Things Unseen grapples with a spiritual climate that no longer conforms to orderly patterns – with fewer of us attracted to formal religion, but many still believing that there’s more out there than meets the eye. Thought-provoking speech radio for people of faith – and those who just feel intrigued by the spiritual dimension to life.
Sarah Niyazi was pleased to get her husband, Arif, home from hospital in February, following treatment for a severe autoimmune condition. Within days they were both ill, but her husband was worse. Struggling to breathe he went back into hospital, one of the earliest UK cases of COVID-19.
Mark Dowd hears from Sarah about how the following days played out, and from Muslim hospital chaplain Rehanah Sadiq, who was ‘like an angel sent by God’, Sarah says.
Journalist Remona Aly speaks to Islam scholar Abdal Hakim Murad, also known as Dr Tim Winter, about how to navigate the very different kind of Ramadan experience that Covid-19 brings – including how to cope with having to abandon traditional rituals and customs, and how to find spiritual meaning in a global pandemic.
In self-isolation at her new home in Virginia, former BBC religious affairs correspondent Jane Little reflects on whether the coronavirus pandemic could be a portal to a new world: one in which the poor and marginalized will finally get their fair share.
With churches closed and the coronavirus lockdown firmly in place, the UK faces a very different Easter this year. More and more people each day experience the sudden loss of a friend or family member. Others fear deeply for loved ones who are elderly or vulnerable. So how does the Easter story of death and resurrection help at this traumatic time, indeed does it help at all? Emily Buchanan talks to two remarkable women who have survived terrible sudden bereavement.
Among the saddest stories to come out of the coronavirus crisis so far is that of 13-year-old Ismail, who died without seeing the loving faces of his family around him. In this short reflection, Mark Dowd, a Catholic, considers the importance of seeing a loving face when you are close to death. Even Jesus on the cross saw his mother Mary standing and gazing up to him in his agony. So what hope is there in the Christian message this Easter time, with the families of the sick in lockdown?
Former BBC correspondent Mike Wooldridge has reported first hand on many of the world’s worst disasters of the last few decades, from the famine in Ethiopia to the AIDS epidemic in Uganda. In this short reflection, Mike draws his own lessons for the coronavirus pandemic: we should place the African concept of Ubuntu – a strong sense of our common humanity - at the centre of our response.
It’s there on almost every Christmas card featuring the scene of Christ’s birth, and in almost every school Nativity play: the donkey, or ass. But look at the gospel accounts of Christ’s birth, and you may be surprised: there is no donkey! So how has this much-loved seasonal character entered Christmas lore, and why has the donkey remained a Christmas favourite ever since? Jane Little goes in search of the Christmas donkey and its real-life descendants today.
“Mindfulness” seems to be everywhere these days. It’s often promoted as a way dealing with some mental health issues and reducing burnout. But with origins in Buddhism, how well does it sit with other faiths? And what caused Tim Stead to leave his calling as a Church of England priest to pursue a career in mindfulness teaching? To find out, Mike Wooldridge visits Tim’s “meditation barn” at the back of his house in Oxford.
For two weeks in October, members of the Extinction Rebellion movement are attempting to disrupt life in London and elsewhere to draw attention to what they say is an impending climate catastrophe. Among them are Christians of all ages who are camping out in the rain and risking arrest to make their point: that it’s their God-given responsibility to take care of the earth. Rosie Dawson meets some of them.
Concern over the environmental and welfare aspects of the meat and dairy industries is on the rise, but what about the world of fish farming? For those who want to protect the world’s oceans from deep sea trawling and over fishing, farmed fish seem like the ethical solution. But this may not be the case...
Former Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid is joined by a team of fasting veterans to answer your burning questions on Ramadan – including the fasting rules, spiritual highs, spiritual lows, veganism and moon-wars.
In the midst of a ferocious thunderstorm, Joe and Nick, two no-nonsense Irishmen, are carrying a body into a cave for burial. But their relief at getting out of the rain is short lived, when an earthquake traps them inside. Father Ted star Jim Norton stars in new Irish playwright Brendan Devitt’s drama from CTVC.
Not long after Christmas last year, Abbi Banks died of leukaemia. With the grief still so raw, how can parents Tim and Liz and sister Debbie hang on to the Christmas message of hope as the festive season comes round once again?
Shaunaka Rishi Das, an Irish-born Hindu priest reflects on his wife’s suicide and its aftermath.
