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Fallen Angels: Birds of Paradise in Early Modern Europe Apr 4, 2018 Art & Religion When birds of paradise first arrived to Europe, as dried specimens with legs and wings removed, they were seen in almost mythical terms — as angelic beings forever airborne, nourished by dew and the “nectar” of sunlight. Natalie Lawrence looks at how European naturalists of the 16th and 17th centuries attempted to make sense of these entirely novel and exotic creatures from the East. Defining the Demonic Oct 25, 2017 Books & Art & Religion Although Jacques Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire infernal, a monumental compendium of all things diabolical, was first published in 1818 to much success, it is the fabulously illustrated final edition of 1863 which secured the book as a landmark in the study and representation of demons. Ed Simon explores the work and how at its heart lies an unlikely but pertinent synthesis of the Enlightenment and the occult. Master of Disaster, Ignatius Donnelly Sep 27, 2017 Books & Literature & Science & Religion The destruction of Atlantis, cataclysmic comets, and a Manhattan tower made entirely from concrete and corpse — Carl Abbott on the life and work of a Minnesotan writer, and failed politician, with a mind primed for catastrophe. Rescuing England: The Rhetoric of Imperialism and the Salvation Army Aug 16, 2017 Books & Religion Ellen J. Stockstill on how William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, placed the ideas and language of colonialism at the very heart of his vision for improving the lives of Victorian England’s poor. Decoding the Morse: The History of 16th-Century Narcoleptic Walruses Jun 14, 2017 History & Religion Amongst the assorted curiosities described in Olaus Magnus’ 1555 tome on Nordic life was the morse — a hirsuite, fearsome walrus-like beast, that was said to snooze upon cliffs while hanging by its teeth. Natalie Lawrence explores the career of this chimerical wonder, shaped both by scholarly images of a fabulous north and the grisly corporeality of the trade in walrus skins, teeth, and bone. Woodcuts and Witches May 4, 2017 Books & Art & History & Religion Jon Crabb on the witch-craze of Early Modern Europe, and how the concurrent rise of the mass-produced woodcut helped forge the archetype of the broom-riding crone — complete with cauldron and cats — so familiar today. Voltaire and the Buddha Mar 8, 2017 Religion Donald S. Lopez, Jr. looks at Voltaire’s early reflections on Buddhism and how, in his desire to separate the Buddha’s teachings from the trappings of religion, the French Enlightenment thinker prefigured an approach now familiar in the West. George Washington: A Descendant of Odin? Feb 8, 2017 Books & History & Religion Yvonne Seale on a bizarre and fanciful piece of genealogical scholarship and what it tells us about identity in late 19th-century America. Out of Their Love They Made It: A Visual History of Buraq Sep 21, 2016 Art & Religion Although mentioned only briefly in the Qur’an, the story of the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey to heaven astride a winged horse called Buraq has long caught the imagination of artists. Yasmine Seale charts the many representations of this enigmatic steed, from early Islamic scripture to contemporary Delhi, and explores what such a figure can tell us about the nature of belief. Francis van Helmont and the Alphabet of Nature Jun 1, 2016 Philosophy & Religion Largely forgotten today in the shadow of his more famous father, the 17th-century Flemish alchemist Francis van Helmont influenced and was friends with the likes of Locke, Boyle, and Leibniz. While imprisoned by the Inquisition, in between torture sessions, he wrote his Alphabet of Nature on the idea of a universal “natural” language. Je Wilson explores. Divine Comedy: Lucian Versus The Gods Mar 23, 2016 Books & Religion With the twenty-six short comic dialogues that made up Dialogues of the Gods, the 2nd-century writer Lucian of Samosata took the popular images of the Greek gods and redrew them as greedy, sex-obsessed, power-mad despots. Nicholas Jeeves, editor of a new edition for PDR Press, explores the story behind the work and its reception in the English-speaking world. Worlds Without End Dec 9, 2015 Science & Religion At the end of the 19th century, inspired by radical advances in technology, physicists asserted the reality of invisible worlds — an idea through which they sought to address not only psychic phenomena such as telepathy, but also spiritual questions around the soul and immortality. Philip Ball explores this fascinating history, and how in this turn to the unseen in the face of mystery there exists a parallel to quantum physics today. A Bestiary of Sir Thomas Browne Jun 17, 2015 Books & Religion Hugh Aldersey-Williams takes a tour through Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, a work which sees one of the 17th-century’s greatest writers stylishly debunk all manner of myths, in particular those relating to the world of animals. The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire Oct 16, 2014 Books & Literature & Religion From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein’s monster, there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire – a creation of Lord Byron’s personal physician John Polidori. Andrew McConnell Stott explores how a fractious relationship between Polidori and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure of the legend we are familiar with today. Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth Sep 17, 2014 Books & Poems & Literature & Religion In early 20th-century St. Louis, Pearl Curran claimed to have conjured a long-dead New England puritan named Patience Worth through a Ouija board. Although mostly unknown today, the resulting books, poems, and plays that Worth “dictated” to Curran earned great praise at the time. Ed Simon investigates the curious and nearly forgotten literary fruits of a “ghost” and her ghostwriter. In the Image of God: John Comenius and the First Children’s Picture Book May 14, 2014 Books & Religion In the mid 17th-century John Comenius published what many consider to be the first picture book dedicated to the education of young children, Orbis Sensualium Pictus – or The World of Things Obvious to the Senses drawn in Pictures, as it was rendered in English. Charles McNamara explores how, contrary to Comenius’ assertions, the book can be seen to be as much about the invisible world as the visible. Darkness Over All: John Robison and the Birth of the Illuminati Conspiracy Apr 2, 2014 History & Religion Conspiracy theories of a secretive power elite seeking global domination have long held a place in the modern imagination. Mike Jay explores the idea’s beginnings in the writings of John Robison, a Scottish scientist who maintained that the French revolution was the work of a covert Masonic cell known as the Illuminati. Alfred Russel Wallace: a Heretic’s Heretic Oct 30, 2013 Science & Religion On the centenary of his death, Michael A. Flannery looks back at how Alfred Russel Wallace’s take on evolution, which radically reintroduced notions of purpose and design, still speaks to us in a post-Darwin world where problems of sentience and of the origin of life remain, some would argue, as intractable as ever. Sir Arthur and the Fairies Jun 12, 2013 Books & Photography & History & Religion & Events In the spring of 1920, at the beginning of a growing fascination with spiritualism brought on by the death of his son and brother in WWI, Arthur Conan Doyle took up the case of the Cottingley Fairies. Mary Losure explores how the creator of Sherlock Holmes became convinced that the ‘fairy photographs’ taken by two girls from Yorkshire were real. Athanasius Kircher and the Hieroglyphic Sphinx May 16, 2013 Books & Art & History & Religion More than 170 years before Jean-François Champollion had the first real success in translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, the 17th century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher was convinced he had cracked it. He was very wrong. Daniel Stolzenberg looks at Kircher’s Egyptian Oedipus, a book that has been called “one of the most learned monstrosities of all times.” The Redemption of Saint Anthony Mar 7, 2013 Books & Art & Religion Gustave Flaubert, best known for his masterpiece Madame Bovary, spent nearly thirty years working on a surreal and largely ‘unreadable’ retelling of the temptation of Saint Anthony. Colin Dickey explores how it was only in the dark and compelling illustrations of Odilon Redon, made years later, that Flaubert’s strangest work finally came to life. The Erotic Dreams of Emanuel Swedenborg Jan 24, 2013 Philosophy & Religion During the time of his “spiritual awakening” in 1744 the scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg kept a dream diary. Richard Lines looks at how, among the heavenly visions, there were also erotic dreams, the significance of which has been long overlooked. The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden Sep 6, 2012 Books & Science & Philosophy & Religion Of all the attempts throughout history to geographically locate the Garden of Eden one of the most compelling was that set out by minister and president of Boston University, William F. Warren. Brook Wilensky-Lanford looks at the ideas of the man who, in his book Paradise Found, proposed the home of all humanity to be at the North Pole. Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools Oct 25, 2011 Books & Art & Religion At the start of his career, as a young man in his twenties, Albrecht Dürer created a series of woodcuts to illustrate Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools of 1494. Dürer scholar Rangsook Yoon explores the significance of these early pieces and how in their subtlety of allegory they show promise of his masterpieces to come. Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine Sep 13, 2011 Books & Science & Philosophy & Art & Religion Between 1617 and 1621 the English physician and polymath Robert Fludd published his masterwork Utriusque Cosmi, a book split into two volumes and packed with over 60 intricate engravings. Urszula Szulakowska explores the philosophical and theological ideas behind the extraordinary images found in the second part of the work. Was Charles Darwin an Atheist? Jun 28, 2011 Science & History & Religion Leading Darwin expert and founder of Darwin Online, John van Wyhe, challenges the popular assumption that Darwin’s theory of evolution corresponded with a loss of religious belief. Beatus of Liébana Apr 18, 2011 Books & Art & Religion In a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books. Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and trumpet blowing angels, would be copied over and over again in various versions of the manuscript. John Williams, author of The Illustrated Beatus, introduces Beatus of Liébana and his Commentary on the Apocalypse. Bugs and Beasts Before the Law Mar 27, 2011 Books & History & Religion Murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal – theoretical psychologist and author Nicholas Humphrey* explores the strange world of medieval animal trials. Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno Jan 31, 2011 Poems & Literature & Religion The poet Christopher Smart — also known as “Kit Smart”, “Kitty Smart”, “Jack Smart” and, on occasion, “Mrs Mary Midnight” — was a well known figure in 18th-century London. Nowadays he is perhaps best known for considering his cat Jeoffry. Writer and broadcaster Frank Key looks at Smart’s weird and wonderful Jubilate Agno. Ernst Haeckel and the Unity of Culture Jan 24, 2011 Science & Philosophy & Art & Religion In addition to describing and naming thousands of new species the German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel was behind some of history’s most impressive meetings of science and art. Dr Mario A. Di Gregorio explores Haeckel’s unique idea of “monism” which lies behind the mesmerising illustrations of his most famous work, Kunstformen Der Natur.