The Historical Roots of White Supremacist Ideas in U.S. Christianity

Elements of racist ideology have long been present in and justified by white Christianity in the United States. Introduction When a young Southern Baptist pastor named Alan Cross arrived in Montgomery, Ala., in January 2000, he knew it was where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his first church and where Rosa Parks helped[…]

History, the KKK, and Christianity

Nationalism (or “100% Americanism”), Protestant Christianity, and white supremacy became inextricably linked. Randall J. Stephens responds to Kelly J. Baker’s essay, “The Artifacts of White Supremacy,” which is featured in the June issue of the Forum. Baker’s essay considers how discussions about racism—and white supremacy in particular—tend to treat it as a matter of belief,[…]

The Invention of Satanic Witchcraft by Medieval Christian Authorities

The idea of organized satanic witchcraft was invented in Europe by church authorities, who at first were met with skepticism. Introduction On a midsummer day in 1438, a young man from the north shore of Lake Geneva presented himself to the local church inquisitor. He had a confession to make. Five years earlier, his father[…]

Christianity and Globalization in the Year 1000

Their mission was not only to convert people but especially kings and rulers, thereby making the people more amenable. In the year 1000 CE, complex trade networks were taking shape, stimulating unprecedented cultural interactions. The Vikings reached the shores of North America, trade routes connected China with Europe and Africa, and in the Americas, cities[…]

The Growth and Spread of Christianity in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

The Edict of Milan made the Roman Empire officially neutral with regard to religious worship – and then it flipped into forced conversion. Introduction Persecution of Christians Members of the Early Christian movement often became political targets and scapegoats for the social ills and political tensions of specific rulers and turbulent periods during the first[…]

A History of Evangelicalism in the United States

After World War II, conservative Protestants rejected the separatist stance and began calling themselves evangelicals. Introduction In the United States, evangelicalism is an umbrella group of Protestant Christians who believe in the necessity of being born again, emphasize the importance of evangelism, and affirm traditional Protestant teachings on the authority and the historicity of the[…]

European Missionaries and the Spread of Christianity, 1500-1750

Christianity spread around the world, largely due to the energy unleashed by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Introduction Missionaries have spread Christianity since the days of the Roman Empire. By the time Rome fell in 476 c.e., much of Europe was Christian. One famous missionary, Saint Patrick, had even brought the Christian faith to Ireland. During[…]

Abraham, the Patriarch: The Stories and the Historicity

Little if any direct archeological evidence exists concerning Abraham. Introduction In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Abraham is a venerated patriarch whose relationship with God provides the foundational story for God’s beneficial relationship with humanity. According to biblical tradition (and some say myth), Abraham (c. 20th century BCE) was born in or near the city of Ur in Mesopotamia,[…]

The Emergence and Growth of Protestant Calvinism in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Calvinism is known for some notable experiments in Christian theocracy. Introduction Calvinism is a system of Christian theology advanced by John Calvin, a Protestant Reformer in the sixteenth century, and further developed by his followers, associates and admirers. The term also refers to the doctrines and practices of the Reformed churches, of which Calvin was[…]

The Jewish Roman World of Early Christianity

In 63 B.C.E. Pompey was invited to settle a dispute between two Maccabeans. Thus came the Romans. By Dr. Dennis C. DulingProfessor Emeritus of Religious StudiesNiagara University Introduction “Judaism” in the time of Jesus is more properly designated “Judaisms” as it can include a rich variety of forms and practices that flourished during late Second[…]

A Brief History of Christian Inquisitions

The notion of religious liberty and of freedom of conscience was not recognized. Introduction Inquisition, (capitalized I) as broadly used, refers to the judgment of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church with the cooperation of the secular authorities. It can mean an ecclesiastical tribunal or institution of the Roman Catholic Church for combating or suppressing[…]

The History of Christianity from Its Emergence in the First Century CE

Christianity began in first century C.E. Jerusalem as a Jewish sect, but quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Introduction The history of Christianity concerns the history of the Christian religion and the Church, from Jesus and his Twelve Apostles and Seventy Disciples to contemporary times. Christianity is the monotheistic religion which considers itself[…]

Ahriman: From the Lord of Darkness in Zoroastrianism to the Devil in Christianity

He is thought to have influenced supernatural entities in later religions such as Satan in Judaism, the devil in Christianity, and Iblis in Islam. Introduction Ahriman is the evil spirit in Early Iranian Religion, Zoroastrianism, and Zorvanism, Lord of Darkness and Chaos, and the source of human confusion, disappointment, and strife. He is also known[…]

Celtic Christianity in the Early Medieval British Isles

The term is misleading since it implies a notion of a self-identifying unity that did not exist. Introduction Celtic Christianity (also called Insular Christianity) refers to a distinct form of Christianity that developed in the British Isles during the fifth and sixth centuries among the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, and Manx (Isle of Man) peoples.[…]

Jewish Christians in Ancient Israel

Jewish Christians predominated in the movement of early Christianity. They bore the brunt of persecution from their fellow Jews. Introduction Jewish Christians (sometimes called also Hebrew Christians or Christian Jews) is a term which can have two meanings. The first describes the members of the early Christian movement, who were Jews that accepted Jesus of[…]

