Each week, Heart And Soul explores and tries to explain personal experiences of spirituality and faith from around the world.
April 7, 2017
The Philippines is a devoutly religious country, with more than 86% of the population Roman Catholic – and it has huge drug problem. President Rodrigo Duterte, himself a Catholic, has been waging a controversial war on his country’s drugs problem since he took office in 2016.
Rebecca Henschke explores the fall out President Duterte’s controversial war on drugs is having on both the Church and Catholics in the pews. She visits drug rehab and prevention centres which are part of the Sanlakbay program that the Catholic Church has set up in response to the influx of thousands of drug surrenderees giving themselves up.
Duterte feels that after years of sexual abuse, much of which was covered up the Catholic Church, it has lost its right to comment on moral issues and many of the people who support him agree
March 31, 2017
David Cooper was a Chaplain to one of the toughest units in the British army during a territorial war over the South Atlantic islands known to the British as the Falklands and to the Argentines as the Malvinas. Thirty-five years on Cooper tries to explain the love of God amid the suffering each side inflicted on the other. But Cooper is about to encounter his greatest challenge in an Argentine soldier, Horacio Benitez.
Benitez was a young conscript during the war. He remembers with horror how he had machine-gunned advancing British soldiers. “You ask yourself how many fathers you have killed. And you ask yourself why?” That question remained with Benitez, a man of profound Catholic faith for the rest of his life. He has now made it his mission to visit Britain to seek reconciliation. As Benitez visits one of the Falklands war memorials in Britain he reads the names of the British dead. He recalls his own pain at losing comrades. But his biggest struggle is with his conscience. "I tried to find justification for what I did, that I did it for my country. But deep inside I know it was evil."
Meeting for the first time these former enemies, Cooper and Benitez together try to make sense of their war experience and the questions it poses for faith. Can there ever be a higher purpose in war – and what is needed now for peace?
(Photo: Mount Longdon was one of the places where Argentine and British soldiers fought during the 1982 conflict. Credit: Getty Images)
March 24, 2017
The fastest growing religion in Iceland is Norse paganism.
Floating in a hot spring, snow falling from the night sky, John Laurenson meets Teresa Drofn. A 25 year-old Heathen, Teresa describes her return to the religion of her Viking forebears as a renewal of a unique spiritual relationship with nature.
A millennium after it was banned in exchange for Christianity, John explores why Icelanders are returning to the faith. At a ‘blot’, or sacred ceremony John hears a priestess read aloud from the Eddas, an ancient Icelandic text serving as scripture for the new heathens of Europe. In the old days at a ‘blot’, there’d be animal, even human sacrifices. Today they share in traditional Viking food, horse and whale, sheep’s head, puffin pâté and rotten shark.
Visiting the site of a newly planned Heathen temple John meets high priest Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. Hilmar has presided over hundreds of weddings and seen his own congregation increase six-fold within a single decade. This new Heathen house of worship, the first in a thousand years, will be aligned with the sun’s path and burrowed deep into a hill near the city’s airport.
(Photo: A priestess raises a bull’s horn filled with beer at a heathen ‘blot’- a religious ceremony, Iceland. Credit: Silke Schurack / BBC)
March 17, 2017
In Copenhagen, on an upmarket shopping street, above a burger joint, two female imams are leading Friday prayers.
The Mariam mosque is the first female led mosque in Scandinavia and one of only a handful worldwide. Anna Holligan travels to Denmark to meet its founder and imaamah, Sherin Khanhan. In building a feminist mosque Sherin hopes to revolutionize the traditional role of an imam and challenge some of the traditional patriarchal structures in Islam. Sherin argues that promoting female imams does not go against the teachings of Islam, but virtuously follows in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad who asked women to lead prayers in his own house mosque.
Sherin’s interpretation of Islam has attracted criticism from leading scholars. Anna meets Professor Ebrahim Afash from the University of Copenhagen who accuses Sherin of diluting Islam. Professor Afash argues although the tiny mosque has received global attention by western media its impact upon Danish Muslims is insignificant.
(Photo: Betina Garcia / Getty Images)
Feb. 24, 2017
On the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, Nubians, an ethnic group of African Egyptians, are forced to practice Christian traditions in secret under the watchful eye of an Islamic government.
