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Heart and Soul


Personal approaches to spirituality from around the world.


London, United Kingdom




Personal approaches to spirituality from around the world.




The Church's slave plantation: Part one

What are the consequences of the Church of England's historic slave plantations in Barbados today? Theologian Robert Beckford considers why and how the Church's missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, got involved in the slavery business. He travels to Barbados to hear from a range of voices who tell the story of how in 1710, the Church turned the Codrington Plantation into a missionary experiment. The original mission failed but later generations did eventually adopt the Anglican faith. However, spurred by the country becoming a republic, some are now questioning the Church's historic role in slavery. For some, it has turned them away from Christianity; for others, there is a need to decolonise or Africanise Anglican Christianity in Barbados. They say the religion's only hope of survival on the island is to make it relevant to the black majority populace. Through the voices of Bajan Anglican worshipers, Robert interrogates what the future of the Church now looks like in terms of practice and governance in Barbados. Presenter: Robert Beckford Producer: Rajeev Gupta


Sikhism’s lost song

In the heyday of the Sikh Empire, Kirtan - Sikh hymns - were performed using stringed instruments such as the sarangi, rabab and taus. The rich, complex tones these instruments create are said to evoke a deeper connection to Waheguru (God). But in the late 19th Century, these traditional instruments were replaced by European imports like the harmonium. Now a new generation of diaspora Sikhs is painstakingly rebuilding that musical heritage - restoring scores and gathering to teach and learn traditional instruments. In 2022, the Akal Takht, the highest temporal authority for Sikhs, signalled a revival of stringed instruments in the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine. But can they attract and train enough musicians to put strings back at the heart of Sikh worship? Monika Plaha meets one these musical pioneers, Harjinder Singh Lallie, and finds out how his beliefs fuel his work and how his music shapes his faith. Producer: Rachel Briggs and Ajai Singh Presenter: Monika Plaha Editor: Helen Grady Production co-ordinator: Mica Nepomuceno Come with us! Heart and Soul is moving and we would love it if you can join us. You can now find all our episodes on The Documentary, the home of original, global storytelling, from the BBC World Service. Search for The Documentary, wherever you found this podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe or follow.


Clergy in cartel land

Mexico has become the most dangerous country in the world to be a Catholic priest. In the past 15 years, 50 were killed in narco-related violence. And the young men who enter the priesthood in the region of western Mexico known as Tierra Caliente, meaning "hot land", are at particular risk. They will have to work in drug cartel-controlled communities, may have gang leaders or members in their congregations and will struggle with the ethical and theological dilemmas of publicly condemning these men’s actions at the risk of being murdered for speaking out. Even baptisms or delivering communion or receiving donations can prove extremely threatening: to refuse them any of the most sacred rituals of the Church is to defy the cartels. And few live to tell the tale having refused to bend to the cartels’ demands. The BBC’s Mexico Correspondent, Will Grant travels to Tierra Caliente to meet a group of seminarians. In recent years, their director was attacked and almost killed. Members of a drug cartel entered their seminary, dragged off one of their colleagues and murdered him in the surrounding countryside. And the grave to one of their instructors is nestled by the chapel. All reminders, if any were needed, that these young men are about to join the world’s most dangerous priesthood. How are they prepared? Do they appreciate just what they are letting themselves in for? And how will they tackle the thorny ethical and spiritual questions which lie ahead as priests? Come with us! Heart and Soul is moving and we would love it if you can join us. You can now find all our episodes on The Documentary, the home of original, global storytelling, from the BBC World Service. Search for The Documentary, wherever you found this podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe or follow.


Purity to nudity

Gwen was brought up as a strict evangelical Christian. She was taught that women needed to control the way they dressed and acted to control the behaviour of men. When she was sexually abused, she believed it was her fault. But when she first stepped into a nudist community, she felt free. She was naked, with other naked people, and her nakedness was not making other people molest her. She learnt that her body was not something she had to hide. The BBC’s Josie Le Vay visits Gwen at her home in a nudist community in Florida, USA, as she reconciles with the harm purity culture has caused herself, and those she taught it to. We meet Gwen’s neighbour, Michael, a retired chaplain and pastor, who runs nude bible reading sessions from his home and attends the nearby Garden of Eden church, which celebrates the ‘joy and innocence of Christian naturism’. And we hear how those who practise many of the evangelical teachings Gwen grew up with respond to her new nudist lifestyle; and her Christian friends who believe the Bible justifies their way of life. Producer: Michael Gallagher Presenter: Josie Le Vay Editor: Helen Grady Production co-ordinator: Mica Nepomuceno Come with us! Heart and Soul is moving and we would love it if you can join us. You can now find all our episodes on The Documentary, the home of original, global storytelling, from the BBC World Service. Search for The Documentary, wherever you found this podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe or follow.


