In Our Time: Religion

BBC Radio 4

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

  • 50 minutes 14 seconds
    Julian the Apostate

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the last pagan ruler of the Roman Empire. Fifty years after Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and introduced a policy of tolerating the faith across the empire, Julian (c.331 - 363 AD) aimed to promote paganism instead, branding Constantine the worst of all his predecessors. Julian was a philosopher-emperor in the mould of Marcus Aurelius and was noted in his lifetime for his letters and his satires, and it was his surprising success as a general in his youth in Gaul that had propelled him to power barely twenty years after a rival had slaughtered his family. Julian's pagan mission and his life were brought to a sudden end while on campaign against the Sasanian Empire in the east, but he left so much written evidence of his ideas that he remains one of the most intriguing of all the Roman emperors and a hero to the humanists of the Enlightenment.


    James Corke-Webster Reader in Classics, History and Liberal Arts at King’s College, London

    Lea Niccolai Assistant Professor in Classics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics, Trinity College


    Shaun Tougher Professor of Late Roman and Byzantine History at Cardiff University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    Polymnia Athanassiadi, Julian: An Intellectual Biography (first published 1981; Routledge, 2014)

    Nicholas Baker-Brian and Shaun Tougher (eds.), Emperor and Author: The Writings of Julian the Apostate (Classical Press of Wales, 2012)

    Nicholas Baker-Brian and Shaun Tougher (eds.), The Sons of Constantine, AD 337-361: In the Shadows of Constantine and Julian, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

    G.W. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate (first published 1978; Harvard University Press, 1997)

    Susanna Elm, Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome (University of California Press, 2012)

    Ari Finkelstein, The Specter of the Jews: Emperor Julian and the Rhetoric of Ethnicity in Syrian Antioch (University of California Press, 2018)

    David Neal Greenwood, Julian and Christianity: Revisiting the Constantinian Revolution (Cornell University Press, 2021)

    Lea Niccolai, Christianity, Philosophy, and Roman Power: Constantine, Julian, and the Bishops on Exegesis and Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2023)

    Stefan Rebenich and Hans-Ulrich Wiemer (eds), A Companion to Julian the Apostate (Brill, 2020)

    Rowland Smith, Julian’s Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate (Routledge, 1995)

    H.C. Teitler, The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2017)

    Shaun Tougher, Julian the Apostate (Edinburgh University Press, 2007)

    W. C. Wright, The Works of Emperor Julian of Rome (Loeb, 1913-23)

    18 April 2024, 9:15 am
  • 55 minutes 22 seconds
    Karl Barth

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. Karl Barth (1886 - 1968) rejected the liberal theology of his time which, he argued, used the Bible and religion to help humans understand themselves rather than prepare them to open themselves to divine revelation. Barth's aim was to put God and especially Christ at the centre of Christianity. He was alarmed by what he saw as the dangers in a natural theology where God might be found in a rainbow or an opera by Wagner; for if you were open to finding God in German culture, you could also be open to accepting Hitler as God’s gift as many Germans did. Barth openly refused to accept Hitler's role in the Church in the 1930s on these theological grounds as well as moral, for which he was forced to leave Germany for his native Switzerland.


    Stephen Plant Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge

    Christiane Tietz Professor for Systematic Theology at the University of Zurich


    Tom Greggs Marischal Professor of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    Karl Barth, God Here and Now (Routledge, 2003)

    Karl Barth (trans. G. T. Thomson), Dogmatics in Outline (SCM Press, 1966)

    Eberhard Busch (trans. John Bowden), Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts (Grand Rapids, 1994)

    George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (Oxford University Press, 1993)

    Joseph L. Mangina, Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness (Routledge, 2004)

    Paul T. Nimmo, Karl Barth: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury, 2013)

    Christiane Tietz, Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2021)

    John Webster, Karl Barth: Outstanding Christian Thinkers (Continuum, 2004)

    4 January 2024, 10:15 am
  • 50 minutes 1 second
    Julian of Norwich

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the anchoress and mystic who, in the late fourteenth century, wrote about her visions of Christ suffering, in a work since known as Revelations of Divine Love. She is probably the first named woman writer in English, even if questions about her name and life remain open. Her account is an exploration of the meaning of her visions and is vivid and bold, both in its imagery and theology. From her confined cell in a Norwich parish church, in a land beset with plague, she dealt with the nature of sin and with the feminine side of God, and shared the message she received that God is love and, famously, that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.


