Roots of Religion Playlist

Trace the origins of some of the worlds largest religions and sacred texts, examining what we know about how they came to be, and how they spread – and importantly explore what they are not, with the application of today’s modern secular definition of religion leading to misunderstandings and misnomers around so many of these movements.

How to best listen to public episodes

Click the “Full Episode…” buttons below to navigate a specific episode’s page, each of which has links to the installment on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Patreon, Spotify, YouTube, Google Podcasts, and on many other podcast platforms. Also follow or subscribe to the Historiansplaining on your preferred podcast app to get all the latest episodes as the come out!

Some episodes are Patron-only

New episodes in the playlist below alternate between free installments and ones that are available only to patrons for the first year after they’ve been recorded, along with some that are patron-only in general for the long run.  A contribution (at any amount you want to give) means a great deal to the endeavor of the Historiansplaining – Become a patron to unlock all of the episodes in the podcast.

A note on the ordering of episodes

Episodes below are listed in the order in which they were released to the public, and this matches the order that they appear in on Apple, SoundCloud and other public platforms. But since many episodes are patron-only for a time before becoming public, they can appear out of order, below, once they are released for free streaming, when just looking at their titles at least.

Roots of Religion Episodes

What do Hindus believe? What rituals, traditions, and ethical principles does one follow as a Hindu? What does Hinduism say about the soul and spiritual enlightenment? We trace the development in ancient and classical India of the multi-layered and comprehensive philosophy of life that we today call Hinduism, from the ancient rites of the Vedas, through the dramatic epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, to the rise of the ecstatic musical and mystical worship of bhakti.

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Also see:

Image: sculpture of Krishna defeating a horse demon, Gupta period.

How did the early church hammer out a shared set of practices and teachings out of the welter of confusion and bitter contestation among Montanists, Docetists, Donatists, Paulines, Gnostics, and Ebionites? Why did it take 300 years just for the church to settle on the “creed” that most of us now understand as the core of the faith?

Also see:

Image: earliest known manuscript of the Didache

Suggested reading: E. Glenn Hinson, “The Early Church”

How did a small movement of Jewish fanatics, devastated by the ignominious demise of their leader, rise to become the official state religion of the Roman empire, Armenia, Georgia, and Ethiopia? We trace the dramatic rise of the new faith through three centuries of preaching, prophesy, and persecution.

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Image: fresco of a woman at the 3rd-century house-church of Dura-Europos.

Suggested reading: E. Glenn Hinson, “The Early Church”

We trace the shocking and rapid rise of Islam in the 600s, as a confederation of desert towns and tribes unite around Muhammad and his prophesies from the Abrahamic god, then swiftly launch a stunning campaign of conquests against the major empires of the age. We consider the roots of the basic teachings and practices of the new religion, including the Qur’an, the hadiths, the Five Pillars, jihad, shariah, the divide between Sunni and Shiah, and Islamic laws regarding the status of women and of Jews and Christians or “people of the Book.”

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We join in the ongoing quest for the historical Jesus — the struggle to unearth and understand who Jesus really was, what he said and did, and how he inspired a movement. We trace the basic bare-bones facts that can be deduced from early Christian writings and brief references in other texts, including Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion. We throw out the flimsy theories of hacks like Reza Aslan and Bill O’Reilly, as well as the junk theory that no Jesus existed at all, and instead examine the new archeological evidence that helps to account for some of the strangest passages in the Gospels.

Also see:

We consider the long ideological struggles in the early church that led to the gradual collection of a canon of Christian writings that we now call the New Testament. We trace when, where, and why the various gospels and letters in the New Testament were written (hint: Matthew was not the first, not even close) and how they present different theological views. All in all, though, the New Testament writings were created to respond to the dilemma that as the years dragged on and Jesus’ disciples died off, the Second Coming that early Christians anticipated simply wasn’t happening.

