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Erotic scene from the Persian Safavid period c1660. Photo courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Essay/
Sex and sexuality
Islamic sexology

Popular stereotypes of Islam as a prudish religion ignore rich traditions of freewheeling, explicit erotica and advice

Mark Hay

Jewish bankers from the Canticles of Holy Mary. Codice of El Escorial. Written in Galician-Portuguese. Reign of Alfonso X. 13th century. Courtesy the Museum of the Americas, Madrid/Wikimedia

Essay/
Global history
The rumour about the Jews

Antisemitism flourished in response to the unsettling, abstract growth of finance capitalism in the early modern world

Francesca Trivellato

The Miracles of Saint Francis Xavier (1619-22) by André Reinoso. Saint Francis Xavier was a missionary and co-founder of the Jesuit order. Courtesy Museu de São Roque, Lisbon/AKG

Essay/
Nations and empires
Architects of empire

Jesuits knew the miserable truth of European empire in India and Brazil, yet their writings rendered it grandiose and sacred

Ananya Chakravarti

The historical Buddha, preaching on Vulture Peak. Japanese, Nara period, 8th century. Courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Essay/
Religion
Who was the Buddha?

When we strip away the myths, such as his princely youth in a palace, a surprising picture of this enigmatic sage emerges

Alexander Wynne

The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (c1615) by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. Early supporters of the Royal Society, founded in 1660, commonly spoke in theological terms about the new science recapturing a lost, pre-Fall human dominion over nature. Courtesy the Mauritshuis, the Hague, Netherlands

Essay/
History of science
Reformation of science

Protestantism didn’t hold back science – it revolutionised its methods, its theoretical content and its social significance

Peter Harrison

Astronomy and geometry from Le Livre et le vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre (c1420), Royal 20 B XX f3. Courtesy the British Library

Essay/
Religion
Science + religion

The science-versus-religion opposition is a barrier to thought. Each one is a gift, rather than a threat, to the other

Tom McLeish

Dark Satanic Mills. October 1948. Photo Robert Capa © International Center of Photography

Essay/
Religion
Mammon

Far from representing rationality and logic, capitalism is modernity’s most beguiling and dangerous form of enchantment

Eugene McCarraher

In the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem, Talmudic scholars haggle over various interpretations of Talmudic scholarship, 1957. Photo by Bert Glinn/Magnum

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The Bible’s first critic

Centuries before Spinoza, there was Ḥiwi al-Balkhi, a Jewish freethinker for whom the Bible was too irrational for faith

Pieter van der Horst

Nissho Inoue at the time of his trial in June 1933. Photo courtesy the author

Essay/
Religion
Zen terror

Master Nissho Inoue and his band of assassins teach some uncomfortable truths about terrorism, for those who will hear

Brian Victoria

Omar ibn Said c1850. Digitally colourised. Omar ibn Said’s autobiography is the only known extant autobiography of a slave written in Arabic in America. It was not edited by his owner, as those of other slaves written in English were, and is therefore surmised to be more authentic. It also attests to the high level of education that existed in Africa at the time and also reveals that many Africans who were brought to the United States as slaves were followers of Islam. Public domain via the Beinecke Library/Yale University

Essay/
History
Muslims of early America

Muslims came to America more than a century before Protestants, and in great numbers. How was their history forgotten?

Sam Haselby

Lice, or ‘worms with feet’, were a common cause for concern in the Middle Ages. From ‘The Golden Haggadah’ (c1320 CE), Spain. Manuscript courtesy of the Trustees of the British Library

Essay/
History
Medieval parasites

People in the Middle Ages took great care over cleanliness – except the clergy, who accepted filth as a sign of devotion

Katherine Harvey

Carvings thought to depict Terra Mater (Mother Earth) decorate the Ara Pacis Augustae, built in honour of the military successes and political reforms of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty

Essay/
History
How the poor became blessed

Greco-Roman gods had no interest in the poor nor was organised charity a religious duty. How was Christianity different?

Pieter van der Horst

Muslims burning copies of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in front of Bradford City Hall, Bradford, UK. Photo by Derek Hudson/Getty

Essay/
Stories and literature
Islam after Salman

The Satanic Verses would not be written or published today. What’s changed since Salman Rushdie’s notorious novel?

Bruce Fudge

A small stele, probably used as a home altar, depicts Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti with their three eldest daughters. Aten is represented as a sun-disc with the Sun’s rays ending in hands proffering Ankh signs to the royal couple. Amarna period, c1340 BCE. Courtesy the Neues Museum, Berlin

Essay/
Religion
The first God

Out of the many gods of ancient Egypt an inspired Pharaoh created a monotheistic faith. What was Atenism and why did it fail?

James K Hoffmeier

Thomas Merton outside the hermitage at Gethsemani in the early 1960s. Used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

Essay/
Consciousness and altered states
Disturbing the silence

The writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton embodied a paradox, chasing both the purity of silence and the need to break it

Jane Brox

Orthodox Armenian priests burn incense. Photo by Marco Longari/Getty

Essay/
Rituals and celebrations
The scents of heaven

Frankincense and myrrh have long links to the sacred. Why has Christianity viewed them with both fascination and suspicion?

Timothy Carroll