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Beyond Belief


Series exploring the place and nature of faith in today's world

Series exploring the place and nature of faith in today's world
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Series exploring the place and nature of faith in today's world




Jane Eyre

Today's special edition of Beyond Belief comes from the library in the Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It was here that Charlotte Bronte conceived the plot of her best known work, 'Jane Eyre'. Religion features large in this novel - which isn't surprising as Charlotte was the daughter of Irish priest Patrick Bronte, the curate for many years of St Michael and All Angel's Church in Haworth. What is surprising though, is that some critics at the time...



The annual Met Gala - which takes place in New York tonight - is often described as "fashion's biggest night out". It is a fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art that welcomes celebrities from all walks of life and fashion industry paragons alike. It also signifies the opening of the NY Costume Institute's annual fashion exhibition which this year has the title 'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination'. Religion has had an impact on the way we dress for many...



There is a certain way of saying the word 'spinster' that gives it implications of disapproval or even pity; as if for a woman, not being married is an inferior state. Why does it sound so unpleasant? And why is it more acceptable to be a bachelor than a spinster? Could part of the blame lie in religious traditions with their stress on the centrality of the family? Today women are forging careers and putting off marriage and babies. Is there a positive role for single women in religious...


Sacred Spaces

Most people have a sacred space, a place which is special to them. It could be a beach, a mountain top, a building, even a sports ground - but why have they become 'sacred'? Many of the grandest sacred spaces have been created by the world's religions but what were their creators trying to achieve? Are there certain characteristics which define a sacred space and if so, are they still valid today To discuss sacred spaces, Professor Robert Beckford is joined by Ben Quash (Professor of...



For many years, transgender people have remained silent. But today they are affirming publicly that they have a rightful place in society and religious groups are now grappling with transgender issues. The Church of England General Synod recently debated a motion to draw up a prayer to welcome people who have transitioned from one sex to another. The House of Bishops turned it down. The Bible asserts that God made mankind in his own image; so what's the problem? Presumably he made people...


The Good Friday Agreement

Beyond Belief The Good Friday Agreement Short Desc Ernie Rea in conversation with guests about the place of faith in today's complex world. Medium Desc Ernie Rea in conversation with guests about role of the churches in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement. Long Desc What role should the churches in Northern Ireland be playing now that peace has come to the Province? More than any other organisations, they should know the meaning of compassion, truth, mercy and forgiveness but...


Sacred Gardens

Gardens have long been sacred spaces for many religions and at Easter, Christians reflect on the Garden of Gethsemane - the place of Jesus' arrest and betrayal. When Christians and Muslims imagine what Paradise might be like, they nearly always reflect on gardens. The Garden of Eden can be found in both the Bible and the Quran. Sacred Gardens are places of sanctuary and contemplation and for many they represent Paradise on earth. But what do they represent for religions which do not have a...



For the Christian world, January 1st is New Years' Day but for many religious communities it is not a particularly auspicious day because religious calendars differ and, consequently, different religions celebrate the beginning of their New Year on different dates. The difference in religious calendars is just one way in which religions disagree about the nature of time. Some, notably Christianity, Judaism and Islam think it is linear; that time began at the moment of creation and is...


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Tiny Tim's "God Bless Us, Every One!" is the rousing conclusion to Charles Dickens' festive fable A Christmas Carol. But what is the Christian message behind this enduring story? Joining Ernie to discuss Charles Dickens' faith and the religious themes in his work are three fans, all of whom have written books about him: actor Simon Callow, author Claire Tomalin and John Bowen - Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York. Also interviewed is Rev Cheryl Kincaid, an...



During Hanukkah - the Jewish Festival of Lights - Ernie Rea takes a look at the symbolism and use of light in Judaism and other religions. He is joined by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism; Alan Williams, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Religion at Manchester University; and by Denis Blackledge SJ, Parish priest of the of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool. Producer: Beena Khetani.