In her mid-50s and suffering from depression, Shaunaka’s wife Keshava took her own life, with questions over the medical response leading to a traumatic two-day inquest. Shaunaka tells the story publically for the first time, reflecting eloquently on death, mourning and letting go from a Hindu perspective.
After years of mental illness Guy Stagg embarked on a walk from Canterbury to Jerusalem, spending ten months on a 5,500 km medieval pilgrim route, a journey to the centre of the three Abrahamic faiths. And all this despite having no faith or belief in God.
He joins Mark Dowd in Canterbury, retracing the footsteps of where it all began, to discuss why as a non-believer, he hoped the extraordinary adventure would heal him.
Mango cake and chocolate brownies might seem a world away from politics and rising levels of anti-Muslim feeling. But Great British Bake Off contestant Ali Imdad is on a mission to counter negative stereotypes with desserts from the Muslim world. All with the aim of bringing people together through a love of food.
Things Unseen travels through space and time for a close encounter between science fiction and faith. Steering the ship will be the writer and broadcaster Natalie Haynes, with crewmates Beth Singler, research associate with the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and Robert Shearman, a writer whose work has often focused on the fantastical, and the man who brought the Daleks into the 21st century.
How does belief influence the way people approach death? Why don’t those who believe they’re going to heaven seem that keen to go? And how is belief changing, in an age where tweets continue to address the dead, and many who say they have no faith believe in an afterlife.
We hear from Rick, who has a motor-neurone condition with a terminal prognosis, about how his faith affects his approach to death. Katie Harrison from ComRes shares their research into UK patterns of belief. In the studio we're joined by Toby Scott from Hospice UK and palliative care nurse Katie Cantlay, and on the line by Tony Walter, Professor of Death Studies at the University of Bath.
It’s hard to think of an issue which has seen a more profound change in attitudes over the last two or three decades. Nearly thirty years after the introduction of Section 28, the law which forbade the promotion of gay rights in schools, gay marriage is now firmly established in the western world at least.
Mark Dowd talks with Mobeen Azhar and Ajeet Jugnauth to share Christian, Muslim and Hindu perspectives from inside the gay community.
The Angel Gabriel goes rogue in a bid to deal with the over-commercialisation of Christmas. A fresh and irreverent look at the knotty issue of Christmas and shopping.
The cast includes vocal virtuoso Kerry Shale as Santa, comic genius Philip Fox as Gabriel, and star of Radio 4’s ‘Hudson and Pepperdine Show’, Mel Hudson, as the put-upon Lori. ‘I have to confess’, says Lori in a prayer that frames the action, ‘...punching Rudolph in the nose was a low point’.
We like to think we don’t judge a book by its cover. But is that really true? Sally Phillips hears insights from Vicky Balch, a young woman who lost a limb in the Alton Towers roller coaster accident, but then chose to show her scars in a nude photo shoot. And Rev Joanna Jepson shares how growing up with a facial deformity has made her think deeply about inner beauty, outer beauty, and the fashion industry.
‘In Christ Alone’, co-written by Stuart Townend, has been sung around the world, from underground churches to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s enthronement. Alongside the musician’s favourite Bible readings, read for Things Unseen by David Suchet, Stuart Townend talks to Alison Hilliard about the loss of his father, gay marriage and his most controversial line on ‘the wrath of God’.
Babar Ahmad spent 8 years in UK prisons fighting extradition to the US. Having allowed his website to host articles supporting the Taliban he was eventually transferred to solitary confinement in the US, before pleading guilty to ‘providing material support to terrorism’. He was released shortly afterwards and returned to the UK. In conversation with Mark Dowd, Babar Ahmad talks about how he came to set up the website in question, and how he managed to mark Ramadan in the most difficult circumstances.
Harris J has been dubbed the Muslim Justin Bieber. With 100 million YouTube hits, and over half a million followers on Instagram, he’s taken the global Islamic music scene by storm. Here he talks to Things Unseen’s Remona Aly about his music, his faith and how chewing gum is his Achilles heel when it comes to fasting. And he shares his newly released single, Save Me From Myself.
Carl Franklin is dead. But it’s not the end of the story.
Broadchurch actor Joe Sims stars in Nick Warburton's drama which reflects the themes of the Easter story in a modern setting. The fictional story is told in documentary format, using interviews improvised by the cast, which also includes Emerald O’Hanrahan (Emma Grundy in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers).
