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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

Essay/
Philosophy of religion
Undercover atheists

Seduced by science and rationalism, yet tied to their families and communities, Hasidic atheists opt for a double life

Batya Ungar-Sargon

A fresco inside the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, November 2013. The catacomb was used for Christian burials from the late 2nd through the 4th century CE. Photo by Reuters/Max Rossi

Essay/
Religion
Christians were strangers

How an obscure oriental cult in a corner of Roman Palestine grew to become the dominant religion of the Western world

Michael Kulikowski

Cult or religion? The Easter 'Passion of the Christ' procession in Comayagua, a small town in Honduras. Photo by Teun Voeten/Panos
Essay/
Subcultures
What is a cult?

Cults are exploitative, weird groups with strange beliefs and practices, right? So what about regular religions then?

Tara Isabella Burton

Portuguese actor Diogio Morgado plays Jesus in the History Channel's The Bible mini-series. Photo courtesy Lightworkers Media / Hearst Productions Inc

Essay/
Demography and migration
The white man Jesus

There’s a reason why the Bible is silent about the colour of Jesus’ skin. So why has this become an issue for our age?

Edward J Blum

Members of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force) listen to a speech by Ashin Wirathu in Colombo, September 2014. Wirathu, a radical monk, is accused of stirring violence against Muslims. Photo by Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
Essay/
Religion
Monks with guns

Westerners think that Buddhism is about peace and non-violence. So how come Buddhist monks are in arms against Islam?

Michael Jerryson

Jewish Haim Addad posing with his Arabic neighbour near Djerba, Tunisia, May 2008. Photo by Patrick Zachmann/Magnum
Essay/
Political philosophy
What is wrong with tolerance

The ideal of religious tolerance has crippling flaws. It’s time to embrace a civic philosophy of reciprocity

Simon Rabinovitch

Benjamin Lay by William Williams c1750-1758, oil on panel. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Essay/
History
The forgotten prophet

Radical Quaker Benjamin Lay was a pioneer of abolitionism, who lived what he preached. So why was he erased from history?

Marcus Rediker

Tibetan monks dressed as demons attend the Beating Ghost festival at the Yonghe Temple, March 2015. Photo by Wang Zhao/Getty

Essay/
Religion
Not your Tibetan Buddhism

Behind the beatific image of Tibetan Buddhism lies a dark, complicated reality. But is it one the Western gaze wants to see?

Mark Hay

A selection of medieval compass drawn designs from Belaugh church in Norfolk. All images courtesy NSMGS

Essay/
Archaeology
Medieval graffiti

Graffiti on the walls of Europe’s old churches reveals the real Middle Ages – a world far removed from knights and damsels

Matthew Champion

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

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

Tolerance is critical. Manchester, England, 2013. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty
Essay/
Ethics
The limits of tolerance

A religious worldview cannot expect the same kinds of tolerance as racial, gender, or sexual identities. Here’s why

Paul Russell

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

The Moon and stars light up Mount Everest, also known as Qomolangma on 29 April 2008. Photo by David Gray/Reuters
Essay/
Cosmology
How cosmic is the cosmos?

Ever since Heisenberg and Tagore, physicists have flirted with Eastern philosophy. Is there anything in the romance?

Zeeya Merali

Nursery school children pass in front of Italian citizen Alberto ‘Daijo’ Pitozzi, 42, currently under training as a novice zen monk at Soji-ji temple, Yokohama, Japan. Photo by Jeremie Souteyrat
Essay/
Religion
Religion without belief

Most Japanese reject religious belief while embracing multiple forms of ritual practice. Are they religious or secular?

Christopher Kavanagh

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