Beyond Belief



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


  • Scottish Independence

    20/05/2021 Duration: 27min

    In the new Scottish Parliament, a majority of MSPs want independence for Scotland but recent opinion polls suggest that only half the population is in favour. In all the debates, the religious voice has been very muted. That may be because, religious observance in Scotland has plummeted. Over half of people surveyed recently, said that they had no religion. The rise of the independence movement has coincided with a decline in the social significance of religion. So, is nationalism filling the vacuum? To discuss the religious dimensions in the Scottish independence debate, Ernie Rea is joined by the Rev Doug Gay, who is a minister of the Church of Scotland and lectures in Practical Theology at the University of Glasgow; Peter Kearney is Spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland; the Very Rev Kevin Holdsworth is Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow and as such, a senior figure in the Scottish Episcopal Church; and the Rev Kathy Galloway is a Church of Scotland minister and former Leader of the Iona

  • Vodou

    10/05/2021 Duration: 27min

    Ernie Rea takes a look at a religion that emerged on the Caribbean island of Haiti about 500 years ago when the traditional religions of enslaved West Africans merged with the Catholicism of the French colonialists. Here in the West we call it Voodoo; but the correct term is Vodou. 60 million people worldwide practice Vodou. It is thought to have originated in the West African country of Benin where the word ‘Vodou’ means “Spirit” in one of the indigenous languages and the ‘Lwa’ (the Vodou name for Spirits) are central to the religion's belief and practice. Ernie is joined by Her Majesty Queen Mother Dr Dowoti Desir (a Mambo Asogwe - Vodou High Priestess) from her Royal Palace in the city of Ouidah in Benin. Also taking part in the discussion are Dr Louise Fenton (a Senior Lecturer in Contextual Studies at the University of Wolverhampton) and Dr Kyrah Malika Daniels (Assistant Professor of Art History, Africana Studies and Theology at Boston College in the United States). Producer: Helen Lee

  • Myanmar

    03/05/2021 Duration: 26min

    On February 1st, the government in Myanmar was overthrown in a military coup. Aung San Suu Kyi is now being held in prison and hundreds of protestors have been shot on the streets. For many decades, Christians and Muslims have been at the hard end of military oppression. Now the Buddhist majority are feeling the crack of the whip. To discuss Myanmar’s turbulent history and the current crisis, Ernie Rea is joined by Soe Win Than (Editor of the BBC Burmese Service), Khin Ohmar (a democracy and human rights activist noted for her leadership in the 1988 uprising in Myanmar) and by Benedict Rogers (Senior Analyst for East Asia at Christian Solidarity Worldwide). Producer: Helen Lee

  • Dante's Inferno

    26/04/2021 Duration: 27min

    This year marks the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. He is best known as the author of 'The Divine Comedy' which describes his journey through Hell and Purgatory, until he finally reaches Paradise. But it is 'Inferno', containing gruesome descriptions of Hell, that has captured the popular imagination and it is this first part of 'The Divine Comedy' that Ernie Rea discusses with Professor Akash Kumar and Dr Paula Nasti. Ernie also interviews jazz saxophonist and composer Sherman Irby about his jazz ballet score based on Dante's Inferno. Producer: Helen Lee

  • The Vaccine

    19/04/2021 Duration: 27min

    The rollout of the UK’s vaccination programme has been the envy of much of the world but there is concern about the reluctance of people from black and minority ethnic communities to take the vaccine. Ernie Rea asks why this is the case. He also takes a look at the religious reasons contributing to vaccine hesitancy and asks some of the wider ethical questions posed by the vaccine rollout. Who should receive the vaccine first? And how do we address the problem of ‘vaccine nationalism’? Panel: Dr Hina Shahid (GP and Chair of the Muslim Doctors Association) Dr Rosemarie Mallet (Archdeacon of Croydon) Dr Mark Pickering (Chief Executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship) Producer: Helen Lee

  • Prince Philip

    12/04/2021 Duration: 26min

    In all the tributes to Prince Philip, one of the things that surprised many people was that he was a man of deep, personal faith. We knew of his passion for science and technology, his commitment to the environment and his strong sense of duty to Queen and country. We also knew that Christian faith is the driving force in the life of the Queen, but the fact that her husband shared that faith commitment seems to have passed under the radar. To discuss Prince Philip's spiritual life, Ernie Rea is joined by a multi-faith panel: Martin Palmer (The Prince's advisor on religion and the environment), Catherine Pepinster (a writer and commentator on religion and a former editor of The Tablet). Mona Siddiqui (Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh) and Rabbi Jonathan Romain (Maidenhead Reform Synagogue). Producer: Helen Lee