My hijab or my sport

It took Salimata Sylla three hours to get to the away fixture she was due to play with her basketball team mates from the Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers. But it was only a few minutes before the match started that she learned she was going to sit the game out on the bench. Despite playing for more than 10 years in the French Championship, the federation that controls her sport decided to apply the rule that forbids female basketball players from wearing the hijab. Her coach describes her as the backbone of the team and an ambassador for the sport. She has been a face of basketball for many big brands on social media. And the hijab she wears is sold by mainstream sportswear manufacturers. Salimata’s ban is the latest in country where the right to wear a hijab has long divided opinion. But in her case, it raises an interesting dilemma for France. While domestic sporting federations enforce their ban on the hijab, their international counterparts have no such ban in place. So what will happen, Salimata wonders, when the Olympics come to Paris next year? Reporter Claire Jones goes to Paris to meet Salimata to find out how she can resolve her wish to express her Muslim faith by wearing a hijab with her desire to play the sport she loves. Presenter: Claire Jones Location Producer: Léontine Gallois Producer: Helen Lee and Rob Cave Production co-ordinator: Mica Nepomuceno


An instrument speaking to the infinite

The organ has always been a vehicle for truly cosmic ideas - for atheists and believers alike. Acclaimed Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna explores the idea that the instrument is simply a vehicle for Christian worship digging deeper into how the organ conveys ideas of the infinite and the microscopic, the existential and the personal, of celebration, grief and joy. Presenter: Iveta Apkalna Producer: Steven Rajam An Overcoat Media production for BBC World Service (Photo: Pipe organ by Nikolaus Moll in the Innsbruck Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St. James in Innsbruck, Austria. Credit: Getty Images)


Two Rabbis, worlds apart in Israel

When we think of division in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict normally comes straight to mind. But there’s a new and dangerous tension in Israel – between its own Jewish people. The country now has its most right-wing government for decades, with controversial figures who’ve advocated violence and divisive policies. There’s also a plan to change the judicial system to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a small number of government figures vast control. Its critics say Israel is in danger of becoming a ‘democratic dictatorship’. This political shift is now pitting ordinary Israeli Jews against each other. The ultra-orthodox Haredim and their conservative supporters are at odds with more liberal elements of society. Former Defence Minister Benny Gantz – a powerful figure in the former government – has even raised the spectre of a civil war in Israel, telling the new politicians that they’ll be responsible if a new conflict breaks out. As efforts are made to maintain peace and hold the country together, the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent Yolande Knell meets two rabbis who are odds with one another in the heart of Jerusalem. Surrounded by the religious iconography that should symbolise the links between them, she explores why the two ends of the spectrum now find themselves so far apart. And she tries to persuade them to come together over a meal to find out if there’s any way to bridge the gaping political and theological differences in their thinking. But will they be willing to meet? Presenter: Yolande Knell Producer: Rajeev Gupta Editor: Helen Grady Production Coordinator: Mica Nepomuceno


Coming out of the Ifá closet

Almost 10 years ago, Peter MacJob’s life changed forever. Born and raised a devout Christian like so many of his fellow Nigerians, he fell out of love with the Church and discovered the traditional Yoruba religion of his ancestors. Other Africans appear to be doing the same thing, both on the continent and throughout the diaspora. But as Peter has found, it is not always easy to convert: Ifá, or Isese, involves effigies, divination, and making offerings to a range of deities, up to and including animal sacrifice. Those not initiated into the faith often see it as superstitious and even sinister. Devotees say that outsiders misunderstand, and complain that Ifá is pejoratively depicted as devil worship. It is perhaps little wonder that after Peter adopted Ifá, he chose not to tell his family about it. But now he has decided it is time to come clean, taking a trip back to Nigeria to confront childhood friends and loved ones, in the hope that they will give their blessing. Presenter: Peter MacJob Producer: Michael Gallagher Strand producer: Rajeev Gupta Production co-ordinator: Mica Nepomuceno Editor: Helen Grady