The Good Samaritan

Politicians these days are not much given to quoting the Bible; but the Good Samaritan is the exception. Mrs Thatcher pointed out that he was only in a position to help because he was rich. Gordon Brown touched on the parable in support of bailing out the banks. Hilary Benn used it to justify bombing Syria. How can one story be used to support such diverse political policies? Why is it so popular? What resonance does the Good Samaritan have today? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the political...


Swearing an Oath

We all know that lying in a court of law carries serious penalties so do we really need to place our hands on holy books and affirm our sincerity by swearing an oath? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss whether or not there is any place for God in a modern courtroom are Joshua Rosenberg, legal commentator and presenter of Radio 4's Law in Action; family law barrister Jasvir Singh, Chairman of City Sikhs; and Sarah Donaldson a Manchester based barrister and Quaker. Producer: Helen Lee.


Sacred Directions

When you stand in front of the altar in an Anglican or Catholic church, you are almost certainly facing East. The graveyard is very unlikely to be at the north side and if your church is called St Michael's, it will very likely be situated on the North side of your town or city. Cardinal points play an important role in sacred architecture. Is this simply a matter of history and culture or is there something deeper going on? To discuss sacred direction, Ernie Rea is joined by Martin...


The Power of Chanting

Chanting has been practised for thousands of years by Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. It is said to have health benefits and today, practitioners suggest that it can combat the stresses of modern life. Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the power of chanting are Dr Sarah Shaw, Honorary Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies; Christopher Page, Professor of Medieval Music and Literature at the University of Cambridge and Gresham Professor of Music at Gresham College, London; and...


Death Rituals in the Absence of a Body

The rituals of Remembrance Sunday still have power to move us. The thought of the millions who died, many of whom have no known grave; they are victims of war known only to God. For the many families who mourned loved ones killed in the World Wars, the fact that there were no bodies to bury, no tangible evidence of death, made the process of grieving and letting go all the more difficult. But does it pose a problem religiously? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss how we mourn our dead loved ones...


Belief and Unbelief in Russia

A century after the October Revolution Ernie Rea and guests discuss the role of Belief and Unbelief in Russia. Ernie Rea's guests are Victoria Smolkin from Wesleyan University, Connecticut, Felix Corley from Forum 18 and Vera Tolz from the University of Manchester. Producer: Rosie Dawson.


Religious Polls

The first Gallup national poll into religion was carried out in 1935. Ever since - but especially with the arrival of the internet - pollsters have fed a hungry media the latest statistics about belief in God and church attendance. How important is the polling industry to our understanding of religion? What can the polls not tell us? What is their relationship to academic social sciences? Professor Robert Wuthnow from Princeton University argues that polling on religion is a huge waste of...



It is said that behind every great man there is a great woman. The Prophet Muhammad was married many times; but for 25 formative years, he remained faithful to one woman, Khadijah. She is widely recognised as the First Muslim and her story may be surprising to many non-Muslims. She was a successful business woman. She was considerably older than Muhammad, and it was she who proposed to him. She must have been a formidable presence. There are many debates about the place of women in the...


William Blake's Jerusalem

Will Ernie Rea and guests sing William Blake's "Jerusalem" at Last Night of the Proms? In Beyond Belief this week Ernie discusses how the poem of a fiery non-conformist has become the beloved anthem of such disparate groups of people - from union-jack-waving Promenaders to the English Defence League and the Women's Institute. Billy Bragg tells Ernie why he would like "Jerusalem" to be England's National Anthem. Ernie is also joined by the novelist Catherine Fox, poet Malcolm Guite and...



Is it a religious duty to give to beggars? If you go into the centre of a city like Yangon or Bangkok, you will also come across people begging. Among them will be fine robed Buddhist monks with their begging bowls. They're highly respected members of society, following the tradition of religious mendicancy. What differentiates them from what we know as street beggars? What should inform our decision on whether or not to give? Joining Ernie to discuss religious and moral attitudes to...


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