on life and death and found enlightenment. In that moment he saw his past lives spread out before him and he realised that all life, indeed the very fabric of existence, was made of suffering. That man was Siddhartha Gautama but we know him as The Buddha. He taught us that we have not one but many lives and are constantly reborn in different forms according to the laws of Karma: an immortality that binds us to a cosmic treadmill of death, decay, rebirth and suffering from which the only escape is Nirvana. Buddhism was quickly established as a major religion in South East Asia but now two millenia later it is one of the fastest growing religions of the Western world. Why has it captured the spirit of our times? Is it because there is no compulsion to believe in God? And what is it that Western converts hope to get from Buddhism - truth and enlightenment or simply a spiritual satisfaction that Western religion cannot provide? With Peter Harvey, Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sunderland; Kate Crosby, Lecturer in Buddhist Studies, SOAS; Mahinda Deagallee, Lecturer in the Study of Religions, Bath Spa University College and a Buddhist Monk from the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka.


14 Mar 2002

Rank #7

Podcast cover

Sunni and Shia Islam

Melvyn Bragg and guests Amira Bennison, Robert Gleave and Hugh Kennedy discuss the split between the Sunni and the Shia. This schism came to dominate early Islam, and yet it did not spring at first from a deep theological disagreement, but rather from a dispute about who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad, and on what grounds. The supporters of the Prophet's cousin Ali argued for the hereditary principle; their opponents championed systems of selection. Ali's followers were to become the Shia; the supporters of selection were to become Sunnis.It is a story that takes us from Medina to Syria and on into Iraq, that takes in complex family loyalties, civil war and the killing at Karbala of the Prophet's grandson. Husayn has been commemorated as a martyr by the Shia ever since, and his death helped to formalise the divide as first a political and then a profoundly theological separation.Amira Bennison is Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge; Robert Gleave is Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter; Hugh Kennedy is Professor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.


25 Jun 2009

Rank #8

Podcast cover

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 AlexanderEmeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of ManchesterRabbi Norman SolomonFormer Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Jewish and Hebrew StudiesLaliv ClenmanLecturer in Rabbinic Literature at Leo Baeck College and a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King's College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.


29 May 2014

Rank #9

Podcast cover

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 WoolfProfessor of Ancient History at the University of St AndrewsAlmut Hintze Zartoshty Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS, University of LondonJohn NorthActing Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London.Producer: Victoria Brignell.


27 Dec 2012

Rank #10

Podcast cover

The Jesuits

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order of priests who became known as “the school masters of Europe”. Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared. By the 17th century there were more than 500 schools established across Europe. Their ideas about a standardised curriculum and teaching became the basis for many education systems today.They were also among the greatest patrons of art in early modern Europe, using murals and theatre to get their message across. To their enemies they were a sinister collective whose influence reached into the courts of kings. Their wealth and their adaptability to local customs abroad provoked suspicion, prompting their eventual suppression in the late 18th century. They were re-established in 1814 and now have more than twenty thousand members.So why was education so important to the Jesuit movement? How much influence did they really have in the courts and colonies of Europe? And were they really at the heart of conspiracies to murder kings?With Nigel Aston, Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Leicester; Simon Ditchfield, Reader in History at the University of York; Dame Olwen Hufton, Emeritus Fellow of Merton College, Oxford.


18 Jan 2007

Rank #11

Podcast cover

The Bhagavad Gita

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Bhagavad Gita.The Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse section of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, is one of the most revered texts of Hinduism. Written in around 200 BC, it narrates a conversation between Krishna, an incarnation of the deity, and the Pandava prince Arjuna. It has been described as a concise summary of Hindu theology, a short work which offers advice on how to live one's life.The Gita is also a philosophical work of great richness and influence. First translated into English in the 18th century, it was quickly taken up in the West. Its many admirers have included Mahatma Gandhi, whose passion for the work is one reason that the Bhagavad Gita became a key text for followers of the Indian Independence movement in the first half of the twentieth century.With:Chakravarthi Ram-PrasadProfessor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster UniversityJulius LipnerProfessor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion and Fellow of Clare Hall at the University of CambridgeJessica FrazierResearch Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Lecturer in Religious Studies at Regent's College, LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.


31 Mar 2011

Rank #12

Podcast cover

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-StreetHarriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita of American Studies at King's College LondonSimon MiddletonSenior Lecturer in American History at the University of SheffieldAnd Marion GibsonProfessor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at Exeter University, Penryn Campus.Producer: Simon Tillotson.


