The Spanish Inquisition: Historical Context for Don Quixote

As vast as the Spanish empire was during Cervantes time, the empire found itself engaged in numerous conflicts. By Alison KruegerDepartment of Spanish and PortugueseColumbia University The Rise of Spain from the End of the Reconquest In 711, Muslims from North Africa invaded much of the Spanish Peninsula.  Shortly after, and for the next several[…]

The Devil Does His Mischief: The Huguenot World of Demonology during the Scientific Age

Huguenots were not only believers in science, but also remained firmly committed to their belief in God and his providence.[1] At the request of the famed scientist Robert Boyle, the French divine, Pierre du Moulin, translated an account of a demon that had plagued a Huguenot family in Burgundy, France in 1612. Moulin’s 1658 translation[…]

Ghosts in the Middle Ages

The souls most likely to return to haunt the living were those whose burial rituals were not performed correctly or who had unfinished business which required closure. Introduction The medieval Church’s vision informed the people’s religious imagination during the Middle Ages (c. 476-1500 CE) and the world was therefore interpreted – even by heterodox Christians –[…]

Religion in Ancient Greece

The religious practices of the Greeks extended beyond mainland Greece. Introduction Ancient Greek religion encompasses the collection of beliefs, rituals, and mythology originating in ancient Greece in the form of both popular public religion and cult practices. These groups varied enough for it to be possible to speak of Greek religions or “cults” in the[…]

Denis Diderot and Science: Enlightenment to Modernity

Diderot produced an impressive, unfinished work over at least 15 years. Introduction Today (October 5) is 300 years since the birth of Denis Diderot, a prominent Enlightenment philosopher, art critic, and writer, who died on July 31, 1784, aged 70. A key Enlightenment figure, many of Diderot’s ideas were avant-garde and foreshadowed many concepts in[…]

Enlightenment and Enlightened Absolutism in Early Modern Eastern Europe

The Enlightenment directly involved only the educated spheres of society. After Pietism and the Moravian movement, the next spiritual trend to arrive in Estonia in the mid-18th century was the Enlightenment. Its ideas were propagated in the Baltic provinces by the German Enlightenment movement which sought support from absolutism and relied heavily on the Protestant[…]

Monotheism in the Ancient World

In the ancient world, the concept of monotheism as we understand it today did not exist; all ancient people were polytheists. Introduction Monotheism is simply defined as the belief in one god and is usually positioned as the polar opposite of polytheism, the belief in many gods. However, the word monotheism is a relatively modern[…]

Twelve Ancient and Medieval Menacing and Protective Mythological Figures

These figures, whatever other purposes they served, were expressions of the fears and hopes of the people. Introduction The term mythology comes from the Greek words mythos (“story of the people”) and logos (“word”) and so is defined as the spoken (later written) story of a culture. Modern scholars have divided myths into different types[…]

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[…]

A Brief History of Religious Relics and Their Impacts

Attachment to a notable place, person or item has been at the heart of religious and spiritual belief for millennia. In 2006, a tiny brown pebble, equivalent to a raisin, sold at auction for $25,000. This inconsequential artifact was, in fact, William Shatner’s kidney stone. The US actor had persuaded doctors to return the grisly[…]

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[…]

The London Mithraeum: Going Underground in Ancient Roman Londinium

Londinium, as the city was called in ancient times, was founded by the Romans after they conquered the island in 43 CE. By Wanda MarcussenHistorian Introduction London, the proud capital of the United Kingdom, is visited by millions of tourists every year and is famous for its rich history and historical landmarks. Magnificent castles, medieval[…]

The Byzantine Empire and a Centuries-Old Religious Dispute over Ukraine’s Orthodox Church

Ukraine’s Orthodox Church recently broke off from Russia. This dispute has a history that goes back to medieval Christianity. Introduction A new Orthodox Church was recently established in Ukraine. Shortly after, Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the spiritual head of global Orthodox Christianity, granted independence to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine and[…]

Jewish Immigration to America: Three Waves

Sephardic, German, and Eastern European immigrants each contributed to the formation of American Jewry. By Dr. Joellyn ZollmanJewish Historian Introduction America’s Jewish community is largely c, meaning it is made up of Jews who trace their ancestry to Germany and Eastern Europe. However, the first Jews to arrive in what would become the United States[…]

Rosh HaShanah: History, Meanings, and Customs

“Rosh HaShanah” means ‘head [of] the year’, referring to the Jewish day of new year. Introduction Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה), literally meaning the “head [of] the year”, is the Jewish New Year. The biblical name for this holiday is Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה), literally “day of shouting or blasting”. It is the first of[…]

Who Are the Sikhs and What Are Their Beliefs?

