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.
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.

Former Tory Minister Baroness Warsi on balancing faith and fasting with life in the political arena and her views on multicultural Britain.

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.

Chine McDonald (nee Mbubaegbu) of the Evangelical Alliance examines why unity is important for people of faith – and why it need not lead to uniformity.

Journalist and broadcaster Emma Barnett on how her tactile nature led her to question the Orthodox Jewish laws that govern physical contact between wives and husbands.

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.

We are setting our listeners a creative challenge - to write haiku, three line poems, about Good Friday and Easter. Here are full details of how to get involved, along with some taster haiku.

Fr Christopher Jamison, a Benedictine monk and former abbot, reflects on treating sacred texts as a delicacy best savoured slowly – and allowing them to challenge and transform us.

Ruth Scott has been an Anglican priest since 1994, yet a traumatic experience drew her to the silence which is at the heart of Quaker meetings. Here she explains why.

Ayisha Malik, author of the romantic comedy, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, reflects on patience through the prism of Islam and how it helps answer life’s biggest question.

Christian gospel hip-hop artist Faith Child on how he draws encouragement from the Bible and writing gospel songs to overcome personal struggles.

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.