Living With The Gods [world Service]

Episodes

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Broadcast
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04/11/201720171105

Neil MacGregor examines how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

Through the Lion Man, a small ivory sculpture which is about 40 000 years old, Neil MacGregor, former Director of the British Museum, explores the role and expression of shared beliefs. The figure has a human body and the head of a lion - it is a being that cannot exist in nature. While we shall never know what the Lion Man meant to the community in which it was created, we do know that it mattered enough for the group to allow someone to spend about 400 hours carving it.

The programme visits the cave in southern Germany where fragments of ivory were discovered in 1939. These fragments were gradually pieced together by archaeologists decades later to re-assemble the figure. Some smoothing on the torso suggests that the Lion Man was passed from person to person in the cave.

Neil MacGregor begins the series with this object because, in his words, "what the archaeologists did as they pieced together the Lion Man is what societies have always done: work with fragmentary evidence to build a picture of the world. You could say that it's when a group agrees on how the fragments of the cosmic puzzle fit together that you truly have a community - one that endures, encompassing the living, the dead and the yet unborn. What this whole series is about is the role that such systems of belief - and perhaps even more the rituals that express those beliefs - have played in the creation, and sometimes in the destruction, of societies. Are we humans distinguished not just by a capacity to think, but by our need to believe - in a context where the search is not so much for my place in the world, but for our place in the cosmos - where believing is almost synonymous with belonging?"

Produced by Paul Kobrak.

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.

Image: The Lion Man, Credit: Museum Ulm, Oleg Kuchar

17/03/201820180318
Becoming an Adult2017122320171224 (WS)

Human rites of passage, that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor focuses on rites of passage, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, including a lock of bound hair, from the collections of the British Museum, which reveals an important ritual for teenage boys on the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Becoming An Adult2017122320171224 (WS)

Human rites of passage, that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor focuses on rites of passage, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, including a lock of bound hair, from the collections of the British Museum, which reveals an important ritual for teenage boys on the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Becoming An Adult20171224

Human rites of passage, that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood

Neil MacGregor focuses on rites of passage, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, including a lock of bound hair, from the collections of the British Museum, which reveals an important ritual for teenage boys on the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Change Your Life2018031020180311 (WS)

Examining images of the crucifixion of Christ and a serene figure of Buddha

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

A small coloured wood-cut, created in the Netherlands around 1500, offers a particularly gruesome rendering of Christ's crucifixion. Christ is pictured with blood pouring from his torso, his head, his legs and his outstretched arms. These are not realistically arranged droplets; instead we see a flurry of vertical red strokes, tightly packed together and evenly spaced. Neil MacGregor reflects on the purpose of this image.

He also considers a serene figure of the Buddha, a halo behind his head, already in his enlightened state.

(Photo: Figurine of the Buddha with a halo in his enlightened state. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

Change Your Life2018031020180311 (WS)

Examining images of the crucifixion of Christ and a serene figure of Buddha

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

A small coloured wood-cut, created in the Netherlands around 1500, offers a particularly gruesome rendering of Christ's crucifixion. Christ is pictured with blood pouring from his torso, his head, his legs and his outstretched arms. These are not realistically arranged droplets; instead we see a flurry of vertical red strokes, tightly packed together and evenly spaced. Neil MacGregor reflects on the purpose of this image.

He also considers a serene figure of the Buddha, a halo behind his head, already in his enlightened state.

(Photo: Figurine of the Buddha with a halo in his enlightened state. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

Change Your Life20180311

A small coloured wood-cut, created in the Netherlands around 1500, offers a particularly gruesome rendering of Christ's crucifixion. Christ is pictured with blood pouring from his torso, his head, his legs and his outstretched arms. These are not realistically arranged droplets; instead we see a flurry of vertical red strokes, tightly packed together and evenly spaced. Neil MacGregor reflects on the purpose of this image.

He also considers a serene figure of the Buddha, a halo behind his head, already in his enlightened state.

(Photo: Figurine of the Buddha with a halo in his enlightened state. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

Dependence or Dominion?2017120220171203 (WS)

How nature and seasonal change shaped shared beliefs from the Yupik people to Egyptians

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, focuses on how the natural world and seasonal change have shaped shared beliefs. The Yupik people of Alaska depend on the seal, and ancient Egyptians looked to the god Osiris to bring fertility to their arid land. Both societies, in radically different climates, devised practices that acknowledged the fact of their dependence on the natural world – and engaged everybody with the responsibility of co-operating with it.