Cast in order of appearance: Charlie Hammond: Joe Sims; Joseph Masters: Sam Dale; Nat Martindale: Emerald O’Hanrahan; DI Frances MacLaurin: Tracy Wiles; Sgt Ashkan Karimi: Arian Nik; Dean Midwinter: Michael Imerson
Additional Sound Effects: freesound.org (thatBelle, mzui)
Story by Nick Warburton; Presenter: Mark Dowd; Producer: Paul Arnold
One year on, what's the truth behind the West Trent tragedy? Broadchurch actor Joe Sims stars in Nick Warburton's drama which reflects the themes of the Easter story in a modern setting. The fictional story is told in documentary format, using interviews improvised by the cast, which also includes Emerald O’Hanrahan (Emma Grundy in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers).
Cast in order of appearance: Charlie Hammond: Joe Sims; Joseph Masters: Sam Dale; Nat Martindale: Emerald O’Hanrahan; DI Frances MacLaurin: Tracy Wiles; Sgt Ashkan Karimi: Arian Nik; Dean Midwinter: Michael Imerson
Additional Sound Effects: freesound.org (thatBelle, mzui)
Story by Nick Warburton; Presenter: Mark Dowd; Producer: Paul Arnold
Presenter Mark Dowd quizzes the team behind our upcoming Easter drama - writer Nick Warburton, producer Paul Arnold and Broadchurch actor Joe Sims, who plays the part of Charlie Hammond. Together they discuss the links between the Easter story and the drama, and Charlie’s ‘lightbulb moment’.
At this time of year, millions of Christians around the world turn their minds to the events that took place in the “little town of Bethlehem” over 2000 years ago. Yet few stop to consider what life is like for those born in Bethlehem today.
In this Christmas edition, Mark Dowd meets two young people from Bethlehem who are united in their love of an ancient spiritual art: icon painting, or “writing”, as it’s known. Nicola and Noura have come to Britain to write two large icons for Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire. Together with their teacher Ian Knowles they explain what this prayerful art form means to them and offer a glimpse of life in modern-day Bethlehem – a West Bank town with a dwindling Christian population surrounded by the Israeli security barrier on three sides.
The writers of Channel 4’s Humans get together with Artificial Intelligence experts to plan the construction of our very own android, or ‘synth’. What rights should it have? Is it even a good idea in the first place? Can we baptise it? Or have sex with it? Our panel is made up of the Humans writers, Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley; Kate Devlin of Goldsmiths, University of London, researcher into robots and sexuality; and Beth Singler from the Faraday Institute for science and religion at Cambridge University, where she’s exploring the social and religious implications of advances in AI. Mark Dowd stands ready to test for replicants.
Regarded by many as one of the world’s most influential living theologians, Stanley Hauerwas has always been opinionated and outspoken, not least on his pacifist convictions. On a trip from his native US to London to give a lecture at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, he shares his views on the perplexing, certainly to UK listeners, state of US politics at the moment. ‘I don’t think Trump has ever had a serious encounter with Jesus’, he says.
If you put together everything that the Bible records Jesus saying as he was being crucified, you find there are seven sayings, or ‘last words’. As well as finding hope in what Jesus said, the Anglican priest Lucy Winkett is also inspired by the fact that Jesus said anything at all.
As a trained musician, she draws parallels between Jesus’ cries from the cross and the blues tradition of singing out your troubles, and shares her experience of singing the liturgy in a cathedral against considerable opposition from within the church.
Having begun his career with positive songs that affirmed his Christian faith, the Welsh singer’s music has become more nuanced. The self-proclaimed ‘liberal backslider’ talks to Alison Hilliard about his journey from answers to questions through his favourite Bible readings, read by David Suchet. He explains how a trip to Thailand and some preaching on John the Baptist turned his world ‘from black and white to full colour’, and his feelings about criticism, and even a death threat, from some Christians.
Astrophysicist and theologian, Revd David Wilkinson looks at a number called Omega. Omega is the name physicists give to one of several constants embedded in the laws of the universe which seem to have been incredibly fine-tuned to allow stars, galaxies, and ultimately us to exist. Are these pointers to a Creator God, or is there another extraordinary explanation?
Munisha has been working for many years as a lecturer and communicator for Buddhism. So she was used to explaining the central teachings of the faith, including the ‘4 Noble Truths’, which deal with suffering, and our response to it. When the severe anxiety she suffered from took her to her GP, the therapy she was prescribed turned out to be directly based on the teachings of her own faith. Happily, the counselling, along with her own regular Buddhist practice, gave her the help she needed, and transformed her life.