Their quiet acts of resistance - baptising their children under cover of darkness, wedding ceremonies celebrated at midnight and signs of the cross hung discreetly in homes - carry significant risk. Nicola Kelly joins those who are prepared to take this leap of faith to maintain traditions they see as integral to the Nubian culture.
With religious attacks against Christian groups in Egypt on the rise, Nicola Kelly explores the current tensions between the Egyptian authorities and the Nubians. She investigates how the political and historical landscape has limited religious freedom in that part of the country and asks what hope marginalised groups have for the future of Christianity in Egypt.
Photo: Groom Akram delivers some last-minute invitations to his wedding in Shadeed, an island in the Nile close to Aswan, Credit: Nicola Kelly
Feb. 10, 2017
The national motto of Indonesia is ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ - Unity In Diversity. It is the world’s largest Muslim majority country, but across its thousands of islands live more than 300 ethnic groups. Pancasila, the nation's founding philosophy, recited by school children every morning, proclaims unity in democracy, nationality and the belief in one god.
However Indonesia's founding principles are being tested by a high profile blasphemy case. Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, is the highest ranking official ever to be charged with insulting a religion. Whilst on trial, he is also running for re-election as governor. Before the blasphemy charges he was well ahead in the polls, but now it is possible he will lose in the February elections and may be jailed.
With days remaining before Jakarta's elections Indonesian correspondent, Rebecca Henschke, investigates the use of Indonesia’s blasphemy laws alongside its reputation for religious tolerance. Galvanized by pressure from hardline groups, Rebecca witnesses crowds of tens of thousands gathered in Jakarta demanding Ahok to be jailed. Rebecca also meets Ahok's devoted supporters, committed to the campaign trail for his re-election.
Ahok’s rise as a Chinese Christian to one of the country’s most prominent positions was seen as an example of Indonesia's commitment to religious tolerance. Now, many fear, a guilty verdict could cause irreversible damage.
Presented and produced by Rebecca Henschke
Photo Credit : Oscar Siagian / Stringer
Feb. 3, 2017
London’s Highgate Cemetery is the resting place of many famous people including Karl Marx, George Eliot and Christina Rossetti. It is a park, a forest, and a maze, high up on a hill, an eccentric sprawling world of its own even though it is in an elegant London neighbourhood.
Bestselling American writer and artist Audrey Niffenegger first visited in the mid-1990s and found it wonderfully theatrical and moving. Years later, when she was inspired to set a novel in a cemetery, she decided that Her Fearful Symmetry had to be set in Highgate.
She is joined by broadcasters John Waite and Judith Kampfner who both have family graves at Highgate. John has been closely associated with Highgate for nearly 30 years while Judith has come to know it more recently. Both are proud to have loved ones resting in a place where there is a clear mission for tolerance and acceptance of people of all faiths and no faith.
Audrey explains how the cemetery became a character in her novel and how it allowed her to take her plot to wild extremes. Her book explores grief and memory and letting go, and she appreciates the way the Victorians accepted death and even celebrated it. She also likes the way that Highgate is different from a modern cemetery. Though a lapsed Catholic who does not believe in an afterlife, Audrey traps a dead character in a supernatural world between life and death and admits that she is still fascinated by Christian iconography and the Gothic and Egyptian symbols that commemorate the dead in Highgate.
(Photo: Audrey Niffenegger in Highgate Cemetery. Credit: Jon Calver)
Jan. 27, 2017
Shamain Faruque is one of the most well known bridal make-up artists in Pakistan. Shamain’s salon is filled with nervous brides waiting their turn. Some sleep on sofas with their full bridal hair in place as families concern themselves with every conceivable detail. Weddings are big business in Pakistan and for Shamain her faith plays a big role in her artistic direction.
As she works prayers are pumped through her Karachi based salon, as she channels beauty through God. Lucy Wearing, pop star Ellie Goulding’s make-up artist, profiles Shamain, her work and the role religion plays in her busy life.
Lucy met Shamain whilst teaching a make-up course in Dubai. They have remained friends ever since which is remarkable as they are the polar opposites - Lucy is agnostic whilst Shamain prays three times a day. Watching Shamain at work is fascinating; she works like an artist with a canvas. Her brides remain silent while she goes through the ‘look’. How does religion inspire her artistic vision?