An expert explains the Sikh faith and its history in the United States. Introduction New Jersey’s first Sikh attorney general, Gurbir Singh Grewal, was a target of disparaging remarks recently. Two radio hosts commented on Grewal’s Sikh identity and repeatedly referred to him as “turban man.” When called out on the offensiveness of their comments,[…]

Muslim-Sikh Relations in Medieval India

Peace but also conflicts that occurred between the Sikh Gurus and the Mughal rulers who were contemporaneous with the former. Introduction: Context and Commitment of the Article Prof Dalip Singh—an eminent academic authority on Sikh Studies, senior-researcher of Sikh Research and Education Center (SREC) based in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA—had written six voluminous books as well[…]

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[…]

A Short History of the Buddhist Schools

Today, the four major Buddhist branches are Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana and Zen Buddhism. Introduction Like any other religious tradition, Buddhism has undergone a number of different transformations that have led to the emergence of many different Buddhist schools. Analyzing the major Buddhist traditions, we find a great number of topics ranging from moral concerns (which[…]

A History of Fighting for the Right to Party on Sundays

How the struggle over blue laws changed American politics. Bergen County, New Jersey, is one of America’s great shopping meccas. Just across the Hudson River from New York City, its Paramus Park Mall, Garden State Plaza, and many box stores and outlet malls attract hundreds of thousands of customers each day. But not on Sunday.[…]

The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Heavenly Cow

The tale begins after Ra had created the world and was king of the gods and humanity. Introduction The Book of the Heavenly Cow is an ancient Egyptian text dealing with the rebellion of humanity against the sun god Ra, his destruction of the rebels through the goddess Hathor, the reversal of this decision and Ra’s mercy, and his[…]

A’Aru: The Ancient Egyptian ‘Field of Reeds’ Afterlife Paradise

One lived on in the presence of the gods, doing as one had done on earth, with everyone the soul had ever loved. Introduction A’Aru (The Field of Reeds) was the Egyptian afterlife, an idealized vision of one’s life on earth (also known as Sekhet-A’Aru and translated as The Field of Rushes). Everything thought to have been lost at death was returned[…]

The China of the Jesuits

The history of the Society of Jesus’ first missions is a story of great journeys. Abstract During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many reports and travel narratives helped to create a more positive image of China around the world. The remarkable efforts of the Society of Jesus were essential to this new view, thanks to[…]

How to Worship Artemis and Get Something in Return in Ancient Greece

What the epigraphic and archaeological evidence have shown. For centuries, worshippers of Artemis flocked to the ancient city of Ephesos in present-day Turkey for an annual nativity rite. Young men known as Kouretes hiked to the summit of Mount Solmissos, beating their spears on their shields, diverting the attention of the Greek goddess Hera from[…]

Strangers in the Sacred Grove: The Changing Meanings of Okinawan ‘Utaki’

The changing significance of sacred groves (utaki) from medieval to contemporary Okinawa. Abstract This article discusses the changing significance of sacred groves (utaki) in contemporary Okinawa. Until recently, utaki were the domain of female ritual practitioners (kaminchu or noro), and men were not allowed to set foot in them. In many places, such taboos have faded away, if not[…]

The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures

Looking at the human exchanges that took place between the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska and Native Alaskans, during the years 1794 to about 1915. Crown and Commerce in Russian America The Russian discovery of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands by Vitus Bering (1681-1741) and Aleksiei Chirikov (d. 1748) in 1741 was[…]

The Ancient Megalithic Funerary Art of San Agustín, Colombia

These burial places formed the centers of small-scale chiefdoms and shared a set of sculptural motifs and styles. By Benjamin OswaldHistorian Introduction Beginning approximately 2000 years ago, in a rugged stretch of southwestern Colombia where the Andes split into multiple ranges and the mighty Magdalena River is born, a people created a collection of magnificent[…]