(Photo: Statue of Egyptian god Osiris. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

Dependence Or Dominion?20171203

How nature and seasonal change shaped shared beliefs from the Yupik people to Egyptians

Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, focuses on how the natural world and seasonal change have shaped shared beliefs. The Yupik people of Alaska depend on the seal, and ancient Egyptians looked to the god Osiris to bring fertility to their arid land. Both societies, in radically different climates, devised practices that acknowledged the fact of their dependence on the natural world – and engaged everybody with the responsibility of co-operating with it.

(Photo: Statue of Egyptian god Osiris. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

Festivals2018021020180211 (WS)

Festivals and their role in shaping a communal identity

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Festivals20180211

and their role in shaping a communal identity

Fire and State2017111120171112 (WS)

Many societies have seen the mesmerizing phenomenon of fire as a symbol of the divine

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Many societies have seen the mesmerizing phenomenon of fire as a symbol of the divine. Neil MacGregor focuses on sacred fire which comes to represent the state itself: the perpetual fire in the Temple of Vesta in ancient Rome, the great Parsi fire temple in Udvada, India, and 'la Flamme de la Nation', the Flame of the Nation, constantly burning beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, uses objects from the Museum’s collections, and visits locations around the world, to examine how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

(Photo: The eternal flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier beneath Arc de Triomphe, Paris. Credit: Jacques Demarthon/AFP)

Fire And State20171112

Many societies have seen the mesmerizing phenomenon of fire as a symbol of the divine

Many societies have seen the mesmerizing phenomenon of fire as a symbol of the divine. Neil MacGregor focuses on sacred fire which comes to represent the state itself: the perpetual fire in the Temple of Vesta in ancient Rome, the great Parsi fire temple in Udvada, India, and 'la Flamme de la Nation', the Flame of the Nation, constantly burning beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, uses objects from the Museum’s collections, and visits locations around the world, to examine how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

Image: Gold coin, Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum

Gifts to the Gods2018012020180121 (WS)

Why offerings to Gods became part of cultural practice for the Muisca population

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

High in the Andes in Colombia, the indigenous Muisca population consigned highly-wrought gold figurines to the waters of Lake Guatavita – offerings which they would never see again.

Records of the treasures stored in the Parthenon, Athens, dating from around 400BC, reveal numerous gifts for the goddess Athena - gifts with a double role. The Parthenon was also a kind of central bank, capable of operating as a lender of last resort, creating an intimate connection between the temple of a goddess and the finance of the state.

Gifts To The Gods20180121

Why offerings to Gods became part of cultural practice for the Muisca population

High in the Andes in Colombia, the indigenous Muisca population consigned highly-wrought gold figurines to the waters of Lake Guatavita – offerings which they would never see again.

Records of the treasures stored in the Parthenon, Athens, dating from around 400BC, reveal numerous gifts for the goddess Athena - gifts with a double role. The Parthenon was also a kind of central bank, capable of operating as a lender of last resort, creating an intimate connection between the temple of a goddess and the finance of the state.

Global Gods, Local Needs2018041420180415 (WS)

How gods can reach new communities and faiths adapts

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Global Gods, Local Needs2018041420180415 (WS)

How gods can reach new communities and faiths adapts

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Gods Living Together2018042120180422 (WS)

How faiths co-exist in India

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Gods Living Together2018042120180422 (WS)

How faiths co-exist in India

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Here Comes the Sun2017112520171126 (WS)

The importance of the sun, from the very earliest days of humanity

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor experiences the sunrise whilst inside the monumental stone passage tomb at Newgrange, Ireland, a structure older than Stonehenge or the pyramids in Egypt. Here, on the winter solstice, thanks to the design of the tomb, a bright, narrow beam of sunlight reaches deep inside the structure.

He also considers the story of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, whose decision to hide herself in a cave plunged the world into darkness, and reflects on how - centuries later - the image of rising sun became closely linked with Japanese national identity.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum.

(Photo: Japanese print depicting the story of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

Here Comes The Sun20171126

The importance of the sun, from the very earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor experiences the sunrise whilst inside the monumental stone passage tomb at Newgrange, Ireland, a structure older than Stonehenge or the pyramids in Egypt. Here, on the winter solstice, thanks to the design of the tomb, a bright, narrow beam of sunlight reaches deep inside the structure.