    Katherine Lewis Professor of Medieval History at the University of Huddersfield

    Philip Sheldrake Professor of Christian Spirituality at the Oblate School of Theology, Texas and Senior Research Associate of the Von Hugel Institute, University of Cambridge


    Laura Kalas Senior Lecturer in Medieval English Literature at Swansea University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    John H. Arnold and Katherine Lewis (eds.), A Companion to the Book of Margery Kempe (D.S. Brewer, 2004)

    Ritamary Bradley, Julian’s Way: A Practical Commentary on Julian of Norwich (Harper Collins, 1992)

    E. Colledge and J. Walsh (eds.), Julian of Norwich: Showings (Classics of Western Spirituality series, Paulist Press, 1978)

    Liz Herbert McAvoy (ed.), A Companion to Julian of Norwich (D.S. Brewer, 2008)

    Liz Herbert McAvoy, Authority and the Female Body in the Writings of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe (D.S. Brewer, 2004)

    Grace Jantzen, Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian (new edition, Paulist Press, 2010)

    Julian of Norwich (trans. Barry Windeatt), Revelations of Divine Love (Oxford World's Classics, 2015)

    Julian of Norwich (ed. Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins), The Writings of Julian of Norwich: A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman and a Revelation of Love, (Brepols, 2006)

    Laura Kalas, Margery Kempe’s Spiritual Medicine: Suffering, Transformation and the Life-Course (D.S. Brewer, 2020)

    Laura Kalas and Laura Varnam (eds.), Encountering the Book of Margery Kempe (Manchester University Press, 2021)

    Laura Kalas and Roberta Magnani (eds.), Women in Christianity in the Medieval Age: 1000-1500 (Routledge, forthcoming 2024)

    Ken Leech and Benedicta Ward (ed.), Julian the Solitary (SLG, 1998)

    Denise Nowakowski Baker and Sarah Salih (ed.), Julian of Norwich’s Legacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

    Joan M. Nuth, Wisdom’s Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich (Crossroad Publishing, 1999)

    Philip Sheldrake, Julian of Norwich: “In God’s Sight”: Her Theology in Context (Wiley-Blackwell, 2019)

    E. Spearing (ed.), Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (Penguin Books, 1998)

    Denys Turner, Julian of Norwich, Theologian (Yale University Press, 2011) Wolfgang Riehle, The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England (Cornell University Press, 2014)

    Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (University of California Press, 1982)

    Ann Warren, Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England (University of California Press, 1985)

    Hugh White (trans.), Ancrene Wisse: Guide for Anchoresses (Penguin Classics, 1993)

    16 November 2023, 9:45 am
  • 48 minutes 7 seconds
    The Dead Sea Scrolls

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the revelatory collection of Biblical texts, legal documents, community rules and literary writings.

    In 1946 a Bedouin shepherd boy was looking for a goat he’d lost in the hills above the Dead Sea. He threw a rock into a cave and heard a hollow sound. He’d hit a ceramic jar containing an ancient manuscript. This was the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of about a thousand texts dating from around 250 BC to AD 68. It is the most substantial first hand evidence we have for the beliefs and practices of Judaism in and around the lifetime of Jesus.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls have transformed our understanding of how the texts that make up the Hebrew Bible were edited and collected. They also offer a tantalising window onto the world from which Christianity eventually emerged.


    Sarah Pearce Ian Karten Professor of Jewish Studies and Head of the School of Humanities at the University of Southampton

    Charlotte Hempel Professor of Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism at the University of Birmingham


    George Brooke Rylands Professor Emeritus of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester

    Producer Luke Mulhall

    1 June 2023, 9:15 am
  • 49 minutes 35 seconds
    The Ramayana

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic which is regarded as one of the greatest works of world literature. Its importance in Indian culture has been compared to that of the Iliad and Odyssey in the West, and it’s still seen as a sacred text by Hindus today.

    Written in Sanskrit, it tells the story of the legendary prince and princess Rama and Sita, and the many challenges, misfortunes and choices that they face. About 24,000 verses long, the Ramayana is also one of the longest ancient epics. It’s a text that’s been hugely influential and it continues to be popular in India and elsewhere in Asia. With

    Jessica Frazier Lecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

    Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University


    Naomi Appleton Senior Lecturer in Asian Religions at the University of Edinburgh

    The image above shows Rama, Sita, Hanuman, Lakshmana and devotees, from the Shree Jalaram Prarthana Mandal, Leicester.