With a background in maths and physics, the Hindu teacher Jay Lakhani is fascinated by the concept of nothing. He traces the 7th century roots of the idea as a placeholder in counting systems, and explores Hindu stories about the origins of the universe, when something came from nothing. Jay asks ‘What caused the Big Bang?’ and finds a surprising answer.
Martin Palmer has spent decades exploring and translating Chinese historical and philosophical texts. For Things Unseen he explains the Daoist concepts of Yin and Yang and our role in maintaining balance, in the world and in ourselves.
The factual rigour of the world of numbers and maths, and the more intuitive nature of faith may not seem like a comfortable combination. But numbers have played a significant role in religious traditions, and in the lives of those with a faith. The author and broadcaster Trevor Barnes has been looking into the subject for a new book, and here he introduces our ‘Faith By Numbers’ podcasts, with a brief tour of digital divinity.
The Rev Kate Bottley came to national attention by leading a flash mob dance routine at a wedding. Since then her musings on the week’s TV on Channel 4’s Gogglebox, alongside her dog Buster and equally taciturn husband Graham, have propelled her into a world very different from her original work as an RE teacher. Through the prism of her favourite Bible passages, Kate shares with Alison Hilliard how she came to church and to the priesthood, what drives her, and what she worries about.
The storyteller Sita Brand separates the fact from the fiction of Zen meditation, and shares her favourite story about the way not to go about it. She explains that Zen Buddhist meditation is about being aware of the present moment, through the practice of ‘mindfulness’. Contrary to popular belief, she says, it’s not about blanking your mind, but about being aware of your thoughts.
Shaunaka Rishi Das from the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies reflects on the life lessons he learnt from the Yamuna, one of India’s sacred rivers. His memories include a close encounter with a snake, and how he came to accept his wife’s death after scattering her ashes in the Yamuna.
Following a chance remark from a Ukranian flatmate on the stereotypical characteristics of her neighbouring countries (sleazy Lithuanians, tidy Hungarians...), the comedy writer Paul Kerensa decided to investigate the global nature of our tendency to pigeon-hole nationalities. With stand-up comedians replacing jokes aimed at minorities with ones at the expense of celebrities and nearby towns, he compares tribal attitudes in parts of the Christian Bible, and thinks about victimless comedy.
Sisters Caroline Clare and Susan Elizabeth of the Community of Saint Clare in Freeland, Oxfordshire, show us how they make communion wafers, from preparing the batter to using ‘the Church of England’s equivalent of a waffle iron’. They also explain how prayer goes into each batch of wafers.
Ian Knowles is an artist and founder-director of the Bethlehem icon centre. Most of his icons are created on wood, but his most famous icon was painted on the separation wall dividing Israel from the West Bank. ‘Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls’ was made to bring hope into a hopeless situation, he says, to bring something good into the midst of suffering and fear.
Faraz Yousafzai is the lead singer and guitarist of the folk-rock band, SilkRoad. For our A-Z, he gives free rein to his poetic side to draw out connections between physical vibrations (such as those of the heart and cells in the body) and the way human beings respond to certain musical chords.
At the beginning of Lent we asked our listeners to look forward to the events to come in the Christian calendar – Good Friday and Easter. We set them a challenge to write haiku in response, three-line Japanese-inspired poems following a strict 5-7-5 syllable format.
We’ve now recorded some of them, adding music and sound-effects. The poet Stewart Henderson joined Alison Hilliard in the Things Unseen studio to share his own haiku, and respond to those which were sent in.
Playwright, actress and artistic director Rani Moorthy reflects on the sari, a garment closely bound up with Hindu identity. She rejected it as a teenager, but has now made it the subject of a funny and poignant play – and sometimes wears it combined with doc marten boots.
A Protestant who grew up in Ian Paisley’s Northern Ireland, where any devotion to Mary was scorned; a cradle Catholic and former friar; and a Muslim who loves Christmas, but approaches Mary very much from a Qur’anic perspective: these three go on pilgrimage together to England’s most important shrine to the Mother of Christ, Walsingham. In the course of their journey, some astonishing stories emerge.
What’s in a name? Rabbi Naftali Brawer considers the naming and not-naming of God, and explores the meaning of those names. He explains how the names he has used for God have charted his own spiritual journey, and suggests a surprising interpretation of the very first words of the Bible.
Minna Salami, a blogger popularly known as Ms Afropolitan, explains how an automatic writing experience led her to explore mysticism, and why artists like Fela Kuti and Frida Kahlo have helped her on her mystical journey.
