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[…]

The Nature and Function of Auspicia in Ancient Roman Religion and Politics

Introduction Auspicia, the reading of birds’ behavior by religious figures, became officially accepted during the Roman Republic. The subject of Auspicia has been studied by a plethora of subjects. Academics in history, sociology and religious studies are intrigued by the development and impact of auspicia on the Roman political and religious systems. As with any[…]

Women’s Voice and Religious Utterances in Ancient Greece

Examining religious utterances such as curses, supplication, and prayer, as reflected in some passages from ancient Greek epic and tragedy. Introduction This paper tackles the issue of women and religion through a particular looking glass: religious utterances such as curses, supplication, and prayer, as reflected in some passages from ancient Greek epic and tragedy—pivotal literary[…]

The Priestess Pythia at the Ancient Delphic Oracle

The role of priestess at Delphi was enormously influential. She was consulted on everything from warfare to love to public policy. Introduction In a time and place that offered few career opportunities for women, the job of the priestess of Apollo at Delphi stands out. Her position was at the centre of one of the[…]

How Ancient China’s Mengzi Came Up with Something Better Than the Golden Rule

Care about me because you see how I am not really so different from others you already love. There’s something I don’t like about the ‘Golden Rule’, the admonition to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Consider this passage from the ancient Chinese philosopher Mengzi (Mencius): That which people are[…]

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,[…]