  • Bees

    06/04/2021 Duration: 27min

    In the first of a new series of Beyond Belief, Ernie Rea is joined by three beekeepers. Bees have been important to humans for thousands of years. Honey was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, Aristotle and Virgil wrote about beekeeping and bees and honey get an honourable mention in the scriptures of many religions. There is a whole surah (chapter) in the Qu’ran called ‘The Bee’ ('An-nahl') and the Old Testament refers to Israel as ‘a land of milk and honey’. Bees are vital to our world ecology and they pollinate a third of our crops but their numbers are in decline. To discuss the role of bees and honey in different religious traditions, Ernie is joined by three urban beekeepers: Salma Attan looks after her bees on the roof of the East London Mosque, Rabbi Kelley Gludt tends a hive in Baltimore, Maryland and Adrian Rhodes was the 'Canon Apiarist' at Manchester Cathedral. Producer: Helen Lee

  • Religion and Science in Schools

    04/01/2021 Duration: 27min

    Since Darwin published The Origin of Species, there has been a perceived battle between science and religion. It was not always so. For hundreds of years, science was designed to help people reach a better understanding of God rather than the world. The Enlightenment changed all that. Today schoolchildren are taught science and religion as separate subjects. Are the two incompatible? Would it not be better if science and religion were taught together to help children consider some of the Big Questions of Life? To discuss this subject, Ernie Rea is in debate with Berry Billingsley (Professor in Science Education at Canterbury Christ Church University); Dr Ruth Wareham (Education Campaigns Manager at Humanists UK); and Dr Myles MacBean (National Director at Scripture Union England and Wales). Producer: Helen Lee Editor: Amanda Hancox

  • The Dalai Lama

    28/12/2020 Duration: 26min

    This year, the Dalai Lama celebrated his 85th Birthday. He is one of the world's most prominent religious leaders and is certainly the most famous Buddhist but talk is now turning to who will replace him. In 1959, His Holiness was forced to leave Tibet and since then he has been living in Dharamsala in northern India. In exile, he has become so much more than just the Tibetan spiritual leader but what do we really know about him and what will his legacy be? Discussing the 14th Dalai Lama with Ernie Rea will be Kate Saunders (a writer and independent specialist on Tibet), Professor Robbie Barnett (Former Director of Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University and now a Professorial Research Associate at SOAS). the Venerable Lama Losang Samten (Spiritual Director of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Centre of Philadelphia and personal attendant to the Dalai Lama in the 1980s) and Andrew Quintman (Associate Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University who specializes in the Buddhist traditions of Tibet). Produc

  • Virgin Mary

    21/12/2020 Duration: 27min

    Christmas is often a time of celebration and reflection. A time of sitting by the Christmas tree, eating and drinking, spending time with loved ones and for Christians reflecting on the birth of Jesus. His mother Mary is a highly revered figure in both Christianity and Islam. The iconic pose of the Madonna and Child is celebrated in art but we are told very little about her in the Bible. Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the Virgin Mary is Prof Tina Beattie, Director of the Catherine of Sienna College, the University of Roehampton; Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh; and His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London. Producer: Amanda Hancox

  • Beethoven's Spirituality

    14/12/2020 Duration: 27min

    Born into a musical family in Bonn towards the end of the 18th century, Ludwig van Beethoven became one of the greatest composers who ever lived. But whilst much is written about his life and music, little attention is paid to his faith and spirituality. To mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, Ernie Rea explores Beethoven's interest in God, Eastern religions and how his spirituality influenced his music with the pianist Stephen Hough; Professor Barry Cooper, editor of the Beethoven Compendium and Professor of Music at the University of Manchester and Birgit Lodes, Professor of Historical Musicology at the University of Vienna. Producer: Amanda Hancox

  • Grief

    07/12/2020 Duration: 27min

    The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on people's lives in so many ways including the way we are able to say goodbye to our loved ones. Funeral ceremonies and burial rites have had to adapt to these challenging times. But what impact has not being able to be with loved ones at their time of death or be at their funeral had on people. Have our feelings of loss intensified? What are the consequences for our ongoing sense of grief and remembrance? Ernie Rea and guests discuss the way in which religions can help people express their grief and remember those they have lost. Producer: Amanda Hancox

  • Debt

    30/11/2020 Duration: 26min

    Britain is in the midst of a huge Debt Crisis. Recent research by a debt charity has found that household borrowing and arrears have soared 66% since May to £10.3 billion. For many people, there seems to be no way out. Month by month they sink deeper into debt. Desmond Tutu once said: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Ernie Rea discusses religious responses to debit with Rt Rev David Walker, Bishop of Manchester and Deputy Chairman of the Church Commissioners; Mohammed Kroessin, Head of Islamic Microfinance at Islamic Relief UK; and Jasvir Singh, a family law barrister and chair of City Sikhs which exists to provide a voice for Progressive Sikhs in the UK. Producer: Amanda Hancox