Alison Hilliard, a regular Things Unseen presenter, tells the story of Ethiopia’s astonishing rock-hewn churches, which were created in a mere 23 years in the 12th century and remain one of the most extraordinary pilgrimage sites for Orthodox Christians.
Khalsa Aid is a humanitarian relief agency which has helped destitute people in disaster areas from Haiti to Iraq and Bosnia. Its founder, Ravi Singh, was inspired by the teachings of the Sikh gurus, who taught their followers to strive for the well-being of all humanity, not just Sikhs.
Jim al-Khalili is the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother. He is also a public atheist - the outgoing President of the British Humanist Association - a science writer and broadcaster and Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Surrey. Here he talks to Abdul-Azim Ahmed about how his mixed-faith background has shaped his outlook on religion and atheism, and why he has no wish to convert everyone to the Humanist world view.
Ruth Gledhill, who used to be the Times’ religious affairs correspondent and now works for the news website, Christian Today, reflects on combining her love of religion and journalism and has some advice for those who want to walk in her footsteps.
In this addition of our A to Z, Mohammed Ali Amla, founder of Christian and Muslim Encounters – an interfaith network that seeks to bring together academics and activists in shaping dialogue and research - discusses his life journey and lessons of interfaith encounters.
From first encountering his “white” neighbors as a little boy - the start of interactions and encounters with other faith communities as opportunities to demystifying attitudes and educate one another in shared values.
For Ali, the crux of his interfaith foundations lies in the prism of his Islamic faith – he is inspired by Quranic scriptures and prophetic traditions of co-existence and says that “if we all embodied the prophetic nature, we would become interfaith activists naturally”.
For Ali the future of interfaith work in Britain lies in the hands of communities and future generations to inspire, have compassion, educate and champion their shared human values.
The A-Z of Things Unseen explores an eclectic mix of concepts through the eyes of 26 people from a range of different faiths – as well as some doubters.
In this edition of our A to Z, the ‘Mail on Sunday’ columnist Peter Hitchens visits Trafalgar Square to get a perspective on a key time in the UK’s history. But he is not looking at Nelson. Instead he turns his attention to the equestrian statue of King Charles I, which faces down Whitehall towards the scene of his execution in 1649.
Charles’ reign was one during which questions of religious doctrine were brought into sharp focus, in particular the place of an individual’s personal relationship with God. This was all against the backdrop of the wider European Protestant Reformation, and was violently manifested in the English Civil War.
Peter argues that we need to understand the origins of the UK’s national life. And whilst we need to learn to conduct our disputes in a more civilised way, he also has some sympathies for a society which riots over prayer books rather than football.
The A-Z of Things Unseen explores an eclectic mix of concepts through the eyes of 26 believers from a range of different faiths – as well as some doubters.
Jason Smyth was born in Northern Ireland into a Mormon family. At the age of 8, he was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, which robbed him of his central vision, leaving him legally blind. Yet he has never let this stop him: in the Paralympic Games in Beijing and London, he won two gold medals each time. He is also a double IPC Athletics world champion and has competed successfully in mainstream athletics events.
In this edition of our A-Z, Jason reflects on how the faith he was brought up in enables him to be the best he can be, and inspires him to help others achieve their best too. Before he warms up at this year’s IPC World Championships in Doha this month, he says, he will be spending a few moments in prayer before going for gold once more.
The A-Z of Things Unseen brings together 26 speakers from different faiths (and some serious doubters too) who reflect on an eclectic mix of concepts and ideas with a spiritual dimension.
Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’s Church Piccadilly in Central London, reflects on how a C S Lewis quote, a story about the mother of Judas, the traitor, and even chocolate Easter bunnies contribute to the understanding of the Easter story.
A regular Things Unseen presenter, Mark Dowd is no stranger to doubt. In this edition of our A-Z, he recalls what happened when, as a young friar, he was overcome by it one Easter day.
He also reflects on why the “lust for certainty” is misguided, and argues that even Christ on the cross had a moment of agonizing doubt when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet, Mark says, Christians know that that was not the end of the story – and this, he argues, means that we are given permission to have doubt.
The A-Z of Things Unseen is an eclectic mix of voices from different faiths, reflecting on ideas and concepts which have a (sometimes hidden) spiritual dimension.
Navid Akhtar is the founder and chief executive of Alchemiya Media – an online TV channel which aims to showcase the best of Islam and Muslim life. Navid is also an award-winning documentary producer with an eye for architecture and many other forms of creative expression.