He also considers the story of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, whose decision to hide herself in a cave plunged the world into darkness, and reflects on how - centuries later - the image of rising sun became closely linked with Japanese national identity.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum

Image: Sunrise, Credit: Getty Images

Holy Killing2018012720180128 (WS)

This Aztec knife, dating from around 1500, had a brutal purpose - human sacrifice

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time, and focuses on sacrifice..

Displayed in the British Museum is a finely-crafted Aztec knife, dating from around 1500, with a richly-decorated handle. It had a brutal purpose - human sacrifice.

In ancient Greece, animal sacrifice was a vital ritual for connection with the deities: the grounds of a Greek temple were in part a sacred public slaughter-house.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Holy Killing20180128

This Aztec knife, dating from around 1500, had a brutal purpose - human sacrifice

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time, and focuses on sacrifice..

Displayed in the British Museum is a finely-crafted Aztec knife, dating from around 1500, with a richly-decorated handle. It had a brutal purpose - human sacrifice.

In ancient Greece, animal sacrifice was a vital ritual for connection with the deities: the grounds of a Greek temple were in part a sacred public slaughter-house.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Lines of Communication2017123020171231 (WS)

Prayer is both a highly individualized activity and a profoundly communal act

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor focuses on prayer, reflecting on how this most highly individualized of activities is also a profoundly communal act, with objects including a 16th Century ivory and gold qibla, used to find the direction of Mecca - a function now offered by smartphone apps.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Lines Of Communication20171231

Prayer is both a highly individualized activity and a profoundly communal act

Neil MacGregor focuses on prayer, reflecting on how this most highly individualized of activities is also a profoundly communal act, with objects including a 16th Century ivory and gold qibla, used to find the direction of Mecca - a function now offered by smartphone apps.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Living With Each Other2018052620180527 (WS)

Neil MacGregor concludes his series on how shared beliefs have shaped societies.

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor examines how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Living with Many Gods2018032420180325 (WS)

The role and expression of beliefs with a focus on societies living with many gods

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

In the mid-1840s, a Roman earthenware jar was dug from the earth near Felmingham Hall in Norfolk. Inside, excavators found several belief systems, all mixed up together - for buried in the pot was a jumble of gods, deities of different kinds and origins, that tell us what it meant for people in Roman Britain around the year 250 to be living with many gods.

The great ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh includes a narrative with striking similarities to - but important differences from - the story of Noah in the Bible. Here a council of gods is persuaded to unleash a great flood to wipe out humankind.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.

(Photo: Roman figurines of different gods. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

Living with No Gods2018050520180506 (WS)

Neil MacGregor focuses on societies which aimed to live without religious beliefs

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil examines a revolutionary clock, from around 1795, created in the wake of the French Revolution, and designed to mark a new way of living; in an age of reason, there would no longer be royalism or religion in France.

A poster from the Soviet Union celebrates the apparent triumph of scientific progress: the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin floats in space, looks out and proclaims 'There is no God!'. It seems that the heavens are empty of divine beings, but full, instead, of starry promise.

(Photo: A revolutionary clock circa 1795. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

Living With No Gods2018050520180506 (WS)

Neil MacGregor focuses on societies which aimed to live without religious beliefs

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil examines a revolutionary clock, from around 1795, created in the wake of the French Revolution, and designed to mark a new way of living; in an age of reason, there would no longer be royalism or religion in France.

A poster from the Soviet Union celebrates the apparent triumph of scientific progress: the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin floats in space, looks out and proclaims 'There is no God!'. It seems that the heavens are empty of divine beings, but full, instead, of starry promise.

(Photo: A revolutionary clock circa 1795. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

Neil MacGregor examines how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

Living with One God2018033120180401 (WS)

How one god became central to worship in ancient Babylon and Egypt

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor's series on the role and expression of beliefs continues with a focus on societies and faiths with a single god.

Using objects from both ancient Babylon and ancient Egypt, Neil examines how one god could become central to worship in these societies.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Living With One God2018033120180401 (WS)

How one god became central to worship in ancient Babylon and Egypt

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor's series on the role and expression of beliefs continues with a focus on societies and faiths with a single god.

