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.
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.

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: (thatBelle, mzui) Story by Nick Warburton; Presenter: Mark Dowd; Producer: Paul Arnold