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During the past decade, there has been an explosion of films and television programs containing religious and spiritual themes. Mel Gibson’s The “Passion of the Christ” was only the tip of the iceberg. As new generations of Americans work out their spiritual and religious questions, they are increasingly turning to fantasy. We’ll explore the deeper appeal of films like “Harry Potter” and “The Matrix,” and we’ll ask how fantasy in media reflects a changing spiritual imagination, especially in younger Americans.

We deconstruct the phrase “moral values,” which has confused and divided Americans since November’s election. As the second term of George W. Bush commences, political analyst Steven Waldman helps explore what these words do and do not convey to liberals and conservatives, and why they still matter. What is at stake when both sides fail to understand the moral convictions of the other?

We experience the religious thought and the spiritual vitality of two Muslims—male and female—both American and both with roots in ancient Islamic cultural, intellectual, and spiritual traditions. Their stories and ideas, music, and readings, evoke a sense of the richness of global Islamic spirituality and of some of its hidden nuances and beauty. They reveal how sound, music, and especially poetry offer a window onto the subtleties and humanity of Islamic religious experience.

Maria Montessori, the great 20th-century educational pioneer, observed that children have an intuition for religious life at an early age that is matched only by their capacity to acquire language. During this holiday season, Speaking of Faith explores the spiritual wisdom and intelligence of children—including their ability to process the difficult realities of life.

In this show, we speak with an African American Christian and an American Muslim and explore the perspectives of two religious communities which defy the broad stereotypes of this election year. We’ll seek to gain a deeper understanding of the way in which they are thinking through the mix of religious ideas that have come to the forefront of this campaign. These religious people see complex choices between competing religious ideals, and they are making their decisions in ways that challenge the intuition of pollsters and pundits.

In our time, some associate the word “religion” with rigid dogma and the excesses of institutions. The word “spirituality” on the other hand can seem to have little substance or form. The word “faith” can appear as a compromise of sorts, pointing to the content of religious tradition and spiritual experience. The truth is, all of these words are vague in the abstract. They gain meaning in the context of human experience.

In this show, we’ll explore the connotations of the word “faith” in four traditions and lives: Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We’ll speak with Sharon Salzberg, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Anne Lamott, and Omid Safi.

Many Americans received a violent introduction to Islam in September 2001. And yet, only one quarter of Americans told pollsters then that they considered Islam itself to be more likely than other religions to encourage violence in its believers. In the last two years, that figure has almost doubled. The specter of violence committed in the name of Islam has become as routine as it is shocking, especially at present in Iraq.

In this hour, we take a critical look at what is happening in Islam from inside a practice of that tradition. Krista discusses the present escalation of violence in the name of Islam with a practicing Muslim and leading scholar of Islamic studies, Vincent Cornell. He paints a bleak picture of chaos and drift within Islam which may presage renewal or the continued decay of the religion he loves.

Many of history’s greatest scientists considered their work to be a religious endeavor, a direct search for God. Pioneers like Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo believed that their discoveries told humanity more about God’s nature than had been known. Beginning in the early 18th century, science and religion came to be at odds — the gap widening most famously with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

In recent years, a new dialogue has begun, driven by leading scientists across the world. Host Krista Tippett explores with three scientists, each of whom is working in a field that’s rapidly advancing our understanding of what it means to be human. From very different perspectives, they suggest that our most sophisticated 21st-century discoveries may be driving us back to questions of faith.

The theory of the “God gap” — often broadly suggesting that religious Americans are conservative and will vote Republican while non-religious Americans are liberal and will vote Democratic — has been prominent in press reporting and political maneuvering in the 2004 presidential race. At their recent conventions, both parties seemed to grapple with faith dynamics and respond to the perceived God gap in interesting, unexpected ways.

Krista speaks with Steven Waldman, who covered the 2004 Democratic and Republican conventions for religious messages, images, and language. He says that, strictly speaking, the God gap is a myth. We’ll look beyond the headlines about the political gulf that reportedly separates religious and secular Americans.

Religious fundamentalism has reshaped our view of world events. In this show, host Krista Tippett explores the appeal of fundamentalism in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, as experienced from the inside. Three accomplished men, who were religious extremists at one time in their lives, provide revealing insight into the spiritual and cultural dimensions of fundamentalism. They also discuss religious impulses which counter the fundamentalist world view and helped them break free.

Pentecostalism began on the American frontier, and it has become one of the largest expressions of global Christianity. In less than a century, it has grown to hundreds of millions of adherents. Today, Pentecostalism is pan-denominational. There are charismatic Catholics and Lutherans, unaffiliated Pentecostal communities, and established Pentecostal traditions, most prominently the Assemblies of God.

Krista Tippett speaks with a theologian about the rise of Pentecostal worship among African-Americans in every denomination and a sociologist on her study of modern day Pentecostals — whom she sees as mystics among us.

In remembering the legacy of four World War II chaplains — Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish — who went down together with their torpedoed ship in 1943, we speak with David Fox, nephew of one of the chaplains. We also hear interviews with surviving veterans and veterans of the German ship that torpedoed them. Finally, a conversation with author, poet, and Vietnam War veteran Bruce Weigl. His most recent book, The Circle of Hahn, chronicles the long personal journey he has made back to Vietnam and to the adoption of a beloved Vietnamese child. The paradox of his life as a writer, he says, is that the war ruined his life and gave him his voice.

In the coinciding seasons of Passover and Easter, two world religions celebrate their core stories in ritual and worship. Each of these sacred holidays is based on a key biblical story of suffering and deliverance.

The Christian Holy Week commemorates the death of Jesus leading to the Easter celebration of resurrection. In eight days of Passover, Jews remember and reenact the exodus story.

What can ancient narratives of violence and miracle have to say to contemporary audiences? Host Krista Tippett explores faithful ways of living with these stories and giving them modern sense with featured readings from the Bible, words of a 14th century mystic, and poetry from Wendell Berry.

The religious landscape of Iraq is complex and somewhat enigmatic to the western world. Nearly 97% of Iraq’s 25 million people are Muslim, and a majority of Iraqis are Shiite rather than Sunni. What does that mean? And how powerful is the prominent cleric Ayatollah Ali al Sistani who has effectively challenged the American-led coalition. Could he become another Islamic revolutionary like Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini?

As part of Iraq’s rebuilding process, the Iraqi governing council agreed on an interim constitution that cites Islam as a source — but not the primary source — of future legislation. Approval of the interim constitution was delayed first by violence, and then by a group of Shiite council members who raised objections to elements within it. Host Krista Tippett speaks at length with Iraqi-American professor and advisor, Ahmed al-Rahim, for insight into the unfolding new relationship between mosque and state in Iraq.

Host Krista Tippett explores the practical implications of spirituality at work with Federal Bureau of Investigations special agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley and syndicated columnist Tim McGuire.

In May 2002, Rowley wrote a now-famous 13-page letter to Robert Mueller, Director of the FBI. In it, Rowley raised serious and detailed concerns about how the FBI had handled leads prior to the September 11th attacks.