Using objects from both ancient Babylon and ancient Egypt, Neil examines how one god could become central to worship in these societies.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Neil MacGregor examines how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

Living with the Dead2017120920171210 (WS)

Deceased ancestors had great wisdom and could be called upon to help key decision-makers

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor's series on the role and expression of beliefs continues with a reflection on our relationship with the dead.

In the British Museum, he focuses on mummy bundles from Peru, skeletons wrapped in textiles made of llama wool or cotton. For the living, these were ancestors with great wisdom and knowledge of the world, who could be called upon to help key decision-makers.

He also examines two Chinese 'ancestor portraits', and discovers how and why they were venerated by surviving family members.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Living With The Dead20171210

Deceased ancestors had great wisdom and could be called upon to help key decision-makers

Neil MacGregor's series on the role and expression of beliefs continues with a reflection on our relationship with the dead.

In the British Museum, he focuses on mummy bundles from Peru, skeletons wrapped in textiles made of llama wool or cotton. For the living, these were ancestors with great wisdom and knowledge of the world, who could be called upon to help key decision-makers.

He also examines two Chinese 'ancestor portraits', and discovers how and why they were venerated by surviving family members.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Mother and Child2017121620171217 (WS)

How societies and communities seek to protect the newly-born and their mothers

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

How societies and communities seek to protect the newly-born and their mothers, including the role of St Margaret of Antioch, patron saint of childbirth, and the use of protective omamori in Japan.

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time.

He focuses on

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Mother And Child20171217

How societies and communities seek to protect the newly-born and their mothers

How societies and communities seek to protect the newly-born and their mothers, including the role of St Margaret of Antioch, patron saint of childbirth, and the use of protective omamori in Japan.

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time.

He focuses on

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Rejecting the Image2018031720180318 (WS)

Focussing on the word: a yad is used to follow the text during readings from the Torah

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

A striking cobalt blue mosque lamp, from around 1570, shows an Islamic way of doing honour to the word - calligraphy. In Jewish religious ceremonies a yad - a small silver rod with a little hand and a pointing index finger - is used to follow the text during readings from the Torah, to avoid any damage to the delicate parchment. Neil MacGregor reflects on faiths which focus on the word rather than the image as an expression of beliefs.

Image: A yad, Credit: British Museum

Rejecting The Image2018031720180318 (WS)

Focussing on the word: a yad is used to follow the text during readings from the Torah

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

A striking cobalt blue mosque lamp, from around 1570, shows an Islamic way of doing honour to the word - calligraphy. In Jewish religious ceremonies a yad - a small silver rod with a little hand and a pointing index finger - is used to follow the text during readings from the Torah, to avoid any damage to the delicate parchment. Neil MacGregor reflects on faiths which focus on the word rather than the image as an expression of beliefs.

Image: A yad, Credit: British Museum

Replicating the Divine2018022420180225 (WS)

The making of divine images such as Russian Orthodox icons and the Hindu goddess Durga

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

For the painter of a Russian religious icon, the paramount purpose is the continuation of a tradition, in which the painter seeks only to take his proper place, creating an image which opens a gateway to the divine.

The Hindu goddess Durga is at the centre of the popular annual festival of Durga Puja, where communities create images of the goddess in everyday materials - clay, wood, straw and oil paint - which then are endowed with a transcendental character.

(Photo: Russian Orhtodox icon of the Virgin Mary and child. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

Replicating The Divine20180225

For the painter of a Russian religious icon, the paramount purpose is the continuation of a tradition, in which the painter seeks only to take his proper place, creating an image which opens a gateway to the divine.

The Hindu goddess Durga is at the centre of the popular annual festival of Durga Puja, where communities create images of the goddess in everyday materials - clay, wood, straw and oil paint - which then are endowed with a transcendental character.

(Photo: Russian Orhtodox icon of the Virgin Mary and child. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

The making of divine images such as Russian Orthodox icons and the Hindu goddess Durga

Ruling with the Gods2018042820180429 (WS)

The relationship between gods and the earthly rulers with a heavenly mandate

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor continues his series on shared beliefs with a focus on earthly rulers and the gods.

Queens and kings may be priests of the gods, or their representatives. They may be incarnations - or even gods themselves. Or the relationship may be so close that to divide spiritual from temporal power at all would simply make no sense.