In this edition of our alphabet of all things faith-related, he visits the Royal Festival Hall, where as a student he first became aware of the amazing range of human creative expression through architecture, design, music and even food. For him, creativity is closely bound up with humanity’s innate search for something higher – the Creator.
The A-Z of Things Unseen looks at an eclectic mix of ideas and concepts through the eyes of 26 believers from a range of different faiths – as well as some doubters.
In the second edition of our A-Z of Things Unseen, the Revd. Sally Hitchner, chaplain at Brunel University London, reflects on the concept of blessing from a Christian perspective – and explains why she believes God’s love and grace are manifested through the act of giving and reveiving blessings.
In the first of our A-Z of Things Unseen, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg from the New North London Synagogue reflects on the concept of awe from a Jewish perspective – and argues that this sense of being part of something much greater is not just for people of faith.
When her father Justin Welby became the spiritual leader of 80 million Anglicans, Katharine Welby-Roberts shot to social media fame as the ABCD, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter. In conversation with Alison Hilliard, she reflects on her long battle with anxiety and depression and how her favourite Bible verses show God as a God who draws close to those suffering from mental illness.
In April 1945, Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl emerged from the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau – the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust. From this traumatic experience sprang his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he argues that even in the most painful situations, life has potential meaning – and it is up to the individual to find it.
Coming to university can be a daunting experience. This is where university chaplains play an important role: they provide support and guidance for all students, of any faith and none. In this podcast, which won the third prize in the Things Unseen competition, Philip Lickley meets Christian and Muslim chaplains at the University of Bradford.
Is creating a piece of art an act of faith, even for those who have no religious faith in the traditional sense? How does myth inform the artist’s work? And how do faith, art and the unknown hang together? The runner-up in the Things Unseen podcast competition, Zack Polanski, tackles these intriguing questions in this entry.
Leading geneticist Steve Jones discusses the relationship between scientific enquiry and religious faith with Catholic journalist Mark Dowd. Steve Jones admits to his atheism - quoting with approval Napoleon's 'I have no need of that hypothesis' -- but is a fan of the Bible as 'a magnificent work of literature'. He also approves of many of Christ's pronouncements, but is averse to the Old Testament's 'violent god'. When asked if he is - unconsciously - making a case for New Testament Christianity, he responds 'Perhaps I am'.
Diane Foley is the mother of James Foley, the first Western hostage to be brutally killed by Islamic State. In conversation with Mark Dowd, she explains how her strong Catholic faith has helped her deal with the anguish of her son’s capture and death. She also reflects on the parallels between her experience and that of Mary standing under the cross of Christ. The music is Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater, sung by the London-based chamber choir, Coro.
The 12 steps which form the backbone of Alcoholics Anonymous only mention alcohol once, but God features four times, along with references to a higher power and spiritual awakening. But what does that mean in a country like Britain, where only around one in three people say they believe in God? Can the 12 steps work without a religious faith? And on the other hand, if a higher power is so central to recovery from alcoholism, why are there so many Christians with addiction problems?
Even those with scant religious knowledge will remember Moses as the man who led the Children of Israel out of Egypt. It is much less known that Moses is also one of the Five Great Prophets of the Islamic tradition. In this podcast – which won the Things Unseen podcast competition 2015 - Abdul-Azim Ahmed explores the person of the Muslim Moses, or Musa, and whether he can be a uniting figure between Muslims and Jews.
You can have religious faith but not be protected from a sense of inadequacy, which may lead to fear of failure, even thoughts of suicide. In this programme, a 22-year-old Muslim medical student discusses her suicidal feelings and why she feels unloved by God. Muslim counsellor Ajmal Masroor and Christian priest and author of a book on suicide Mike Parsons provide a faith perspective.
74-year-old Quaker Shelagh Robinson is thoughtful, articulate and deeply spiritual. She also has Alzheimer’s. In this moving interview, she tells Remona Aly what her faith and community mean to her, and why she feels her sense of being close to God will always stay with her.
No fewer than 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. Yet even when short-term memory or the ability to operate gadgets are badly affected, the memory of what has been meaningful to the patient – including their faith - usually remains intact for a long time. Remona Aly discusses with four guests, including a 74-year-old Quaker who has Alzheimer’s, what role faith can play in the lives of people with dementia and their families.
At Christmas 1914, British and German soldiers on the Western front laid down their weapons, exchanged gifts and sang carols together. Some even kicked a football around. In this programme, Nelufar Hedayat hears accounts of these astonishing events, separates fact from fiction and finds out what the Christmas truce means to the descendents of those soldiers and young people today.