(Photo: Shamain Faruque makes-up a client)
Jan. 13, 2017
A faith without borders, most of the Baha’i live outside of the birth place of the religion, Iran, where they are seen as apostates.
After the revolution of 1979, when the Islamist government ousted the monarchy, overnight the rights of minorities were stifled. Women were shrouded in black and the Baha’i were declared to be anti-Islamic defectors. Many Baha’i were incarcerated, tortured and evicted from their home country. But the Baha’i preach peace. They do not believe in a spiritual homeland, but that it is spirituality which binds them together. Following their leader Baha’u’llahs teachings of non-violence, instead of launching a conventional protest movement, they went underground. The religion has a “commitment to education and search for truth” but Baha’i teachers and students were ousted from Iranian universities – so they set up their own
Lipika travels to New York to meet several graduates from the Baha’i fugitive university. America is home to the second largest Baha’i population and boasts the oldest surviving Baha’i temple. Lipika visits the Baha’i House of Worship one of only eight Baha’i temples around the world.
Produced and presented by Lipika Pelham
Photo Credit : Cameron Spencer / Getty Images News
Jan. 6, 2017
Leaving the Orthodox Jewish community does not just mean forgoing your faith – it also means leaving a community, a life and in many cases your family. It can be so traumatic for many people that there are groups, set up to help people to distance themselves from the faith they feel encompasses every aspect of their lives.
Daniel Gordon meets Hasidic Jews at different stages of the slow process of leaving their tight-knit religious community and joining mainstream society.
Daniel will meet Maya, who grew up in the tight knit Jewish suburb of Stamford Hill in north London who tells him about her life as part of the community. He also meets 25-year-old Izzy who, until a couple of years ago, could not speak English such was the introverted nature of life. Daniel is there as he opens the results of an important maths examination that is taken by 16-year-olds in the UK.
Leaving the ‘derech’, or path, is not an easy decision. In doing so, ties are cut permanently with a faith and a way of life that is governed by strict laws. In understanding what it is to leave we understand more what it was to be part of it in the first place.
Dec. 30, 2016
Africa has been called the most homophobic continent. In the majority of African countries, homosexual activity is illegal; in some, long jail sentences or even death await those who break anti-gay laws.
Charles Adesina, himself a gay man with Nigerian roots, goes on a personal exploration to discover how deep homophobia really runs in families and faith communities in Africa – and how much churches and mosques have to do with it. He hears the story of Jide Macaulay, a Nigerian who struggled with his sexuality since he was a young boy and eventually had to flee the country after receiving death threats for establishing House of Rainbow, a Christian community for people from sexual minorities.
In South Africa, Charles meets a group of courageous grandmothers – Gogos in Zulu – who have taken it upon themselves to learn what it means to be lesbian or gay, and to defend their LGBT grandchildren from family hostility.
He visits Mpho Tutu-van Furth, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who famously said that he would never worship a homophobic God. Mpho, herself an Anglican priest, married a woman last year – but under Anglican canon law, her father was not allowed to give the couple his blessing as a clergyman. Asked what she would say to the vast majority of African churchmen who object to same-sex marriage, Mpho expresses understanding – but argues that a God of love cannot be opposed to the kind of loving relationship she shares with her wife, Marceline.
Finally, Charles visits Cape Town’s People’s Mosque to hear the story of openly gay Imam Muhsin Hendricks, who works with LGBT Muslims and their parents to show them that a compassionate understanding of Islam embraces people regardless of their sexuality.
Picture: Hands on a bible, Credit: Thinkstock
Dec. 23, 2016
Every week Father Michael Pfleger takes to social media to share the number of people killed over the past few days in his city, Chicago. The numbers are almost always in double figures and many of the dead are young African-American men shot on the streets that surround his church, St Sabina’s, in the almost entirely black suburb of Auburn-Gresham.