Neil examines these ideas, with the help of objects including a bronze staff belonging to the Oba of Benin, and a bronze vessel from China, whose inscription suggests that its dynastic leaders enjoyed a mandate from heaven.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ruling With The Gods2018042820180429 (WS)

The relationship between gods and the earthly rulers with a heavenly mandate

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor continues his series on shared beliefs with a focus on earthly rulers and the gods.

Queens and kings may be priests of the gods, or their representatives. They may be incarnations - or even gods themselves. Or the relationship may be so close that to divide spiritual from temporal power at all would simply make no sense.

Neil examines these ideas, with the help of objects including a bronze staff belonging to the Oba of Benin, and a bronze vessel from China, whose inscription suggests that its dynastic leaders enjoyed a mandate from heaven.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Neil MacGregor examines how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

The Beginnings of Belief2017110420171105 (WS)

Through the ancient Lion Man sculpture Neil MacGregor explores the role of shared beliefs

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Through the Lion Man, a small ivory sculpture which is about 40 000 years old, Neil MacGregor, former Director of the British Museum, explores the role and expression of shared beliefs. The figure has a human body and the head of a lion - it is a being that cannot exist in nature. While we shall never know what the Lion Man meant to the community in which it was created, we do know that it mattered enough for the group to allow someone to spend about 400 hours carving it.

The programme visits the cave in southern Germany where fragments of ivory were discovered in 1939. These fragments were gradually pieced together by archaeologists decades later to re-assemble the figure. Some smoothing on the torso suggests that the Lion Man was passed from person to person in the cave.

Neil MacGregor begins the series with this object because, in his words, "what the archaeologists did as they pieced together the Lion Man is what societies have always done: work with fragmentary evidence to build a picture of the world. You could say that it's when a group agrees on how the fragments of the cosmic puzzle fit together that you truly have a community - one that endures, encompassing the living, the dead and the yet unborn. What this whole series is about is the role that such systems of belief - and perhaps even more the rituals that express those beliefs - have played in the creation, and sometimes in the destruction, of societies. Are we humans distinguished not just by a capacity to think, but by our need to believe - in a context where the search is not so much for my place in the world, but for our place in the cosmos - where believing is almost synonymous with belonging?"

Produced by Paul Kobrak.

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.

Image: The Lion Man, Credit: Museum Ulm, Oleg Kuchar

The House of God2018011320180114 (WS)

The temple designed and formed in Mesopotamia about 4000 years ago to be a house of god

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Stone tablets in the British Museum detail how a temple was designed and formed in Mesopotamia about 4000 years ago - the first sacred space for which we have a written record. It was a god’s home, complete with private areas crafted to meet his every need: kitchens and dining rooms, family rooms and spaces for guests.

Architect Aidan Potter reflects on the ideas and ideals behind the design of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Kericho, Kenya, consecrated in 2015.

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

The House Of God20180114

The temple designed and formed in Mesopotamia about 4000 years ago to be a house of god

Stone tablets in the British Museum detail how a temple was designed and formed in Mesopotamia about 4000 years ago - the first sacred space for which we have a written record. It was a god’s home, complete with private areas crafted to meet his every need: kitchens and dining rooms, family rooms and spaces for guests.

Architect Aidan Potter reflects on the ideas and ideals behind the design of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Kericho, Kenya, consecrated in 2015.

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum, with the assistance of Dr Christopher Harding, University of Edinburgh.
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

The Making Of Meaning20180303

How do we begin to understand the original intention of ancient art?

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

The Making of Meaning2018030320180304 (WS)

How do we begin to understand the original intention of ancient art?

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor continues his series about the expression of shared beliefs with a focus on how we come to comprehend sacred images.

Our understanding of the rock art created by the San people of southern Africa over many centuries is helped by written accounts, so that what first appears to be an image of a hunting expedition becomes a record of a spiritual journey into another realm of experience. "For many years it was a matter of gaze and guess," says David Lewis Williams, an authority on rock art: "You gaze at it, and if you gaze long enough, your guess will take you close to what it's all about - and I'm afraid that's not the case, but we don't have to gaze and guess any more."