One can have faith but not be immune to depression. Faith is no cure, not even a consolation. Yet 'poor theology' leads many to misunderstand, even condemn, the sufferer... and thereby only make the condition worse.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this programme, which opens a Things Unseen season on mental health, and would like to talk to somebody you can trust, call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. Information on where to seek help is also available from Mind through the charity's Infoline: 0300 123 3393 (text 86463).
At first glance, the teachings of Jesus seem a world away from the ancient Chinese religion of Daoism. Yet if you look more closely, there are striking parallels and historical connections going back to the 7th century. In conversation with Alison Hilliard, religious historian Martin Palmer explains how Daoism has helped him see Jesus in a new light and ultimately brought him back to his Christian faith.
Belief in angels is widespread, far beyond the Christian churches. Lorna Byrne – dubbed “a modern-day Irish mystic” – has attracted a huge following through her books on them. But what is behind their enormous appeal? Alison Hilliard speaks to Lorna Byrne and discusses with three guests.
A childhood of religious indoctrination often leads to damage for those who try to escape it in adulthood. Psychologist Dr Marlene Winell knows all about this 'trauma', personally, and among her patients. She tells her story to Catholic broadcaster, Mark Dowd. As does Samantha Field, who identifies with the dangers of indoctrination, but tells of a 'good' that she has allowed to come out of an 'evil'.
Sami Yusuf – dubbed Islam’s biggest rock star - explains to Alison Hilliard why despite his deep commitment to his own Muslim faith, he treasures certain passages from the Bible. He reflects on the values he feels Christianity and Islam share, and the challenges facing Muslims as they try to promote peace and cross-cultural understanding in the face of atrocities carried out in the name of Islam.
Mindfulness – a Buddhist meditation technique aiming to achieve deep awareness of the present moment – is booming. Jane Little talks to Sharon Salzberg, one of America’s leading Buddhist meditation teachers, about its benefits and pitfalls. She also hears from Arianna Huffington, a leading advocate of mindfulness, and Ron Purser, a critic of the way it has been harnessed by big corporations.
Arguably, if controversially, we have a God-shaped hole at the heart of our post-Christian world.
What are the gains and the losses, and is the 'hole' increasingly being filled with consumerism,the social media, and 'self' as the new god?
In this podcast Mark Dowd, well-known to TV and Radio audiences, chairs a discussion with those who have very different answers.
Nelufar Hedayat explores with four Sikh guests what led so many Sikhs from British India to the trenches and battlegrounds of World War I, to fight a war which was essentially not their own. She hears stories of individual soldiers and families and finds out what young Sikhs today make of this part of their martial legacy.
Researcher and lecturer Mohammed al-Hilli provides a Shia perspective on why Sunni and Shia Muslims went their separate ways early in Islamic history - and what distinguishes the two main branches of Islam today.
A bereaved mother, with the army commander who ordered her child’s killing during South Africa's apartheid years, share with reporter and presenter Mark Dowd their extraordinary journey towards mutual understanding and reconciliation.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams discusses his favourite Bible passages. Speaking to Alison Hilliard, he explains the verses which for him “light up the landscape”. Bible readings by David Suchet.
Cambridge scholar Tim Winter, also known as Abdal Hakim Murad, provides a Sunni perspective on how the divide between Sunni and Shia Islam began, and what distinguishes the two main branches of Islam today.
Lord Leslie Griffiths discusses his journey from a childhood in extreme poverty in Wales to a life peerage and becoming one of Britain’s most senior religious figures. Speaking to Alison Hilliard, he uses Bible verses to re-connect with his memories – including his time as a novice missionary in Haiti, and why he became an “accidental Methodist”.
Readings by David Suchet.
Rose Hudson-Wilkin discusses the Bible verses that have shaped her journey from Jamaica’s Montego Bay to her role as Speaker’s Chaplain at the House of Commons. Her selection reveals her passion on a breadth of political issues, including immigration.
Bible readings by David Suchet.
In 1984, Labour peer Lord Smith became the first MP to reveal he was gay. He was appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in Tony Blair’s first cabinet and is now a life peer. Speaking to Louisa Foxe, he reveals the Biblical verses that have informed his public and private life – including some stark choices often used to condemn gay people. Bible readings by David Suchet.
Andrew Weil is America’s best-known doctor, the pioneer of “integrative medicine “- an approach that goes far beyond high tech interventions and drugs. To his admirers, he has managed to combine costly conventional medicine with a focus on the mind and spirit; critics have called him a snake oil salesman. Jane Little has visited him in Arizona.