26 Nov 2015

Rank #13

Podcast cover


Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the heavenly host of Angels. George Bernard Shaw made the observation that "in heaven an angel is nobody in particular", but there is nothing commonplace about this description of angels from the Bible's book of Ezekiel:"They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.... As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle." With angels like that, it is easy to see why they have caused so much controversy over the centuries.What part have angels played in western religion? How did they get their halos and their wings? And what are they really: Gods or men?With Martin Palmer, theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Valery Rees, Renaissance Scholar at the School of Economic Science; John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy, University of St Andrews.


24 Mar 2005

Rank #14

Podcast cover


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.


22 Sep 2011

Rank #15

Podcast cover


Melvyn Bragg and guests Justin Champion, Susan Hardman Moore and Diarmaid MacCulloch discuss the ideas of the religious reformer John Calvin - the theology known as Calvinism, or Reformed Protestantism - and its impact. John Calvin, a Frenchman exiled to Geneva, became a towering figure of the 16th century Reformation of the Christian Church. He achieved this not through charismatic oratory, but through the relentless rigour of his analysis of the Bible. In Geneva, he oversaw an austere, theocratic and sometimes brutal regime. Nonetheless, the explosion of printing made his theology highly mobile. The zeal he instilled in his followers, and the persecution which dogged them, rapidly spread the faith across Europe, and on to the New World in America. One of Calvin's most striking tenets was 'predestination': the idea that, even before the world began, God had already decided which human beings would be damned, and which saved. The hope of being one of the saved gave Calvinists a driving energy which has made their faith a galvanic force in the world, from business to politics. Anxiety about salvation, meanwhile, led to a constant introspection which has left its mark on literature.Justin Champion is Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London; Susan Hardman Moore is Senior Lecturer in Divinity at the University of Edinburgh; Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford.


25 Feb 2010

Rank #16

Podcast cover


Melvyn Bragg examines the purpose and effects of prayer. Why do people pray? What did prayer ever do, the cry goes up, for those millions upon millions of non-combatants, civilians, children, innocents, whose lives have been ended by a savage variety of brutality? Do we pray for the benefit of God or for our own sake? Is it a “good Christian weapon” as Martin Luther defined it and as Mahatma Gandhi put it “the most potent instrument of action”; or is prayer simply the most essential form of self analysis? Or was Ovid right to see prayer as a way of changing the mind of God, when he wrote in The Art of Love, “Even the Gods are moved by the voice of entreaty”. People have prayed since the dawn of language - but why, and has it done us any good?With Professor Russell Stannard, physicist, religious writer and author of The God Experiment; Andrew Samuels, Jungian analyst and Professor of Analytical Psychology, University of Essex.


23 Dec 1999

Rank #17

Podcast cover

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?WithTom O’LoughlinProfessor of Historical Theology at the University of NottinghamRebecca RistProfessor in Medieval History at the University of ReadingAnd Miles PattendenDepartmental Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of OxfordProducer: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson


10 Jan 2019

Rank #18

Podcast cover

The Holy Grail

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Holy Grail.Tennyson wrote:“A cracking and a riving of the roofs,And rending, and a blast, and overheadThunder, and in the thunder was a cry.And in the blast there smote along the hallA beam of light seven times more clear than day:And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail”.The sacred allure of the Grail has fascinated writers and ensnared knights for a thousand years. From Malory to Monty Python, it has the richest associations of any artefact in British myth. But where does the story spring from? What does it symbolise and why are its stories so resolutely set in these Isles and so often written by the French?With Dr Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University; Dr Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh at the University College of Wales in Cardiff.


15 May 2003

Rank #19

Podcast cover

Islamic Law and its Origins

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins and early development of Islamic law. The legal code of Islam is known as Sharia, an Arabic word meaning "the way". Its sources include the Islamic holy book the Qur'an, the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, and the opinions of legal scholars. In the 7th century, Sharia started to replace the tribal laws of pre-Islamic Arabia; over the next three hundred years it underwent considerable evolution as Islam spread. By 900 a body of religious and legal scholarship recognisable as classical Sharia had emerged.With:Hugh KennedyProfessor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of LondonRobert GleaveProfessor of Arabic Studies at the University of ExeterMona SiddiquiProfessor of Islamic Studies at the University of GlasgowProducer: Thomas Morris.


5 May 2011

Rank #20