    Producer Luke Mulhall

    6 April 2023, 9:15 am
  • 51 minutes 47 seconds
    John Donne

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Donne (1573-1631), known now as one of England’s finest poets of love and notable in his own time as an astonishing preacher. He was born a Catholic in a Protestant country and, when he married Anne More without her father's knowledge, Donne lost his job in the government circle and fell into a poverty that only ended once he became a priest in the Church of England. As Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, his sermons were celebrated, perhaps none more than his final one in 1631 when he was plainly in his dying days, as if preaching at his own funeral.

    The image above is from a miniature in the Royal Collection and was painted in 1616 by Isaac Oliver (1565-1617)


    Mary Ann Lund Associate Professor in Renaissance English Literature at the University of Leicester

    Sue Wiseman Professor of Seventeenth Century Literature at Birkbeck, University of London


    Hugh Adlington Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham

    9 February 2023, 10:15 am
  • 49 minutes 18 seconds
    Angkor Wat

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the largest and arguably the most astonishing religious structure on Earth, built for Suryavarman II in the 12th Century in modern-day Cambodia. It is said to have more stone in it than the Great Pyramid of Giza, and much of the surface is intricately carved and remarkably well preserved. For the last 900 years Angkor Wat has been a centre of religion, whether Hinduism, Buddhism or Animism or a combination of those, and a source of wonder to Cambodians and visitors from around the world.


    Piphal Heng Postdoctoral scholar at the Cotsen Institute and the Programme for Early Modern Southeast Asia at UCLA

    Ashley Thompson Hiram W Woodward Chair of Southeast Asian Art at SOAS University of London


    Simon Warrack A stone conservator who has worked extensively at Angkor Wat

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    21 July 2022, 9:15 am
  • 56 minutes 32 seconds

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Czech educator Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670) known throughout Europe in his lifetime under the Latin version of his name, Comenius. A Protestant and member of the Unity of Brethren, he lived much of his life in exile, expelled from his homeland under the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and he wanted to address the deep antagonisms underlying the wars that were devastating Europe especially The Thirty Years War (1618-1648). A major part of his plan was Universal Education, in which everyone could learn about everything, and better understand each other and so tolerate their religious differences and live side by side. His ideas were to have a lasting influence on education, even though the peace that followed the Thirty Years War only entrenched the changes in his homeland that made his life there impossible.

    The image above is from a portrait of Comenius by Jürgen Ovens, 1650 - 1670, painted while he was living in Amsterdam and held in the Rikjsmuseum


    Vladimir Urbanek Senior Researcher in the Department of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

    Suzanna Ivanic Lecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Kent


    Howard Hotson Professor of Early Modern Intellectual History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Anne’s College

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    16 June 2022, 9:15 am
  • 53 minutes 3 seconds
    Early Christian Martyrdom

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the accounts by Eusebius of Caesarea (c260-339 AD) and others of the killings of Christians in the first three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus. Eusebius was writing in a time of peace, after The Great Persecution that had started with Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD and lasted around eight years. Many died under Diocletian, and their names are not preserved, but those whose deaths are told by Eusebius became especially celebrated and their stories became influential. Through his writings, Eusebius shaped perceptions of what it meant to be a martyr in those years, and what it meant to be a Christian.

    The image above is of The Martyrdom of Saint Blandina (1886) at the Church of Saint-Blandine de Lyon, France


    Candida Moss Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham

    Kate Cooper Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London


    James Corke-Webster Senior Lecturer in Classics, History and Liberal Arts at King’s College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    26 May 2022, 9:15 am
  • 55 minutes 50 seconds
    The Sistine Chapel

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the astonishing work of Michelangelo (1477-1564) in this great chapel in the Vatican, firstly the ceiling with images from Genesis (of which the image above is a detail) and later The Last Judgement on the altar wall. For the Papacy, Michelangelo's achievement was a bold affirmation of the spiritual and political status of the Vatican, of Rome and of the Catholic Church. For the artist himself, already famous as the sculptor of David in Florence, it was a test of his skill and stamina, and of the potential for art to amaze which he realised in his astonishing mastery of the human form.


    Catherine Fletcher Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University

    Sarah Vowles The Smirnov Family Curator of Italian and French Prints and Drawings at the British Museum


    Matthias Wivel The Aud Jebsen Curator of Sixteenth-Century Italian Paintings at the National Gallery

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    28 April 2022, 9:15 am
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    4 March 2022, 4:00 am
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