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[…]

“Simply a Theist”: Herndon on Lincoln’s Religion

Herndon would have sympathized with the contemporary journalist who dryly remarked that John Wilkes Booth’s fatal bullet had “made it impossible to speak the truth of Abraham Lincoln hereafter.” Introduction On the evening of Friday, December 12, 1873, William Herndon rose to address a public meeting at the courthouse in Springfield. Undaunted by the bad[…]

Spiritualism, Religion, and Mathematics in the Victorian Period

Many were conflicted between their desire to believe and their want of rigorous intellectual explanation, and material proof for their belief. By Sylvia Nickerson Late nineteenth-century British culture was somewhat preoccupied with the presence of ghosts. Conjuring spirits at séances was a popular pastime, with the exploits of some spiritualists, such as the medium Henry[…]

Lessons from Atheism in Ancient India

We’re still playing the same game, 2500 years later. There were apparently many anti-superstitious atheists in ancient India. (I wrote of Ajita Kesakambali earlier.) Mostly, we know of them through their religious critics in Indian scripture. One such passage is known as Payasi Suttanta, from perhaps the 6th century B.C. In it, a holy man, Master Kassapa, confronts[…]

An Atheist’s Eternity

Contemporary physics aligns smoothly with the doctrine of the eternal return suggested by Nietzsche. By Duane Altheide If death is a deep sleep, then eternity is as one night Plato This philosophical letter offers atheism a solace for death based on recent support for the multiverse―a set of multiple universes. Contemporary physics aligns smoothly with[…]

Life in a Japanese Buddhist Monastery

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from mainland Asia in the 6th century CE, and monasteries were built from the 7th century CE. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Buddhist monasteries have been part of the Japanese cultural landscape ever since the 7th century CE, and they remained both powerful and socially important institutions right through the[…]

African Traditional Religions in Art: Religion and the Spiritual Realm

Most traditional religions in Africa have developed at the local level and are unique to a particular society. Traditional Religions in Africa Most traditional religions in Africa have developed at the local level and are unique to a particular society. Common elements include a belief in a creator god, who is rarely if ever represented[…]

Images of Enlightenment: Aniconic vs. Iconic Depictions of the Buddha in India

One of the most important moments in the story of Prince Siddhartha is when he reached spiritual enlightenment—a state of infinite knowledge. Depicting the Divine Representing divine figures has long been a thorny issue. After all, depicting the divine in human form would seem to define and limit the divine in a manner which seems to contradict the idea[…]

Sad Paradise: Jack Kerouac’s Nostalgic Buddhism

Jack Kerouac’s study of Buddhism started in earnest in 1953 and is traditionally believed to have ended in 1958. Abstract This paper considers the relationship between Kerouac’s Buddhist practice and his multi-layered nostalgia. Based on a close reading of his unpublished diaries from the mid-1950s through mid-1960s, I argue that Buddhism was a means of[…]

“The Godly Greedy Appetite”: New Religious Relic Circulation in the Early Modern World

England became one of the greatest producers of new Catholic relics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Abstract Having lost all monasteries and a good deal of its medieval Christian movable assets, England became one of the greatest producers of new Catholic relics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This article aims to look, from[…]

The English Reformation: Tradition and Change

Introduction The English Reformation was part of a European-wide phenomenon to reform the church which began in 1517 when legend has it that the German monk and theologian Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (propositions for discussion) to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg to be debated publicly. Chief among these was the church[…]

The Crusades: Consequences and Effects

Many exaggerated claims have been made concerning the effects and consequences of the crusades on life in the Middle Ages and later. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The crusades of the 11th to 15th century CE have become one of the defining events of the Middle Ages in both Europe and the Middle East. The campaigns[…]

The Crusades: Causes and Goals

What were the motivating factors for crusaders, from the Pope to the humblest warrior? By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Crusades were a series of military campaigns organised by Christian powers in order to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land back from Muslim control. There would be eight officially sanctioned crusades between 1095 CE and 1270[…]

Religious Developments in Ancient India

Hinduism stood for a wide variety of related religious traditions native to India. Introduction For well over 1,000 years, sacred stories and heroic epics have made up the mythology of Hinduism. Nothing in these complex yet colourful legends is fixed and firm. Pulsing with creation, destruction, love, and war, it shifts and changes. Most myths occur in several different[…]

The Initiation of Religions in Ancient India

The Upanishads are the philosophical account deemed to be the earliest source of Hindu religion. Introduction The religious practices of the early Indo-Aryans, known as the Vedic  religion (1500 BCE to 500 BCE) were written down and later redacted into the Samhitas, four canonical collections of hymns or mantras, called the Veda, in archaic Sanskrit. The Late Vedic age[…]

Religious Change and the Ottoman Empire, 1450-1750

How did the Ottomans shape the political and religious history of early modern Europe? Introduction The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest-lasting empires in world history, stretching across the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Northern Africa at its zenith in the sixteenth century. Many European observers of the time experienced and depicted[…]

Religious Wars in Early Modern Europe

The splintering of the medieval church ushered in a volatile new era of increased anxiety, tension, and religious fervor during. Introduction For nearly 150 years, the battle for “true” Christianity tore early modern Europe apart. The spiritual divisions created by the Protestant Reformation led to a series of international and domestic conflicts that caused incalculable destruction and[…]

The Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Democratization of Magic in Post-Reformation England

How monks, friars and monastic sites became associated with magic in popular tradition, resulting in a lasting stereotype of medieval monks and friars as the masters of occult knowledge. Abstract The dissolution of the monasteries in England (1536–1540) forced hundreds of former inmates of religious houses to seek livelihoods outside the cloister to supplement meagre[…]

“Such Fictitious Evil Spirits”: Adriaan Koerbagh’s Rejection of Biblical Demons and Demonic Possession, 1668

The devil, once a part of the sacred truth, could now be seen as a fragment of a human cultural heritage. Introduction This paper traces Adriaan Koerbagh’s interpretation of biblical devils and scriptural instances of demonic possession in his 1668 Een Ligt Schijnende in Duystere Plaatsen (A light shining in dark places). Koerbagh’s book is a radical[…]

Design Principles of Early Stone Pagodas in Ancient Korean Architecture

The ancients constructed the pagodas complying with design principles based on the arithmetic and geometric proportional systems. By Dr. Juhwan Cha, Professor of Architecture, Tsinghua UniversityBy Dr. Young Jae Kim, Professor of Architecture, Korea National University of Cultural Heritage Abstract Ancient books on East Asian mathematics introduced to the Korean Peninsula enrich our understanding of[…]

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[…]