In the British Museum, a small 19th century Japanese shrine shows the spirits coming to visit a long-settled agricultural society. The curved doors of a small wooden box open to reveal, inside, a shimmering world of carved gilded wood, and a scene to which Japanese viewers would bring different interpretations.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

The Making Of Meaning20180304

Neil MacGregor continues his series about the expression of shared beliefs with a focus on how we come to comprehend sacred images.

Our understanding of the rock art created by the San people of southern Africa over many centuries is helped by written accounts, so that what first appears to be an image of a hunting expedition becomes a record of a spiritual journey into another realm of experience. "For many years it was a matter of gaze and guess," says David Lewis Williams, an authority on rock art: "You gaze at it, and if you gaze long enough, your guess will take you close to what it's all about - and I'm afraid that's not the case, but we don't have to gaze and guess any more."

In the British Museum, a small 19th century Japanese shrine shows the spirits coming to visit a long-settled agricultural society. The curved doors of a small wooden box open to reveal, inside, a shimmering world of carved gilded wood, and a scene to which Japanese viewers would bring different interpretations.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

The Other Side of the Leaf2018040720180408 (WS)

The societies who believe that they share the landscape with invisible co-inhabitants

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor looks at expressions of shared beliefs with a focus on societies who believe that they share the landscape with co-inhabitants who are not visible but are present. Such belief systems can be found in places such as the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

It is difficult to express this relationship with the landscape in the English language. Words such as spirits, gods or beings do not adequately convey the nature of the co-inhabitants - and although these co-inhabitants cannot always be seen, they are always there, on the other side of the leaf.

(Photo credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

The Other Side Of The Leaf2018040720180408 (WS)

The societies who believe that they share the landscape with invisible co-inhabitants

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor looks at expressions of shared beliefs with a focus on societies who believe that they share the landscape with co-inhabitants who are not visible but are present. Such belief systems can be found in places such as the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

It is difficult to express this relationship with the landscape in the English language. Words such as spirits, gods or beings do not adequately convey the nature of the co-inhabitants - and although these co-inhabitants cannot always be seen, they are always there, on the other side of the leaf.

(Photo credit: The Trustees of the British Museum)

The Power Of Song2018010620180107 (WS)

Kirchenpelz was not just 'Sunday Best' it showed your allegiance to the Lutheran Church

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor focuses on a Kirchenpelz or 'church fur' - a sheepskin coat made in the late 19th Century in Transylvania, now part of Romania, for the German-speaking Saxon community there. This was not just 'Sunday Best': to wear this coat was to proclaim in public your allegiance to the Lutheran Church, and your identity as a Transylvanian Saxon.

He also reflects on the importance and power of communal singing within the Lutheran Church and elsewhere: the German theologian and priest Martin Luther did not invent hymns or congregational singing, but he did transform them, making them central to worship as never before.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

The Power Of Song20180107

Kirchenpelz was not just 'Sunday Best' it showed your allegiance to the Lutheran Church

Neil MacGregor focuses on a Kirchenpelz or 'church fur' - a sheepskin coat made in the late 19th Century in Transylvania, now part of Romania, for the German-speaking Saxon community there. This was not just 'Sunday Best': to wear this coat was to proclaim in public your allegiance to the Lutheran Church, and your identity as a Transylvanian Saxon.

He also reflects on the importance and power of communal singing within the Lutheran Church and elsewhere: the German theologian and priest Martin Luther did not invent hymns or congregational singing, but he did transform them, making them central to worship as never before.

Producer Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

The Protectoresses2018021720180218 (WS)

Shared beliefs around Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and the goddess Artemis of Ephesus

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

In Mexico, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe came not from the hand of an artist, but was directly given from heaven - according to its history. Our Lady of Guadalupe is now the most powerful of presiding images, and the Basilica of Guadalupe near Mexico City is said to be the most visited Roman Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

The sanctuary of the goddess Artemis in the great trading city of Ephesus, now in western Turkey, was by far the most celebrated temple of the antique Mediterranean, and the cult of Artemis spread eastwards towards the Black Sea, and westwards towards Spain. Artemis was thought to protect the vulnerable at their moments of greatest personal danger.

Neil MacGregor also visits a shrine devoted to a woman sometimes perceived as a contemporary protectoress.

