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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


London, United Kingdom




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





There are growing reports of couples opting for private wedding ceremonies or even resorting to marrying online during lockdown. On a less celebratory note, the divorce rates in China are said to have rocketed after their lockdown ended. There are concerns that the same will happen in the UK after weeks of couples living in isolation together. Is it time to accept that marriage has had its day? Or has marriage simply acquired a different meaning in the 21st century? Dr Katie Edwards...



During the lockdown, with gyms shut and exercise outdoors restricted, social media is littered with anecdotes of people putting on weight or turning to diet plans. Most religious traditions have some kind of rules when it comes to what we eat. From Lent to Yom Kippur, from Karva Chauth, to Ramadan many religious followers observe days of abstinence. So why is the relationship between food, fasting and faith so meaningful for so many? Dr Katie Edwards discusses faith, food and fasting with Dr...



2020 marks 250 years since the birth of William Wordsworth, one of England's most celebrated poets. Wordsworth and his friend and colleague Samuel Taylor Coleridge were pioneers of English Romanticism and they produced works including The Excursion, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and The Prelude. Religion and nature were great sources of inspiration and debate for both men. Wordsworth's childhood home, The English Lake District, was alive with different and often 'dissenting' ideas about...


Religion Online

Covid-19 has had us all scrambling to adapt to life in lockdown. But the period of lockdown also coincided with a number of key religious festivals from Easter to Passover, Vaisakhi to Ramadan. This in turn has led to a flourishing of new and inventive ways for religious communities to mark their holy days. But religion online is not a new phenomenon and virtual spaces, live streaming and words of wisdom have been available on the internet for many years. So what should our relationship be...



At some point in our lives, most of us will have wondered about what happens after death: is there an afterlife or is there nothingness? For many religions in the East the answer is found in reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that the human spirit inhabits new lives over and over, each time a person dies. Reincarnation is supported by Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. But all these traditions have different views on how and why reincarnation takes places. Today we want to have a deep...


Ethical Investing

It is estimated that religious institutions own trillions of dollars' worth of investments but some have acknowledged that their financial choices have not always reflected their principles. Can faith values help people to choose how to invest their money in ways that align with their ethics? Can new technologies like blockchain provide greater transparency and control, and where are the potential pitfalls for people looking to invest their money? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss ethical...



Easter is the most important time in the life of the Church. It’s the time when Christians retell the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Christians believe that Jesus died to atone for the sins of the world. But what does that actually mean and how do we define what a sin is? Ernie Rea is joined in the studio to discuss what we mean by sin by Dr Gemma Simmonds, Director of the Religious Life Institute in Cambridge; Robyn Ashworth-Steen, Rabbi at Manchester Reform Synagogue and a former...


Religion and Smell

No school nativity play is complete without the Three Wise Men ‘traversing afar’ bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. One of these gifts is frankincense, which for centuries has played a powerful role in many religious rituals. As an important ingredient in incense, its perfumed smoke has been a part of much religious worship since the time of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. So why has smell become an important part of many faiths and how does it enhance religious observance? To discuss these...



This year, the Catholic Church declared John Henry Newman a saint following a lengthy investigation which concluded that two miraculous cures had resulted from the Cardinal’s intercession. It’s not only the Christian Church that believes in miracles. But what actually are they and should we find a new and broader definition for the 21st century? Nuclear scientist Professor Ian Hutchinson; John Thavis, former Rome Bureau Chief for the Catholic News Service and Dr Sarah Shaw, a Fellow of the...


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Although it was written nearly seventy years ago, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ still appears in the top ten favourite children’s books and has sold over 100 million copies in 47 different languages. It's set in the magical Land of Narnia where the White Witch has cast a spell to make sure that it is always winter and Christmas never comes. This changes when four siblings – Lucy, Peter, Susan and Edmund – stumble into Narnia through the back of a wardrobe and defeat the evil that...