Muslim, Zoroastrian, and Humanist voices dispute the legacy of Religion: violence and war, links to power and privilege, oppression of women, or peace initiatives, changed lives and priorities, and concern for the poor and victimized.
Describing himself as “not particularly religious”, Tony Jordan, one of Britain’s top scriptwriters and former EastEnders writer, was behind the BBC’s critically acclaimed The Nativity. The drama was a tender portrayal of the people featured in Christmas story. In this podcast he talks about the Biblical passages that have inspired his work. Readings by David Suchet.
A shaman undergoing a ritual burial and a Catholic attending mass seem poles apart – yet both rituals answer similar needs. Jane Little explores what makes rituals so compelling and meaningful. Guests: shamanic practitioner Nicholas Taylor, traditional Catholic Peter Williams, and clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke.
Growing up, Nicky Gumbel considered Christianity “intellectually unsustainable”, yet today he is best known as the modern-day architect of the evangelical Alpha Course. In this podcast, he uses Bible passages that have inspired him to reveal little-known parts of his biography to Louisa Foxe – among them the trauma of losing many of his Jewish father’s family in the Holocaust.
Readings by David Suchet.
Open any newspaper, watch any TV channel, and stories of War and Conflict tumble from page and screen...
But can we trust what we read and see? Even when journalists work hard to separate facts from propaganda, how often do they report ‘selected’ or ‘chosen’ facts? Can they be accused of ‘selling’ War, albeit unwittingly?
Some argue that what is needed is a different form of journalism: in this case, Peace Journalism. Edward Canfor-Dumas invites Professor Jake Lynch, journalist Myriam Francois-Cerrah, and journalist and broadcaster Peter Hitchens to make their case for Peace Journalism.
On 17th October 2013, Things Unseen was launched at Southwark Cathedral with this panel discussion looking at specially commissioned research which revealed a strong undercurrent of spiritual belief in Britain.
Chair: Jane Little.
The mother of the Yorkshire Ripper’s last victim discovered the police cannot be sued for negligence.
28 years later, the situation is the same. This is a scandal – not least for rape victims, who are often not believed.
Net migration into Britain this year reached 250,000.
On one side of the Immigration debate, capped levels, earned citizenship, ID cards, and annual migration reports - on the other, open borders, a welcome for all, a call to increase the size of the cake, a celebration of a multi-cultural society....
Emma Barnett interrogates David Goodhart, Director of the independent think-tank Demos, and Ceri Dingle, Director of Worldwrite, an education charity campaigning for global equality - and then lets them loose on each other’s arguments.
Aid goes to Evangelicals, not us, accuses voodoo leader.
In the rebuilding after the earthquake, Evangelicals bring aid to a country said to be 80 per cent Catholic and 100 per cent Voodoo. With very mixed results.
Edward Stourton reports.
WENDY ROBBINS ON PROTECTING OUR KIDS
... from sexually-explicit songs in the charts
‘My children are 7, 9, 12. They singalong to pop song lyrics like “‘sex in the air, I don’t care’. I don’t want them hearing this stuff; they don’t have the emotional maturity. Can’t the broadcasters give a lead here?’
GLOBAL WARMING: DOES IT MATTER?
The clash between reducing emissions and development.
A climate summit in Durban has ended with agreement to bring down carbon emissions to save the planet.
A deadline of 2020 could yet prove a cop-out. But do we need to be so concerned about emissions? Is fear of global warming holding back much-needed development?
Emma Barnett interrogates George Monbiot, environmental activist, and Claire Fox, director of the British think-tank, the Institute of Ideas.
Complaining is part and parcel of our everyday existence. Usually it’s personal, trivial, and not to be taken seriously. But sometimes it’s bigger than that. The question is: are there any tips for making sure our legitimate complaints are not only noted, but also acted upon? The answer is: Yes.
Dougal Patmore finds out what they are – along the way meeting the man who sealed his letters of complaint with a loving kiss, and the choir whose members complained distinctively and effectively in song...
Britain’s ethnic minorities call our country’s care of the elderly ‘horrible’ and ‘a betrayal’. For them, it’s culturally taboo for strangers to look after the elderly – and they also see the failings of our care home system. Do they have anything to teach the West? Interviewing care home nurses, relatives, and former 'Pensioners Tzar' Joan Bakewell, Louisa Bolch goes On The Inside...