  • Religion and Soap Operas

    23/11/2020 Duration: 27min

    Since the nation was introduced to the likes of Elsie Tanner and Ken Barlow in the northern town of Weatherfield almost 60 years ago, television soap operas have gripped viewers across the networks. Some talk about it as an addiction as the weddings, funerals, rows, murders, love triangles, crashes, affairs and divorces are played out on our screens. As these epic stories draw on our emotions, some have argued that it's easy to see the biblical and other religious parallels in the story-lines. In this addition of Beyond Belief, Ernie Rea discusses the religious influences on the soaps and how they have portrayed religious characters over the years with Dr Katie Edwards, a freelance writer and broadcaster who has researched the Bible in popular culture; Mark Pinsky author of "The Gospel According to the Simpsons", the Right Reverend Dr John Saxbee, retired Bishop of Lincoln and June Brown who played Dot Cotton. Producer: Amanda Hancox

  • Prayer

    05/10/2020 Duration: 27min

    There is evidence that, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are turning to prayer. Is this a last desperate resort on our part to divert an existential threat? Do we really expect God to intervene? If not, what are we hoping to achieve? Prayer is a vital part of any religion. The ritualising of prayer is one of the things that makes each religion distinctive whilst private, personal prayer seems to sustain the spiritual life of the believer. How does prayer impact on us as individuals and on the world around us? To discuss the importance of prayer, Ernie is joined by Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies; Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh: and by Douglas Davies, Professor in the Study of Religion at Durham University. Producer: Helen Lee

  • Hong Kong

    28/09/2020 Duration: 26min

    In 1997 Britain handed sovereignty of Hong Kong to the Chinese and for the first few years, the Basic Law that came into effect at the handover meant that, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed religious freedom. But now religious freedom is under threat. Again this summer, pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest against a new National Security law and a number of Christian Churches have been involved in these demonstrations. Joining Ernie Rea from their homes to discuss religion in Hong Kong are Chris Patten, Lord Patten of Barnes who served as the Last Governor of Hong Kong; Professor Steve Tsang, the Director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; and the Rev Dr Kim Kwong Chan, an Honorary Research Fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Producer: Helen Lee

  • The US Presidential Election

    21/09/2020 Duration: 27min

    There is no doubt that religion plays a large part in US Presidential Elections. Donald Trump is supported by the religious right which includes white evangelicals and conservative Catholics, whilst Joe Biden appeals to more liberal Catholics and Protestants and to the majority of black voters. Which raises two interesting questions. Why do white evangelical Christians vote for a man whose lifestyle is at odds with their moral principles? And how is Joe Biden going to persuade fellow Catholics to vote for him when his pro-choice views in the abortion debate clash with the teachings of his Church? To unpick the intricacies of the religious vote in the upcoming Presidential Election, Ernie Rea is joined by four experts: Sarah Posner, whose most recent book is ‘Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump’; Jane Little, a former Religious Affairs Correspondent for the BBC who now commentates on Religion and Politics in the United States; Christopher White; the National Correspondent for t

  • Rosh Hashanah

    14/09/2020 Duration: 27min

    Later this week, from Friday to Sunday, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a time for reflection and repentance and for coming together to share delicious food as well as special services at the synagogue. But it will be a different Rosh Hashanah in this Covid-19 year. How will the essence of the Festival be maintained? And, as this is a period of reflection, what specific issues have given British Jews cause for concern since the last Rosh Hashanah? To discuss these questions and to take a look at the festival itself, Ernie Rea is joined by Robyn Ashworth-Steen, Community Rabbi at the Manchester Reform Synagogue; Alby Chait, Orthodox Rabbi at the United Hebrew Congregation in Leeds; and by journalist Justin Cohen who is News Editor of the Jewish News. Producer: Helen Lee

  • The Mayflower

    07/09/2020 Duration: 27min

    Four hundred years ago, a group of 102 passengers and 30 crew set sail from Plymouth for the New World. Their journey on the Mayflower is one of the foundation stories of the United States and today, more than 30 million Americans claim descent from the Pilgrim Fathers. So how important were these Puritans? Why did they feel the need to go to America? And what is their lasting legacy? To answer these questions, Ernie Rea is joined by Dr Kathryn Gray, Associate Professor in Early American Literature at the University of Plymouth; Professor Peter Mancall who teaches history at the University of Southern California; and Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Producer: Helen Lee

  • The Face

    31/08/2020 Duration: 27min

    Because of Covid-19, we now have to cover our faces with masks which means that we are becoming more anonymous. In this edition of Beyond Belief, Ernie takes a look at the importance of the face to people of different faiths. Jews and Muslims don’t have images of God in their places of worship. However, if you go into a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist Temple you will see many images or statues of their Gods. Christian art has long depicted the face of Christ, usually showing a blue eyed, blonde Jesus far removed from that of a Jew from the Middle East 2000 years ago. As for the human face, some Muslim women cover theirs in public; Hindus adorn their faces with colourful marks which signify their status; while many Christians have a cross of ash placed on their faces during Lent. Joining Ernie to discuss The Face are Dr Jessica Frazier, a Fellow at the Centre for Hindu studies and a Lecturer at the University of Oxford; Joanna Moorhead, a freelance writer and Arts Editor for The Tablet; and Rania Hafez, a Senior Lec

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