Rajini Vaidyanathan meets Father Pfleger after Sunday Mass, to explore with him why he has devoted his life’s work to trying to rid Auburn-Gresham of gun crime. Whilst the vast majority of this congregation is African American, Father Pfleger is white. Meeting with his parishioners Rajini discovers how personal his crusade has become. General Ware, a young man recently out of prison describes how Father Mike took him in after he found him wandering the streets late at night. Mothers Annette Nance Holt and Pam Bosley describe how Father Mike help them to find their faith again after the tragic loss of their teenage sons, both shot and killed. Father Mike shares how he has personally been affected by guns, his adopted son Jarvis shot just yards from his church door.
While many praise the work of Father Pfleger, there are others who argue some of it is cosmetic and that real change must come from within the black community itself. Maze Jackson discusses Father Mike’s role within the community and whether change can be sustained.
The Radical Disciple was presented by Rajini Vaidyanathan and produced by David McGuire and Claire Press
Photo credit: Andrew Burton
Dec. 16, 2016
Scottish theatre director and Christian, Suzanne Lofthus, travels to Italy to mount a play of The Story of Christ in Europe’s biggest jail, The Opera Prison in Milan. With a cast of 30 male inmates plus 10 women prisoners from the nearby Bollate women’s prison, Suzanne and her Italian assistant director George, will work over a six week period to stage a Passion Play. And, Suzanne does not speak Italian!
We follow Suzanne on this challenge and discover how her faith has led her to embrace these unlikely thespians, many of whom are non-Christian or not of any faith at all. After an initial casting trip, on her return Suzanne finds out that many of her cast have vanished, either moved to another jail or been released. With crimes ranging from drug smuggling to murder and Mafia activities, how does Suzanne see her religious faith working alongside this criminal community. Her lead actor playing Jesus, has learnt most of his lines, but others have not and she is having problems replacing her missing St Peter star.
With three weeks to go, will they ever be able to pull off the performance she wants, especially as the women will only get to rehearse with the men on the day of the first show. Will God’s strength pull Suzanne and her cast of jailbirds through and put on a performance of Biblical proportions?
(Photo: A Night in the Opera performance. Credit: Clara Vannucci)
Dec. 9, 2016
He is he says, on a mission from God, Robert Berman’s lifelong campaign for organ donation to be permissible under Jewish/Talmudic law – Halacha – is at the centre of an ongoing debate in Israel. Berman, a Harvard University graduate, is striving to change attitudes to the donating of organs and possibly redefine the strict and ancient definition of death.
Berman has been referred to as “the murderer” as he continues to promote donor cards to this traditional community. Berman’s campaign has left him at loggerheads with Orthodox Rabbis, who view him with outright suspicion and as an outsider who wants to reform Talmudic decrees.
Lipika Pelham meets Berman in Jerusalem discussing his belief that the Torah promotes all selfless acts, including specifically consensual live organ donor ship.
She takes to the street of Jerusalem amongst the religious Jews to explore with the faithful their attitudes to donating and receiving organs and whether there is a chance that the rules over when a person is dead can be altered to make donation allowable under Talmudic law.
Produced and presented by Lipika Pelham
To find out more please click on www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38230114
Dec. 2, 2016
In the centre of Patan City in Nepal resides a living goddess, a child as young as four, chosen to host a deity of invincible feminine power. On her young shoulders rests the fate of the nation.
Goddesses in many religious traditions around the world exist only in the spiritual realm, symbolised by statues and icons. But in Nepal they live and breathe and take the form of young girls – the kumari. For centuries Hindus and Buddhists across the Kathmandu Valley have worshiped these young Buddhist girls believed to be possessed by the Hindu goddess Taleju. Selected so young, it is no easy task being a kumari – for reasons of purity they are taken out of school, only allowed to communicate with a select few, and are not allowed to walk on the ground outside of their homes. They are expected to sit still for long hours whilst giving blessings to thousands of visitors. But the kumari’s reign as a living deity is short. Upon her first period she is retired and replaced. Her powers are believed instantly lost and she must then negotiate how to become a normal teenager.
As part of the 100 Women Season, Sahar Zand joins the thousands of Nepalese Hindus and Buddhists on leave from work and school as they celebrate the national festival of Dashain. Sahar explores the symbolic status of blood, the importance of sacrificing animals during Dashain festival and why when a kumari first menstruates the goddess is believed to vacate her body. Sahar meets solicitor Subin Mulmi who argues the strict rules of purity and segregation surrounding the kumari are detrimental to the child’s freedom and education. However, a former kumari Chanira Bajracharya, who despite describing the trauma of her first day transitioning from goddess to mortal, advocates this ancient tradition must be continued for the spiritual and cultural identity of Nepal.