Stripped of my spirituality

Aged four, Mary was playing in her parents’ front yard, when she was grabbed by “the government people” and taken to a Catholic boarding school to be turned into a Christian. She’s just one of thousands of Native Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and put into boarding schools from the 1800s right up to the 1970s. According to a US government report, the purpose of these schools was to strip indigenous people of their spiritual beliefs, culture and land. A government investigation also found that physical, emotional and sexual abuse was “rampant”. Indigenous Americans’ spiritual beliefs are now experiencing a renaissance, but is this revival enough to enable Mary and her friends heal from a childhood of trauma in America’s residential schools? Presenter: Leana Hosea Producer: Leana Hosea with Rajeev Gupta Production co-ordinator: Nancy Bennie Editor: Helen Grady


The cost of being an atheist in Nigeria

When Mubarak Bala posts criticism of Islam on social media, it sparks a landmark legal case and leaves him facing 24 years in jail. Raised in a Muslim family, Mubarak is the son of an Islamic scholar in the religiously conservative Kano state. But in 2014, Mubarak renounces Islam and later becomes president of Nigeria’s Humanist Association, gaining a reputation as an outspoken critic of religion. In 2020, a group of Muslim lawyers call for him to be tried for offences related to blasphemy over social media posts which they say insult the Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam. With access to Mubarak’s wife and lawyers, the BBC’s Yemisi Adegoke follows his case through the Nigerian court system, finding out what it tells us about freedom of belief in a country where religious tensions run deep. She talks to other Nigerian atheists as they follow Mubarak’s case and wrestle with the challenges of being open about their beliefs in a deeply religious society. Presenter: Yemisi Adegoke Producers: Valeria Cardi and John Offord Production co-ordinator: Mica Nepomuceno Editor: Helen Grady (Photo: Mubarak Bala speaking at Kaduna Book and Arts Festival in 2018, still from the film The Cost of Being an Atheist)


The Right Thing: Framed by my brother

In July 2000 Floyd Bledsoe was convicted of the murder of his 14-year-old sister-in-law in the small Kansas town of Oskaloosa. His older brother Tom had originally confessed to the killing, but later changed his story, accusing Floyd of the crime. A committed Christian, Floyd spent the next 15 years fighting his conviction, and wrestling with the Bible’s teaching to forgive those who have done us wrong. Could he forgive Tom for what he had done? Or his parents, who had sided with one son over the other? Mike Wooldridge speaks to Floyd about his ordeal and about his struggle to do the right thing by his faith. Mike also hears from a volunteer prison chaplain who helped Floyd resolve his dilemma, and from a family friend who stuck by Floyd when others in his own church turned their backs on him. Producer: Mike Lanchin A CTVC production for the BBC World Service Archive material courtesy of the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World (Photo: ​Floyd Bledsoe, 2015. Credit: Midwest Innocence Project)


The Right Thing: Opposing sexual violence as a weapon of war

**Contains graphic details of sexual violence against women and children** As a young boy, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege witnessed his father, a Pentecostal pastor, praying for a sick child. It made him want to help people who suffer – not as a pastor, despite his own Christian faith, but as a doctor. Fast forward to 1999, and Denis Mukwege founded Panzi hospital in Bukavu, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Rwandan border. There, over the last 20 years, he has treated tens of thousands of women with gynaecological trauma, caused by the extreme sexual violence which has become a weapon of war in this volatile part of the world. Rich in coveted mineral resources, the area is the scene of a large-scale conflict involving countless armed rebel groups. But Dr Mukwege was not just helping women; he was also speaking out against the cruelty of this conflict. This led to several attempts on his life. Fearing for his family, Denis Mukwege went into exile, but the women who saw him as their only hope launched a big campaign to persuade him to return. Mike Wooldridge talks to Denis Mukwege about his life’s work and how his Christian faith has motivated him to disregard his own safety and bring new hope to women who, without his help, would be looking ahead to a life of ostracism and pain. If you have been affected by sexual abuse or violence, details of help and support in the UK is available at bbc.co.uk/actionline. Producer: Lore Wolfson Windemuth A CTVC production for the BBC World Service (Photo: Dr Mukwege. Credit: Alexis Huguet/Panzi Foundation)


