There is a stereotype of the Orthodox Jewish woman. She is confined to domestic duties and bringing up many children whilst being dominated by a husband who wears a large round fur hat (a shtreimel) and has side curls and a bushy beard. This stereotype is based on the Ultra-Orthodox community which has recently been portrayed in the very popular Netflix dramas 'Unorthodox' and 'Shtisel'. The truth is that the Orthodox Jewish community is more diverse than this and that mainstream Orthodox Jewish women are taking on more responsibility in their community.
To discuss the stereotype, their faith and their lives, Ernie Rea is joined by three Orthodox Jewish women. Abi Kurzer is the Rebbetzen or Rabbi’s wife at Pinner United Synagogue in North London. She is also Clinical Manager and a social worker for a charity supporting adolescent girls from the Orthodox Jewish community. Rabbi Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz is a Research Fellow at Manchester University. Controversially she was ordained this summer in New York. And Avigail Simmonds-Rosten is the Jewish Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews in London.
Producer: Helen Lee
The increasing influence of African spirituality on Western society is very evident. You can read it in the work of novelists like Ben Okri, see it in the work of artists such as Chris Ofili and hear it in the music of pop superstars like Beyonce. Partly driven by the desire of young people within the African diaspora to find a deeper connection to their African heritage, African spirituality is very different to Christianity or Islam; religions brought to Africa by colonizing forces. It contains many diverse beliefs which differ from region to region. There are no scriptures – the traditions are passed on by word of mouth – and ancestors play a key role. Many of the practices are not found in Western culture (such as juju), but they express deep spiritual convictions and bind societies together.
To discuss African spirituality, Ernie Rea has assembled a panel of experts from across the African continent. Born in Nigeria in the West of Africa, Jacob K Olupona is Professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard Divinity School and Professor of African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. Mary Nyangweso was born in Kenya in East Africa and is Professor of Religious Studies at East Carolina University. And Adeola Aderemi is a Holistic Healer who bases her practice on her Isese Ifa spirituality with its origins in the Yoruba culture of Southern Nigeria.
Ernie also talks to Nigerian born artist Laolu Senbanjo who now works in New York. Laolu’s art is influenced by his Yoruba heritage and practice of African spirituality. His ‘Sacred Art of the Ori’ (Yoruba symbols painted onto the naked body) featured on Beyoncé’s 2016 Grammy award winning video for her concept album ‘Lemonade’.
Image: Original painting by Laolu Senbanjo on display at the Belvedere Vodka x Laolu Senbanjo collaboration celebration on September 6, 2018 in New York City. Credit: Johnny Nunez/WireImage via Getty Images
Poetry, the Language of Religion
To celebrate its 500th edition, Beyond Belief has recorded a special programme at the Contains Strong Language poetry festival in Coventry. From the stage of the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry to discuss the theme of ‘Poetry as the Language of Religion’, Ernie Rea is joined by a distinguished panel: Michael Symmons Roberts is one of Britain’s leading poets whose work explores the connection between the things of the spirit and the things of the world, Canon Mark Oakley is the Dean and Fellow of St John’s College Cambridge and the author of 'The Splash of Words, Believing in Poetry', Muneera Pilgrim is a British born convert to Islam and a poet and cultural producer and Bel Mooney is an author with a regular column in the Daily Mail where she also reviews books of poetry.
Each member of the panel has chosen (and recites) a poem to illustrate the idea that poetry can be the language of faith:
'Names' by Wendy Cope
'To men who use "Why are you single?" as a chat up line' by Muneera Pilgrim
'Belsen, Day of Liberation' by Robert Hayden
'Rehearsal for the Death Scene' by Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Helen Lee
If you have ever been so immersed in a book or film that you feel you're part of the story, you are doing something similar to the Gospel contemplations in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.
As a soldier, Ignatius spent his early life chasing adventure, glory and pleasure. Whilst leading a doomed last stand at the Battle of Pamplona 500 years ago, he was struck by a cannonball that shattered his legs.
This began a dramatic spiritual conversion through intense prayer, ascetism and visions. As the founder of the Jesuits, his lessons were published in a book called The Spiritual Exercises which are basis of Ignatian Spirituality. It's one of the world's most influential books of prayer, meditations and contemplations. It emphasises using all your senses to imagine Jesus, hell, and biblical scenes with the goal of discerning God's will for you.
Ernie Rae meets three people to discover how it transformed their lives and asks: does it's focus on individual discernment mean 'anything goes'? What's it like conjuring up a visceral image of you at your absolute worst? And how has Ignatian Spirituality shaped the papacy of the first Jesuit Pope, Francis I?
Plus, we meet Toy Story co-creator, Pete Docter. He tells us how another goal of Ignatian Spirituality of finding God in all things influenced him and his latest Oscar winning film, Soul.
To discuss all this, Ernie is joined by: Father Jim Martin (a Jesuit Priest and author of ‘The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything’), Ruth Holgate (Director of St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales) and Sister Anne Arabome (a member of the Sisters of Social Service in Los Angeles and Associate Director of the Faber Centre for Ignatian Spirituality).
Producer: Julian Paszkiewicz
Editor: Helen Grady
Scotland and the Union
There has been a ‘Great Britain’ for over 300 years but the union is now under threat. Part of what has held Scotland and England together is the fact that they have shared a monarch since 1603. But whilst the Queen holds the title 'Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England', she not not the Supreme Governor of the Church of Scotland. The two nations have different ecclesiastical arrangements. Anglicanism in Scotland is not very prominent whilst - until recently - the Presbyterian Church of Scotland dominated the religious landscape. Numbers in the Scottish Catholic Church have been maintained by immigration from Ireland and, more recently, from Eastern Europe but it too is in decline; whilst black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are growing in size and influence. Has the change in the religious landscape in Scotland had any influence on the move for political independence? And why do the religious bodies appear so reluctant to take a public stance in the debate about Scotland and the union?
Ernie Rea is joined by a panel which is split equally between pro and anti-union sentiments. Murdo Fraser is a Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament and a Patron of the Conservative Christian Fellowship; the Rev Scott Rennie is a Church of Scotland Minister in Aberdeen and a member of the Lib Dems; both are pro union. Angela Haggerty is a Catholic journalist and commentator and shares a pro independence position with Graham Campbell an SNP councillor on Glasgow City Council and a Rastafarian.