Nepal’s Living Goddess was presented by Sahar Zand and produced by Claire Press
Nov. 25, 2016
Huge numbers of Gypsies and travellers across Europe now say they've joined a new movement called Light and Life. Those who join have given up on some parts of their lives that have become associated with being a Gypsy, such as drinking alcohol and fortune-telling, with many even abandoned their traditional Catholic faith.
The Gypsy led, Pentecostal movement, has grown rapidly in the past 3 decades - it claims that up to 40% of British Gypsies worship within it, whether that’s actually true, there is no doubt, there has a surge in people joining this vibrant church founded in France.
Alex Strangwayes-Booth travels to France to the biggest come together of evangelical Gypsys in Europe where she finds out about the history of the Light and Life church and how it has grown, converting gypsys and travellers from Catholicism and in in many cases transforming their lives.
Producer and Presenter: Alex Strangwayes-Booth
Nov. 11, 2016
Donald Trump predicted that if he won the votes of America's evangelical Christians he would win the election, and he was right.
A quarter of all voters count themselves as evangelical and 81% of them voted for Trump, despite the deep misgivings and public disagreements among Christian leaders over whether their conscience would allow them to endorse him.
Jane Little speaks to four leading evangelical leaders about how they define evangelical Christianity, their hopes and misgivings for the Trump presidency, what role Christian teachings will now play in shaping the country and whether we are in a new era for the religious right in the United States.
Presented by Jane Little, produced by Claire Press and Richard McIlroy.
Donald Trump joins evangelical Christians in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Nov. 4, 2016
25 years ago this month Terry Waite returned to the UK after nearly five years of captivity in Beirut. During the violent and destabilising civil war in Lebanon he had been sent by the Church of England to negotiate for the release of several hostages – but he was kidnapped and imprisoned himself by Hezbollah militants. His capture made news around the world and for a long time there was no information on whether he was alive.
During his years of solitary confinement, Terry’s courage and faith were so strong that although he was denied any writing materials, in his head he managed to write a book and conceive ideas for poems. This November, Terry Waite will release his second publication; a book of poems entitled, 'Out of the Silence'. Ahead of the collection's publication, Samira Ahmed meets Terry at his home in the heart of the English countryside. She explores his deeply held faith throughout his turbulent journey. Terry describes how the central Christian teaching of forgiveness drove him to return to Lebanon to meet with both Hezbollah officials and Syrian and Iraqi Christians.
Oct. 28, 2016
Reading can be solitary, peaceful, a moment to be alone with your own thoughts, but it can also provide collective wisdom and shared experience.
This week as part of the #LovetoRead season across the BBC, six religious leaders from around the world have chosen a single book that has a unique place in their spiritual lives, a non-religious text, but one that has enriched and informed their faith.
We’ll hear from Ilyasah Shabazz, Sunni activist and daughter of Malcom X, London based Syrian Revd. Nadim Nassar, the Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, Nigerian Pastor and interfaith activist Esther Ibanga, Ahmadi leader Imam Atta-Ul Naseer and Sikh theologian Valarie Kaur.
Power of the Word was produced in Salford by Claire Press.
Oct. 21, 2016
Right next to the city of Detroit, Michigan is Hamtramck, the first Muslim majority city in the United States. Just over 50% of the residents are immigrants from Bangladesh, Yemen and Bosnia. There are ten mosques in just over 2 square miles, as well as Islamic private schools. But only a few decades ago, the city was dominated by Polish immigrants with their Catholic churches and schools.
Long before Donald Trump made Muslim immigration a focus of his election campaign, Hamtramck made international headlines as the two groups occasionally clashed over issues of faith.
In this episode of Heart & Soul Jennifer Chevalier explores the streets of Hamtramck, visiting its mosques and churches, meeting local residents and asking: can faith now help bring this city together?
(Photo: The Islamic Center of Hamtramck. Credit: Scott Olson)