The Viking priest

The Ásatrú faith is Iceland's fastest growing religion. Drawing on Norse mythology, it is a pagan faith open to all. But in recent years it has been hijacked by white supremacists in other countries. We follow High Priest, Hilmar Hilmarsson, as he attempts to tackle this critical challenge and protect his faith’s true origins. When white supremacists marched through Charlottesville in 2017, Hilmar looked on from Reykjavik. It was not just their racist message that worried him. It was the fact their banners bore the symbols of his faith such as Thor's hammer. Ásatrú, according to Hilmar, emphasises respect and tolerance, reviving polytheistic traditions and the worship of gods and goddesses from Iceland’s pre-Christian past. Thanks to his position and the fact he has become so well respected both inside and beyond Iceland, Hilmar has an authority recognised by the Icelandic state to conduct weddings and funerals and lead the rituals or "blots" that the group practise to mark the passing year - a 21st Century reimagining of how pre-Christian Norse people celebrated their seasons. We join him as the community gather around him and prepare for the welcoming of the winter blot. But Hilmar has also received disturbing messages and even death threats from far- right pagans in the US, Germany and Canada who do not agree with his inclusive belief system and his support for gay marriage and LGBTQ rights. We follow him as he looks forward to the opening of the group’s first temple while under pressure to distance the religion from white supremacy. Producer: Sarah Cuddon A Falling Tree production for BBC World Service (Photo: High Priest Hilmar Hilmarsson. Credit: Gavin Haines)


The battle for souls in Nepal

Nepal has one of fastest growing Christian communities in the world. Helping to drive the growth are South Korean missionaries like Pang Chang-in and his wife Lee Jeong-hee. The couple’s work spreading the word of Jesus is risky. Those found guilty of converting people face up to five years in jail in Nepal. The BBC’s Asia editor Rebecca Henschke and Korean journalist Kevin Kim follow the couple as they open new churches and teach the next generation of Nepali Christian leaders. This is a rare insight into an organised and increasingly controversial Korean mission, spreading the Christian faith high in the Himalayans. Presented by: Rebecca Henschke Produced with: Kevin Kim, Rajan Parajuli, Rama Parajuli and Rajeev Gupta (Photo: Pang and his wife)


Pope Benedict XVI: A life and legacy

In this special programme to mark the death of Pope Benedict XVI, Colm Flynn explores the life story of the gentle German academic who became the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholics all over the world. The 95-year old Pope Emeritus died at the Vatican on New Year’s Eve 2022. He will perhaps be best remembered as the first Pope to retire in 600 years. But his life and legacy is much more complicated and varied, with a papacy filled with both majestic spiritual moments and embarrassing and hurtful blunders. Benedict led the Catholic Church for fewer than eight years but is considered by many to be one of the most influential religious leaders of modern times. Born Joseph Ratzinger in rural Bavaria, he has a deeply religious upbringing and trained for the priesthood along with his brother. Before becoming a bishop, he was a professor of theology, teaching in several universities. He embraced the spirit of change that blew through the Catholic Church in the 1960s, gaining a reputation as a progressive at the Second Vatican Council. But in later life, as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, he defended Catholic teaching fearlessly, even earning the nickname “God’s Rottweiler”. As Pope, Benedict spoke out against what he called "the dictatorship of relativism", and produced deeply moving spiritual writings, drawing many young people to the Catholic faith. His papal visits always draw huge crowds and those who met him describe a gentle, kind and self-effacing man. His Papacy was overshadowed by the breaking scandals of decades of sexual abuse in the Church. And while Pope Benedict introduced ground-breaking reforms to tackle abuse, campaigners for survivors say he failed to deal with hundreds of cases. Presenter/producer: Colm Flynn Editor: Helen Grady Image: Pope Benedict XVI, pictured in 2020 (Credit: Leon Neal/PA)