Saudi Arabia and Iran

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rivals for many years but recently this rivalry has become more intense. As the two countries struggle for regional dominance, what is the impact of this new ‘Cold War’ on the whole of the Middle East? And why is the tension between the two more complicated than simply a disagreement between Sunni and Shia Muslims? Joining Ernie to discuss this conflict are Iranian academic Dr Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi (Goldsmiths, University of London), Dr Simon Mabon...



As we come to the end of an acrimonious General Election campaign, Beyond Belief attempts to soothe the fractious public mood with a discussion on Friendship. The dictionary defines Friendship as “a state of mutual trust between friends but can friendship survive a deep division of opinion? Can we be friends with someone who holds radically different religious and ethical principles to ours? Can we really describe someone whom we have only met online as a Friend? To discuss these questions...



Who could have predicted that the 13th century Persian poet Rumi would have such a huge presence on the Instagram feeds of post-Millennials? Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi, to give him his full name, was a Sufi master who wrote ecstatic mystical poems about joy and love and the search for divine truth. His poetry would literally move people to dance, which is where the notion of the ‘whirling dervish’ comes from. 800 years on, what is it about the poetry of Rumi that continues to strike a chord...



Frankenstein, the tale of a scientist who creates a creature that ultimately destroyed him, has been a popular subject for films for many years. But the religious content of the original novel written by Mary Shelley is lost on the big screen. Her story centres on the scientist Victor Frankenstein, who plays God. His creation identifies first with Adam and then with Satan in Paradise Lost. He has admirable human qualities but is deprived of love and affection and becomes brutalised. Joining...


The Nature of God

Who or what is God? Assuming here, that he or she exists. The traditional image is that of an old man with a beard, sitting somewhere up there, keeping an eye on his creation. But for many the nature of God has evolved far beyond this. But to what? What do we mean by God in today's world? Can we ever pin down the unknowable and does that matter? Ernie Rea is joined by the Right Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon; Dr Mark Vernon, a Psychotherapist and author of A Secret History of...


The Religion of Spain

500 years ago this summer a fleet of ships left Spain in search of the Spice Islands and a way around the new world. Three years later just one ship returned barely afloat. The first documented circumnavigation of the Earth was complete. The voyage signalled the growth of the Spanish Empire and the spread of Christianity to the new world. The voyage was financed by a Papal grant and Spaniards were committed by Vatican decree to spread Catholicism to the new world. So how do we assess the...


Religion and Climate Justice

Barely a day goes by without some dire warning about the state of the environment. But we also hear that if we act now we may be able to avoid the worst consequences of man-made climate change. The vast majority of the world’s population hold to a faith tradition. So what role can religion play in bringing about the kind of change that is needed? Religion appeals not only to science but to deeply held beliefs and values. Religion can talk the language of hope as opposed to fear and can tap...


Relationship Education

“You say we are homophobic, we say you are Islamophobic”. These were the words of a protester outside a primary school in Birmingham which has found itself on the front line of a culture war. Parents, many of them Muslim, have been protesting against a programme called, “No Outsiders.” According to the school’s website the programme teaches that “Everyone is welcome, regardless of their race, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation and age.” The protesters claim...


The Religion of Game of Thrones

The TV series Game of Thrones has been a world wide phenomenon. Based on a series of books by American novelist George RR Martin, Game of Thrones depicts a medieval-inspired fantasy world torn apart by a violent power struggle. At once fantastical and familiar, it reflects both the political dimensions of various historical time-frames as well as a number of real world belief systems and religions. In this episode of Beyond Belief Ernie Rea and guests explore the way in which religious ideas...



Throughout time trees have inspired awe and a sense of the spiritual. There is a persistent idea running through religious traditions that trees connect us to the heavens. In Judaism, the Torah is called “The Tree of Life.” The Buddha attained Enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi Tree. Our Celtic ancestors venerated the mighty oak and the ancient Yew. Trees provide food, shelter and fuel so they've always been vital to human life on earth but increasingly we are discovering that by...