(Photo: Ceramic sculptures of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the goddess Artemis of Ephesus. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

The Protectoresses20180218

In Mexico, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe came not from the hand of an artist, but was directly given from heaven - according to its history. Our Lady of Guadalupe is now the most powerful of presiding images, and the Basilica of Guadalupe near Mexico City is said to be the most visited Roman Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

The sanctuary of the goddess Artemis in the great trading city of Ephesus, now in western Turkey, was by far the most celebrated temple of the antique Mediterranean, and the cult of Artemis spread eastwards towards the Black Sea, and westwards towards Spain. Artemis was thought to protect the vulnerable at their moments of greatest personal danger.

Neil MacGregor also visits a shrine devoted to a woman sometimes perceived as a contemporary protectoress.

(Photo: Ceramic sculptures of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the goddess Artemis of Ephesus. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

Shared beliefs around Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and the goddess Artemis of Ephesus

The Search for a State2018051920180520 (WS)

The attempts of some faiths to establish a state of their own

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

An over-printed coin from 2nd century Jerusalem tells of the failed attempt of Shimon bar Kokhba to lay claim to a state for the Jews, free from Roman rule - while a white cotton flag, framed in pale blue, flew over Sudan after it had been taken by Mahdist forces and before the Islamic state collapsed in the mid 1890s.

(Photo: An over-printed coin from second Century Jerusalem. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

The Search For A State2018051920180520 (WS)

The attempts of some faiths to establish a state of their own

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

An over-printed coin from 2nd century Jerusalem tells of the failed attempt of Shimon bar Kokhba to lay claim to a state for the Jews, free from Roman rule - while a white cotton flag, framed in pale blue, flew over Sudan after it had been taken by Mahdist forces and before the Islamic state collapsed in the mid 1890s.

(Photo: An over-printed coin from second Century Jerusalem. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

Neil MacGregor examines how shared beliefs have shaped societies around the world, from the very earliest days of humanity.

To Be a Pilgrim2018020320180204 (WS)

Pilgrimage and its role in Christianity, Buddhism and Islam

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time, and focuses on pilgrimage, and its role in Christianity, Buddhism and Islam.

Produce: Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

To Be A Pilgrim20180204

Pilgrimage and its role in Christianity, Buddhism and Islam

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time, and focuses on pilgrimage, and its role in Christianity, Buddhism and Islam.

Produce: Paul Kobrak

Produced in partnership with the British Museum
Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Turning the Screw2018051220180513 (WS)

A focus on those faiths seen as a threat to the state

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

A plain board, to be found on a 17th-Century Japanese roadside, offers generous rewards to anyone who informs on Christians. At almost exactly the same time a print from France depicts the officially sanctioned destruction of a Huguenot Church just a few miles east of Paris.

Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Turning The Screw2018051220180513 (WS)

A focus on those faiths seen as a threat to the state

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

A plain board, to be found on a 17th-Century Japanese roadside, offers generous rewards to anyone who informs on Christians. At almost exactly the same time a print from France depicts the officially sanctioned destruction of a Huguenot Church just a few miles east of Paris.

Photograph (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Water of Life and Death2017111820171119 (WS)

How water became an essential part of religious practise in Christianity, Islam, Judaism

How shared beliefs have shaped societies from the earliest days of humanity

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time, and focuses on water, including a visit to the Ganges at Varanasi, India.

In Islam, Christianity and Judaism, water is an essential part of religious practice. But for no faith does water - and one particular kind of water - play such a significant role as for Hindus. To bathe in the river Ganges is ustnot j to prepare to meet the divine, but already to be embraced by it. The river Ganges is the goddess Ganga, and the waters of this river, which govern life and death, have not only determined many aspects of Hinduism, but in considerable measure shaped the identity of the modern state of India.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum.
Photograph: (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

Water Of Life And Death20171119

How water became an essential part of religious practise in Christianity, Islam, Judaism

Neil MacGregor continues his series on the expression of shared beliefs in communities around the world and across time, and focuses on water, including a visit to the Ganges at Varanasi, India.

In Islam, Christianity and Judaism, water is an essential part of religious practice. But for no faith does water - and one particular kind of water - play such a significant role as for Hindus. To bathe in the river Ganges is ustnot j to prepare to meet the divine, but already to be embraced by it. The river Ganges is the goddess Ganga, and the waters of this river, which govern life and death, have not only determined many aspects of Hinduism, but in considerable measure shaped the identity of the modern state of India.

Producer Paul Kobrak

The series is produced in partnership with the British Museum.
Photograph: (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.