Christmas with the cooking priest

Fr Leo Patalinghug is not your typical priest. In one hand he holds a cross, in the other a cooking spatula. With his own international TV show, YouTube channel and cookbooks, this apron-wearing minister is on a mission – to share his faith through food. Growing up on an island in the Philippines, where money was tight, Leo and his family sometimes struggled to put food on the table. It was after moving to the United States that they got a start in life and, from a young age, Leo was always passionate about cooking. But his other great passion in life was his Catholic faith. And when he finally made the decision to enter religious life and become a priest, he was determined to use cooking to tell people about Christ. As he puts it: “I want to change hearts and minds by going through your stomach.” Presenter Colm Flynn travels to Baltimore in the US to meet Fr Leo in his kitchen and at the food van where he and a team of volunteers feed the homeless of their hometown. He explains how he believes Jesus was a foodie, and how a good meal, made with love, can nourish our souls as well as our bodies.


The Iran protests

Iran has seen months of protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who was detained by the country's ‘morality police’ (Gasht-e Ershad) on 16 September, three days after her arrest in Tehran. As women-led protests intensify, with calls for freedom against strict dress codes and mandatory hijab, and demands for regime change, Heart and Soul brings together three Iranian women from different walks of life. The BBC’s Faranak Amidi leads the conversation which explores religion, personal faith and the struggle for independence from state-controls on religious practices. Image: An Iranian flag (Credit: Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images)


Poland's Jews: Caught between, never home

For centuries, Poland was home to millions of Jews in the heart of Europe. Decades after the horrors of the Holocaust, questions of lost identity have arisen. What is it like to be a third-generation Jew in present-day Poland? We meet Małgorzata, who was born into a Jewish family in the late 1980s. She says being a Jew in Poland today means people think you are neither truly Jewish, nor Polish. She is just one of millions of third-generation Jewish people across Central Europe attempting to make sense of an identity that cannot be changed, reversed or erased. Producer: Bartosz Panek Presenter: John Beauchamp A Free Range and Overcoat Media Co-production for BBC World Service (Photo: Małgorzata, with kind permission)


Arizona's desert crosses

Alvaro Enciso is a Vietnam veteran, and an artist. He arrived in the US from Colombia in his 20s, and now lives in Tucson, on the south-eastern edge of the unforgiving Sonoran Desert. If you’re a migrant, this is one of the deadliest places to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. Every Tuesday, Alvaro does something extraordinary. Together with a group of volunteers, a GPS, cement and shovels, he journeys off-road through the dust and the cacti. He has a map provided by the County’s Medical Examiner. On it, there are thousands of red spots - the locations where human remains have been found over the last two decades. When he arrives at one of them, Alvaro and his team dig a deep hole, fill it with cement, and place a decorated wooden cross in that spot... A testament to a life lost, and a visual remembrance of someone’s struggle to fulfil their human potential. So far, Alvaro Enciso has placed 1300 crosses in the Sonoran Desert. At first, he didn’t want to use a Christian symbol, but then he started to look more deeply at the history of the cross. He researched how crucifixion made death as painful as possible in Roman times, so that those who were crucified died in excruciating circumstances with no access to food or water. Alvaro Enciso saw a parallel with the way migrants expire on their journey north. For Heart and Soul, Linda Pressly journeys into the Sonoran Desert with Alvaro and his team. Producer: Tim Mansel and Linda Pressley


Turtle Island and the Black Snake

Native American Anishinaabe people have been living around the Great Lakes since time immemorial, following spiritual beliefs centred around the water. But they say their way of life is being threatened by an oil pipeline sitting on the bed of the Straits of Mackinac, a volatile waterway connecting two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The Line 5 pipeline has been there for 69 years, but only came to public attention after a major oil spill in Michigan led to its discovery. The company that owns the pipeline insist it is safe. But its location is central to the Anishinaabe people’s creation story, positioned as it is in the heart of North America, or Turtle Island as the Anishinaabe call it. They believe they have a sacred oath with The Creator to protect the Great Lakes, which contain a fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. The BBC’s Leana Hosea meets some of the tribes affected in their Michigan reservations and follows their fight to protect their faith and traditions in modern America. Photo Credit: Gerardo Reyes