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[…]

Apocalypse Now: Our Incessant Desire to Picture the End of the World from Medieval Times to Today

Each generation, each epoch, has seen themselves apocalyptically, albeit with great differences as to what the actual end will involve. Introduction As is typical of our time, over the past few months, many newscasters have used the words apocalypse or apocalyptic to evoke the negative implications of events as diverse as the threat of Grexit,[…]

Zorvanism: Zorastrian Sect in the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

It is often referenced as a Zoroastrian heresy because it departed significantly from central Zoroastrian beliefs. Introduction Zorvanism (also given as Zuvanism, Zurvanism) was a sect of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism which emerged in the late Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) and flourished during the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). It is often referenced as a[…]

Avesta: Scripture of Zoroastrianism

It was developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. Introduction The Avesta is the scripture of Zoroastrianism which developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht) sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. The title is generally accepted as meaning “praise”, though this interpretation is[…]

Zoroastrianism: Monotheism in Ancient Persia

Zoroastrianism was adopted by the Achaemenid Empire, the Parthian Empire, and found its fullest expression under the Sassanian Empire. Introduction Zoroastrianism is the monotheistic faith established by the Persian prophet Zoroaster (also given as Zarathustra, Zartosht) between c. 1500-1000 BCE. It holds that there is one supreme deity, Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom), creator and[…]

Zarathustra: Zoroaster By Any Other Name

Introduction Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra) was an important religious figure in ancient Persia (present-day Iran and surrounding areas), whose teachings became the foundation of a religious movement named Zoroastrianism, a tradition that would largely dominate Persia until the mid-7th century CE, when Islam gained ascendancy in the region after the fall of the Sasanian[…]

Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Persia

Ancient Persia had the same interest in what happens after death as any culture in the present day. Introduction A vision of the afterlife is articulated by every culture, ancient or modern, in an effort to answer the question of what happens after death, and this was as true for the ancient Persian view of[…]

Ancient Persian Mythology

The ancient Persian religious tradition was passed down orally, and the only written texts relating to it come from after the prophet Zoroaster. Introduction The mythology of ancient Persia originally developed in the region known as Greater Iran (the Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia). The Persians were initially part of a migratory[…]

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[…]

Hindus and Muslims under the Delhi Sultanate in Medieval India

The Delhi Sultanate, which lasted from 1206 to 1526, is known as a period of cultural intermixing. By Christopher Klune The Republic of India stands as one of the most pluralistic nations in the modern world, with many people of varying faiths co-existing under one national identity. Part of the origin of this pluralism can[…]

Noah’s Ark: The Mythology of a Journey as Impossible as the Travels of Odysseus

It contains so many incredible violations of the laws of nature that it cannot possibly be accepted by any thinking person. By Robert A. Moore Introduction Suppose you picked up the newspaper tomorrow morning and were startled to see headlines announcing the discovery of a large ship high on the snowy slopes of Mt. Ararat[…]

Ancient Persian Religion

How the early Persians worshipped their gods is unknown except that it involved fire and outdoor altars. Introduction Ancient Persian religion was a polytheistic faith which corresponds roughly to what is known today as ancient Persian mythology. It first developed in the region known as Greater Iran (the Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia, and West[…]

Christmas in Medieval Europe

Each season in medieval europe had its own special Christian celebration, often based on older pagan traditions. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Christmas was one of the highlights of the medieval calendar, not only for the rich but also for the peasantry. For the longest holiday of the year, typically the full twelve days of Christmas,[…]

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.[…]

Religious Tests for Witnesses in 19th-Century America

Although Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any religious test “as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” and the First Amendment prohibits Congress from adopting laws “respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” none of these provisions initially applied to the states. Remnants of[…]

God, Government, and Roger Williams’ Big Idea

The Puritan minister originated a principle that remains contentious to this day—separation of church and state. Even the most bitter opponents of Roger Williams recognized in him that combination of charm, confidence and intensity a later age would call charisma. They did not regard such traits as assets, however, for those traits only made the[…]

Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans and Theocracy in the 17th Century

They wanted to bring about the reform of Protestantism throughout the English Empire. “A City upon a Hill” A much larger group of English Puritans left England in the 1630s, establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the New Haven Colony, the Connecticut Colony, and Rhode Island. Unlike the exodus of young men to the Chesapeake colonies,[…]

Clergy, Priests, and Priestesses in Ancient Egypt

The clergy of ancient Egypt did not preach, interpret scripture, proselytize, or conduct weekly services. Introduction The ancient Egyptians understood that their gods had prevailed over the forces of chaos through the creation of the world and relied upon humanity’s help to maintain it. The people of Mesopotamia held this same belief but felt they[…]

Twelve Ancient Persian Mythological Creatures

Introduction The mythology of any civilization reflects its core values, greatest fears, and highest hopes and so it is with the mythology of ancient Persia. The great heroes like Karsasp, Thraetaona, and Rustum express particularly Persian values but, as with all mythical figures, are recognizable to people of any culture as role models whose best[…]

British Protestants in Catholic Rome during the Grand Tours

The British elite in the 17th century to the 19th century were known to take Grand Tours to visit and learn more about continental Europe. By Sarah Yenesel Introduction In a world where there was no computers, telephones, or quick modes of transportation, it was much more difficult to travel. Only the wealthy could afford[…]

Precedent and Motives for the Anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780

The Gordon Riots began when England was involved in the American Revolutionary War with England virtually isolated by France and Spain. By Patryk Zalewski Introduction The Gordon Riots were caused by anti-Catholic views and the resentment towards Catholics that was long held and never truly reversed. Led by Lord George Gordon, the rioters found reason[…]

Medieval Islamic Caliphates

The caliphate soon became a hereditary institute when the dynastic system of rule was introduced to the Islamic world by the Umayyads. By Syed Muhammad KhanHistorian Introduction Caliphate (“Khilafat” in Arabic) was a semi-religious political system of governance in Islam, in which the territories of the Islamic empire and the people within were ruled by[…]

Muhammad and the Early Medieval Birth and Rise of Islam

What started as a feeble group of followers soon turned into an empire. By Syed Muhammad KhanHistorian Introduction Muhammad ibn Abdullah (l. 570-610 CE) is venerated today as the Prophet of Islam and the “seal of Prophets” by his followers – the Muslims. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last – hence the “seal” –[…]

Oriental and Mystery Cults in Ancient Pompeii

Mystery cults have some characteristics not usually found in more traditional Roman religions. By Stephen Matthiesen The archaeological evidence in Pompeii can give us some information about oriental or mystery cults, mainly the cults of Isis and of Dionysos. There are different types of archaeological sources which differ in the kind of information they can[…]

Religion in the Mongol Empire

Mongol religion included a strong element of shamanism mixed with ancestor worship and a belief in natural spirits. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) covered Asia from the Black Sea to the Korean peninsula and so naturally included all manner of religions within its borders, but the Mongols themselves had their own[…]

How Benjamin Franklin Used Religion to Fight Religious Political Influence

He used his support of the Great Awakening to greatly benefit financially, affording him time to champion the separation of church and state. In 21st century America, evangelical Christianity is a bulwark of the political right. Not only are evangelicals some of Donald Trump’s firmest supporters, but the born-again movement has translated its power into[…]

Music in the Counter Reformation

The musical changes that took place in the Counter Reformation were changes that set the precedent for church music in years to come. By Julianna Cianfano Introduction The Counter Reformation, also known as the Catholic Reformation, was about a hundred year period in Europe that aimed towards a resurgence of the Catholic Church in a[…]

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[…]

Roman Household Spirits: Manes, Panes, and Lares

The gods were thought to have a vested interest in the health and success of the Roman state. Introduction To the ancient Romans, everything was imbued with a divine spirit (numen, plural: numina) which gave it life. Even supposedly inanimate objects like rocks and trees possessed a numen, a belief which no doubt grew out[…]