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Also see:

Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States over 800 years ago?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had even arrived?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe, when looking across the centuries?
How is the growing field of genetics being used to sometimes tear down and sometimes reinforce the myth of people belonging to different ‘races’ today?
When pressed Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?
What did Netflix’s 2021 movie “The Dig”, with Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, leave out from the story of the great Sutton Hoo discovery? What can the highly-revealing Anglo-Saxon era treasure tell us about the significantly-obscured period of England during the “Dark Ages”?
How did so much of the Epic of Gilgamesh remain hidden and forgotten – but perfectly preserved – for over 2,000 years until being rediscovered in modern times?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and to Hinduism?
Why were cathedrals in southern Europe becoming more and more highly decorated and elaborately embellished in the 1500’s and 1600’s, while at the same time so many cathedrals in Northern Europe were being stripped of all of their ornamentation and symbolism?
How can one mid-sized U.S. city – Tulsa, Oklahoma – serve as a microcosm of so much of the triumphs and tragedies of American history?
How might a series of volcanic eruptions in the Americas have spurred the earliest Viking raids and the creation of the Ragnarok myth in Scandinavia, halfway around the world?
How could have mountains on the Moon helped accelerate the end of the Earth-centric view of the universe?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the political structures in place across much of the English-speaking world today?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
Ever heard that Florida has no history? It actually has far more then you ever could have known…
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one particular day in 1066?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to believe they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that are still shaping the modern world of today?
Why did nearly every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe feel compelled to have a court astrologer, usually as one of their most pivotal advisors?
On average, are people really becoming less religious than they used to be hundreds of years ago?
How were the lines between who was a cowboy and who was an American Indian far more blurred then the surviving myth of the Old West would have us believe?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time, both in Europe and in the Americas?

We dissect the origins of the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament by Christians), excavating the deepest layers of the collection of holy books, including the very ancient songs and prayers that were likely passed on orally for centuries before being written down, the scholarly theories of the lost documents that were stitched together to form Genesis and Exodus, and the differing points of view of the various prophets, scribes, and propagandists whose books made their way into the Hebrew canon…

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Also see:

We consider how best to understand the origins of the laws and customs of the Jewish people, or what we call “Judaism.” We begin by dispelling the notion that Judaism (or any other belief system apart from Christianity) can properly be called a “religion” — a category that derives originally from Christian practice and does not make sense anywhere else. We further examine the roots of the idea of “Judaism” as a concept for the Jewish way of life, concluding with a careful analysis of the meaning of the ancient Greek word “ioudaismos,” which originates in the Book of Maccabees. Finally, we trace the best possible explanation for the origins of the Jewish people in the Bronze-Age Near East, using archaeological evidence including an ancient Egyptian monument and the vandalized ruins of Canaanite temples. Ultimately, we should be able to understand Judaism and its God as the creations of a particular Middle Eastern people not entirely unlike their ancient neighbors.

Special thanks to Daniel Boyarin for his help and inspiration.

Quick Sample:

Also see:

Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States over 800 years ago?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had even arrived?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe, when looking across the centuries?
How is the growing field of genetics being used to sometimes tear down and sometimes reinforce the myth of people belonging to different ‘races’ today?
When pressed Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?
What did Netflix’s 2021 movie “The Dig”, with Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, leave out from the story of the great Sutton Hoo discovery? What can the highly-revealing Anglo-Saxon era treasure tell us about the significantly-obscured period of England during the “Dark Ages”?
How did so much of the Epic of Gilgamesh remain hidden and forgotten – but perfectly preserved – for over 2,000 years until being rediscovered in modern times?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and to Hinduism?
Why were cathedrals in southern Europe becoming more and more highly decorated and elaborately embellished in the 1500’s and 1600’s, while at the same time so many cathedrals in Northern Europe were being stripped of all of their ornamentation and symbolism?
How can one mid-sized U.S. city – Tulsa, Oklahoma – serve as a microcosm of so much of the triumphs and tragedies of American history?
How might a series of volcanic eruptions in the Americas have spurred the earliest Viking raids and the creation of the Ragnarok myth in Scandinavia, halfway around the world?
How could have mountains on the Moon helped accelerate the end of the Earth-centric view of the universe?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the political structures in place across much of the English-speaking world today?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
Ever heard that Florida has no history? It actually has far more then you ever could have known…
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one particular day in 1066?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to believe they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that are still shaping the modern world of today?
Why did nearly every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe feel compelled to have a court astrologer, usually as one of their most pivotal advisors?
On average, are people really becoming less religious than they used to be hundreds of years ago?
How were the lines between who was a cowboy and who was an American Indian far more blurred then the surviving myth of the Old West would have us believe?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time, both in Europe and in the Americas?

Unlock the most content by becoming a supporter through Patreon. You choose the amount you want to contribute, and your support helps keep the podcast commercial free! Learn more

Use the Patreon App or Patreon website for the best listening experience of exclusive patron-only content…