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Photo of a mural of Jesus on a church in Los Angeles

Posted: 19 April 2017

Easter may be the biggest festival of the year for Christians, but in the UK, Jesus Christ has apparently slipped to fourth place on the list of things most people associate with Easter. Ranking just above the Easter bunny and just below hot cross buns, only 55% of people connect Easter with Jesus, according to a new YouGov survey. That figure drops to 44% for 18-24 year-olds. Here’s the YouGov top five:

Chocolate Easter eggs (76%)
Bank holiday (67%)
Hot cross buns (62%)
Jesus Christ (55%)
Easter bunny (49%)

Several commenters on the YouGov website blamed slipping educational standards for the decline of knowledge about Jesus, but others linked the survey to research carried out in 2015 by the Church of England and others which found that 39% of adults in England did not believe Jesus...

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Photo of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, one of the sites claimed to be the original tomb of Jesus

Posted: 15 April 2017

When he was a student, Richard Burridge, who had no time for religion, was challenged by a friend to ‘prove it’s all rubbish and help people like me stop believing in fairy stories’. He looked at the story of the resurrection of Jesus, and became convinced it was true. Now a New Testament scholar, and Dean of King’s College London, Richard Burridge talks to Nigel Bovey about the resurrection.

Professor Burridge, is the concept of resurrection unique to Christianity?

No. The ancient Egyptians believed in gods who died and rose again. What’s unique to Christianity is the claim that a living human being – a man who walked and talked among us – died and rose again. That is a very different idea from myths about dying and rising deities.

What does the Bible mean by the word...

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Photo of a statue of Martin Luther

Posted: 31 March 2017

Over the past month, these are the events in faith, science and culture that have been catching our attention.

31 MarchRalph Ellis, an author with no university affiliation, has gained a lot of media attention by claiming that a coin showing the head of an ancient King of Edessa (pictured above) is actually the earliest known likeness of Jesus Christ. Ellis has acknowledged his claim is controversial, but others have gone further by saying it is on a level with claiming the pyramids were built by aliens. Simon Gathercole of Cambridge University says the argument is ‘crackers’, while Francesca Stavrakopoulou of Exeter University says, ‘It’s a theory that’s so wacky it’s completely beyond the realms of scholarly debate.’

30 MarchIn China, a resurgence of religious faith...

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Photo of part of the Roman acqueduct at Caesarea

Posted: 28 March 2017

Photo of the cover of the book Digging for EvidenceImagine the excitement of brushing away the soil from some ancient stone or pottery shard and finding an inscription mentioning someone previously known only from ancient documents. Imagine what it would be like to unearth a building mentioned in the Gospels that Jesus and the disciples actually visited. Can you imagine discovering something which has been hidden for 2,000 years?

These things really happen. The evidence of archaeology can help us interpret certain biblical texts, as well as providing an independent way to check the Bible’s historical reliability. While the critics of the Christian faith continue to argue against the trustworthiness of the New Testament record, many new archaeological finds have been on the side of scripture, rather than the sceptics.

To illustrate the...

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Photo of the head of a robot

Posted: 16 January 2017

In the near future, our world will probably be populated by artificial intelligence and robots. How will this affect work, relationships and religion? Nigel Bovey talks to Dr Beth Singler, anthropologist of religion and Research Associate at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Singler, in the past you have researched the New Age movement and new religious movements, such as Scientology and Jediism. What are you investigating now?

I am part of a team researching the social and religious implications of advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. We are not building or programming robots, or trying to create AI; rather, we are looking at the impact on humans of potentially near-human machines.

Will robots running the world be more...

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Photo of Mark Zuckerberg

Posted: 12 January 2017

There was a surprise on Facebook on Christmas Day when Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the social network site, wished his followers a ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah’. His greeting attracted 27,000 comments, but one of the first, posted by José Antonio, asked, ‘But Aren’t You atheist?’ Zuckerberg responded, ‘No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.’

clipping from Mark Zuckerberg Facebook post

Mark Zuckerberg was widely claimed as an atheist for the simple reason that his Facebook profile had once listed it as his religious preference. According to Beliefnet, he declared his atheism when he was 13. Along with Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) and Elon Musk (SpaceX), Zuckerberg was one of the...

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Photo of the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Posted: 02 January 2017

Over the past month, these are the events in faith, science and culture that have been catching our attention.

25 DecemberMark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has apparently rediscovered religion. A self-declared atheist for several years, Zuckerberg posted a message on Christmas Day wishing Facebookers a ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah’. When a commenter asked, ‘But aren’t you atheist?’ Zuckerberg replied, ‘No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.’ The speculation is that a meeting with the Pope in the summer, plus prayer at a Buddhist shrine in China a year earlier, were important milestones.

23 DecemberMartin Scorsese’s new film Silence was released and has been...

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Photo of a Doctors of the World Christmas card image, showing the three wise men with a drone

Posted: 24 December 2016

Nativity scenes are in the news every Christmas because, reliably, the Baby Jesus is kidnapped from nativities placed outside churches and homes, and in town squares. This year alone, the Bethlehem baby has been stolen from the towns of Pine Grove and Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, Perth in Scotland and Ladywood in Central Birmingham. Even a knitted nativity in the window of a second-hand shop in Basingstoke was lifted. Some churches have responded by installing a GPS tracker in their nativity statues.

The traditional nativity scene is said to have been invented by St Francis of Assisi. He staged a live nativity in a cave in 1223, complete with people and animals, partly as a way of getting people to focus on the birth of Christ, rather than on feasting and gift-giving. His tableau...

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Photo of silhouetted man reading a book by a tree

Posted: 23 December 2016

There have been some stellar books published in the last months of 2016 in the area where faith, spirituality, history, science and culture meet. Here are just seven which caught our eye and look well worth reading.

Hidden Christmas
The Surprising Truth behind the Birth of Christ, by Timothy Keller
Everyone thinks they know the Christmas story, but New York author Tim Keller takes a fresh look at the arrival of Jesus, with a strong focus on the women in the birth stories. Says the Methodist Recorder, ‘In this surprising take on the Christmas story, the author reveals how, by focusing on the women in the Christmas narratives, a colourful, scandalous and refreshing tale of grace emerges.’

A Dictionary of Atheism
By Lois Lee and Stephen Bullivant
This new dictionary by OUP offers more...

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Photo of Dr Andrew Davison

Posted: 22 November 2016

With doctorates in natural sciences and in theology, scientist and priest Dr Andrew Davison is the Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. He is also the author of several books, including The Love of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy for Theologians. He talks to Nigel Bovey about the overlapping worlds of science, philosophy and faith.

Dr Davison, how did you get into science?

As a child, I was fascinated by chemistry and would buy discarded chemistry sets from my school friends. I read chemistry at Oxford. I followed that with a doctorate in biochemistry, where I was looking at the metabolism of molecules that make up the fatty membranes of cells, with particular reference to lymphoma in the liver.

Where did the interest in theology...

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Photos at the top of this column by:
Taro Taylor and Jon Sullivan