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[…]

The Skeptical Pilgrim: Melville’s ‘Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land’

Exploring the knot of spiritual dilemmas played out in the poem and its roots in Melville’s trip to the Middle East two decades earlier. This article, The Skeptical Pilgrim: Melville’s Clarel, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ In October 1856,[…]

India’s Goddesses of Contagion: Protection, Unless You Make them Mad!

Goddesses have traditionally protected against sickness and cured the ill, according to Hindu belief. But there’s a catch. Introduction Hindus in India have had a helping hand – several in fact – when it comes to fighting deadly contagions like COVID-19: multi-armed goddesses co-opted to help contain and kill pestilence. Collectively known as “Amman,” or[…]

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[…]

The Story of the Exodus and Lack of Historicity

Archaeologists from the 19th century actually expressed surprise when they failed to find any evidence whatsoever for the events of Exodus. Introduction This article examines the Young Earth creationist and Biblical literalist claims regarding the historical reality of the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, as well as the evidence relating to such claims.[…]

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,[…]

Knights Hospitaller: Medieval Catholic Military Order

They were founded in 1113 CE with the full name of ‘Knights of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem’. Introduction After their base was relocated to Rhodes in the early 14th century CE, the order’s members of the Knights Hospitaller were often called the Knights of Rhodes and when they moved[…]

Mosaics and Microcosm: Iconography in Ancient Byzantine Monasteries

Byzantine texts interpreted the domed church as a microcosm – a three-dimensional image of the cosmos. Ecstatic Motion The city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire since its foundation by Constantine in 330 C.E., was roiled by the Iconoclastic Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries. Emperors, bishops, and many others debated[…]

Pope Pius XII and Minimization of the Holocaust

The Pope and the president both opted to look away from the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. Researchers combing through recently-opened wartime records of the Vatican have discovered that a senior papal adviser, Angelo Dell’Acqua, told Pius XII in 1942 that reports of the slaughter of European Jews were unreliable because Jews “easily exaggerate.”[…]

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 Elizabethan Religious Settlement in Late Medieval England

Many features of the Settlement remained in place and their effects can still be seen on today’s Anglican Church. Introduction The Elizabethan Religious Settlement was a collection of laws and decisions concerning religious practices introduced between 1558-63 CE by Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558-1603 CE). The settlement continued the English Reformation which had begun[…]

Healing and Veneration: Relics and Reliquaries in Medieval Christianity

Medieval reliquaries have been subject to widespread destruction during times of religious and political strife. Relics Christian belief in the power of relics, the physical remains of a holy site or holy person, or objects with which they had contact, is as old as the faith itself and developed alongside it. Relics were more than[…]

Sanctuary Spaces for Criminals in Medieval English Law

In medieval England, churches had a moral duty – and even a legal obligation – to protect the vulnerable. In medieval England, from at least the 12th to the 16th centuries, sanctuary was defined as a legal procedure within both canon law (the law of the church) and secular common law. It was a last[…]

Sacred Street Theater in Medieval England

Doomsday, 1433. In York, after dark. A red curtain. Painted stars. Actors in hoses, wigs, and two-faced masks—some in angel wings, some with trumpets. Wooden clouds and pieces of rainbow, and an iron frame with pulleys meant to effect Christ’s movements between Heaven and Earth. a “hell mouth” billowing smoke and the smell of sulfur.[…]

The Great Occidental Schism: Division in the Catholic Church, 1378-1417

The affair is sometimes referred to as the Great Schism, but this term is typically reserved for the more enduring East–West Schism of 1054. Introduction The Western Schism, also called Papal Schism, Great Occidental Schism and Schism of 1378, was a split within the Catholic Church lasting from 1378 to 1417[1] in which two men[…]

The Fate of Religious Minorities during the Medieval Black Death

The plague swept through Christian Europe and Islamdom at roughly the same time – between 1347 and 1351. Pandemics are nothing new—they scythed through the ancient world as they did the pre-modern and, as we know to our grief and confusion, they are still mowing us down today. We might think that human nature is[…]

Talisman and Amulets as ‘Protective Gear’ in Medieval Islam

From magic bowls to holy shirts, Muslim cultures used various devices to protect the user from harm starting in the 11th century. Introduction From the 11th century until around the 19th century, Muslim cultures witnessed the use of magic bowls, healing necklaces and other objects in hopes of warding off drought, famine, floods and even[…]

When Religion Sided with Science during Plague in the Medieval Islamic World

Looking at how people thought about science and religion in the past can inform the contemporary world’s approach. Plagues – A Fact of Life Plagues were a fact of life in ancient and medieval worlds. Personal letters from the Cairo Geniza – a treasure trove of documents from the Jews of medieval Egypt – attest[…]

Writing Revelation: The Mystic Medieval Book of Margery Kempe

‘Wondirful revelacyons’, the moving of the soul through visionary experience, are the subject of Kempe’s narrative. Introduction This essay addresses intersections of gender and genre by exploring the complex ways in which the Book of Margery Kempe draws on other devotional texts, particularly those of Hilton and Rolle, on the lives of holy women, and[…]

Gods and Religious Practices in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek religious practice was essentially conservative in nature and was based on time-honored observances By Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar and Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art The ancient Greeks worshipped many gods, each with a distinct personality and domain. Greek myths explained the origins of the gods[…]

Eridu Genesis: The Sumerian, and Oldest, Flood Story in Ancient Texts

It would appear in later works such as the Atrahasis, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and – most famously – the story of Noah and his ark. Introduction The Sumerian Flood Story (also known as the Eridu Genesis, Sumerian Creation Myth, Sumerian Deluge Myth) is the oldest Mesopotamian text relating the tale of the Great Flood[…]

Rivers Held a Spiritual Place in the Lives of the Cherokee

Water appeared at the very beginning of Cherokee cosmology. When anthropologist James Mooney published the first of his influential studies of Native American culture in 1888, “Myths of the Cherokee,” he was struck by the centrality of water in the Cherokee world. Mooney had spent a season living with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians[…]

The Power of the Criminal Corpse in the Medieval World

The dying and dead body was an important locus in both religious and secular discourses of power. Introduction Taking a long-term view of the history of crime and punishment problematises any straightforwardly progressive narrative of the history of punishment as one of increasingly humane attitudes. Punishment in the Middle Ages was about retribution, but also[…]