A History of the Controversy over the Christian ‘Great Commission’

It raises a fundamental question about whether religious diversity is a reality to be celebrated or an obstacle to be overcome. Introduction A majority of church-going American Christians are unfamiliar with the term, the “Great Commission,” a recent survey found. Even among those familiar with it, 25 percent recognized the phrase but could not explain[…]

Buddhist Bodhisattvas and Christian Saints in the Western Medieval World

A rough genealogy of the way in which the central narrative of Buddhism ended up in a Christian hagiography. On a side of the baptistry of the Piazza Duomo in the northern Italian city of Parma, there is a portal designed and constructed in the late twelfth-century and into the early thirteenth by the architect[…]

Medieval and Early Modern European Christianity and Slavery

The spread of Christianity in the Early Middle Ages (from the fifth to tenth centuries) marked the boundaries of slavery throughout Europe. Before New World expansion, concepts of race and racial hierarchies did not define who could and could not be enslaved in Western Europe. Instead, the spread of Christianity in the Early Middle Ages[…]

The Decline of Protestant Influence in the Late 19th Century

Changes caused Protestants to lose the privileges they had enjoyed in public life, and they wanted government to get them back. The Decline of Protestant Influence The late 19th century was a bad time for American Protestants. Agnosticism and atheism became popular, especially among younger intellectuals. Rising numbers of non-Protestant immigrants brought greater religious diversity.[…]

Before Martin Luther, There Was Erasmus

Don’t count out Erasmus, an early proponent of similarly radical ideas. Introduction Martin Luther, a German theologian, is often credited with starting the Protestant Reformation. When he nailed his 95 Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany on Oct. 31, 1517, dramatically demanding an end to church corruption, he split Christianity into[…]

Forgiveness for Sale: Indulgences in the Medieval Church

The selling of indulgences was first practiced in the late thirteenth century and was changed after the Protestant Reformation. Introduction An Indulgence, in Roman Catholic theology, is the full or partial remission of punishment for sins. The indulgence is granted by the Church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution and involves certain actions[…]

Ancient Christian Art and Architecture

Early Christianity used the same artistic media as the surrounding Pagan culture. Introduction Early Christian art and architecture or Paleochristian art is the art produced by Christians or under Christian patronage from the earliest period of Christianity to, depending on the definition used, sometime between 260 and 525. In practice, identifiably Christian art only survives[…]

Religion in Medieval Europe

Christianity did not immediately win the hearts and minds of the people of Europe. Introduction Religion in the Middle Ages, though dominated by the Catholic Church, was far more varied than only orthodox Christianity. In the Early Middle Ages (c. 476-1000 CE), long-established pagan beliefs and practices entwined with those of the new religion so[…]

The Early Christianization of Armenia

Saint Gregory the Illuminator or Enlightener established Christianity as the official religion of ancient Armenia. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Christianization of Armenia began with the work of Syrian apostles from the 1st century CE and was boosted in the early 4th century CE by such figures as Saint Gregory the Illuminator, who converted the[…]

Six Great Heresies of the Middle Ages

So-called heresies offered the opportunity for religious expression outside of the narrowly defined and self-serving precepts of the Church. Introduction The medieval Church established its monopoly over the spiritual life of Europeans in the Early Middle Ages (c. 476-1000 CE) and consolidated that power throughout the High Middle Ages (1000-1300 CE) and Late Middle Ages[…]

Ten Should-Be Famous Women of Early Christianity

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Christianity has heard the term ‘Church Fathers’ but far less so ‘Church Mothers’. Introduction Women feature prominently in the gospels and Book of Acts of the Christian New Testament as supporters of Jesus’ ministry. The most famous of these is Mary Magdalene, most likely an upper-class woman of means instead[…]

Theocratic Tyranny: The Late Medieval to Early Modern Inquisition

Originally established in the 13th century to combat heretical groups, the Inquisition became a sophisticated, global operation in the early modern period. Introduction From movies to metal bands to Monty Python (“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”), the Holy Office of the Inquisition has retained a powerful place in popular imagination. For many, this image is[…]

Times Like Good Friday Were Dangerous for Medieval Jews

Language about Jews in the medieval Good Friday liturgy often carried over into physical violence toward local Jewish communities. As Christians observe Good Friday they will remember, with devotion and prayer, the death of Jesus on the Cross. It is a day of solemnity in which Christians give thanks for their salvation made possible by the suffering[…]

Antisemitism in the Middle Ages

The medieval period saw Jews experience intense antisemitism. Introduction The roots of antisemitism can be found in ancient history. Antisemitism existed prior to Christianity, as the work of Manetho from the third century BCE shows. However, antisemitism increased considerably following the rise of Christianity in Europe. This was partly due to the differences in belief,[…]

The Birth of the Book: On Christians, Romans, and the Codex

The codex didn’t catch on until surprisingly late in the ancient world. By Benjamin HarnettClassics Scholar A codex is just the Roman name for a book, made of pages, and usually bound on the left. Its predecessor was the scroll or book roll, which was unrolled as you read. The codex is manifestly superior: one[…]