Living With The Gods

by Neil MacGregor

In times like these, where it can seem that our differences outweigh our commonalities, Neil MacGregor’s Living with the Gods is a comforting big-picture consideration of the significance of belief and religious practice. The book, a companion to the award-winning BBC4 programme of the same name, sets out to explore “the stories which give shape to our lives, and the different ways in which societies imagine their place in the world.... (i)nterrogat(ing) objects, places and human activities to try to understand what shared beliefs can mean in the public life of a community or a nation.”

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With this ambitious goal in mind, MacGregor uses these “objects, places and activities” to explore themes like gender, doubt, time, nation building, war, human-animal relationships, the body and belonging, uncovering along the way some surprising – at least to anyone allergic to the topic of religion – arguments about the way religion has been used to shape the relationship of the individual with the collective. I was surprised and intrigued by his reading of the Iranian revolution not as an anomaly in the midst of the generally declining significance of religiosity in the world, but instead as the canary in the mine, foretelling a coming religious renaissance.

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