Luke Burns is the founder and director of the Online Centre for Religious Studies.
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Luke is a graduate of the Open University, and has an interest in the natural world, religious experiences, and the possibility of life beyond this planet. He lives in Somerset, England with his wife and pet degus.
Hi! Nice to meet you :)
I like buying too many books and learning about people’s religious and philosophical worldviews.
In 2016 I founded the Online Centre for Religious Studies, an organisation that aims to make religious studies accessible for a wide audience, without hiding anything behind specialist language. I was in part inspired by the way that open source programming documentation is often written in a clear, open, and friendly style, without sacrificing detail or meaning.
I spent several years working on the OCRS, creating an introductory online course, and completing my undergradutate studies with the Open University.
In 2020 I achieved a First Class Honours Degree in Humanties, with a focus on Religious Studies. I am now working to create a comprehensive online resource for learning about religion and worldviews: Understanding Religion.
A spiritual revolution? Wicca and religious change in the 1960s
This free course looks at the 'crisis' of traditional religion in the Sixties in the Western world. It explores the process of religious renewal, looking at the development of Wicca, the prototypical form of modern Paganism.
[wicca 1960s paganism]
About the project
Understanding Religion is a website aimed at providing easy access to information about the study of religion. Always free, written clearly for a wide audience, grounded in academic study and supported by references for those who want to dive deeper.
The ahadith are texts containing reported stories about Muhammad, and are frequently used to fill in details about the life of the prophet; they also provide guidance on points not directly addressed by the Qur'an.
The Akashic records are a non-physical storehouse of information, proposed by Theosophists to contain a record of all thoughts, words, and actions in the past and future.
Alternative perspectives, due to their absence in mainstream texts and dismissal by historical scholars, are sometimes difficult to hear over the sound of traditional narratives – but this is increasingly changing for the better.
Animism is a term based on the Latin word for 'soul', which frames all religious belief in terms of how it imbues the natural world with agency and personality, but more recent scholarship has developed this understanding to focus more on the relationships and responsibilities which typically define animist perspectives.
A drink prepared by indigenous groups in the Amazon, containing a number of psychoactive chemicals. It is often used in groups to facilitate healing, visions, and insight.
[dmt shamanism indigenous religion]
Religious systems often include beliefs about the world (both seen and unseen), which describe (or dictate) how the world operates. Subscribing to a set of beliefs (orthodoxy) is not always essential for belonging to a religion.
Buddhism is a family of traditions which trace their lineage back to a figure known as Siddartha Gautama, a man who discovered a means of escape from the suffering of existence. It is said that he became 'awakened', and this is the meaning of his title: Buddha.
[buddhism india china tibet japan]
Cannabis is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used primarily for medical or recreational purposes, however it can also be used for spiritual purposes.
[marijuana weed pot herb ganja]
Caodaism emerged in Vietnam during the 1920s and based its structure on that of the Roman Catholic Church, but drew its principles and practices from Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, and Confucianism.
[vietnam new religious movements]
A term used to describe the use of religious ideas, practices, and materials in the support of capitalist ideologies, for example the promotion of meditation in the workplace in order to boost productivity.
Christians follow the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a man born around the beginning of the first century in the land which is now Israel.
[christianity israel jesus]
A physical representation of Jesus dying on the cross, used by Christians as a reminder of Jesus's death and resurrection; the crucifix is used in a variety of contexts, often as a focal point within a church.
One of the key aspects of religion – particularly in public discourse – is the relationship between 'organised religion' and small groups of devotees lead by charismatic individuals, commonly referred to as cults.
Early Christians Might Have Been High on Hallucinogenic Communion Wine
A discussion on the early use of hallucinogenic chemicals mixed with alcohol to form so-called 'spiked' wine.
Eid-e-Shuja’, also known as Eid-e-Zahra, is a ritual festival observed by most Twelver Shi‘a Muslims. It marks the end of the two-month mourning period after the events of the Karbala massacre, which occurred in 680 AD.
Governing Religion: Global Challenges and Comparative Approaches
Explore the relationship between religions and governments and learn how religions have come to be governed across the world.
Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, is alternately praised as a leading social reformer, and decried as laying the foundations for modern Islamic terrorist groups.
Himalayan Institute Of Yoga Science And Philosophy
The Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy was founded by Swami Rama, and is dedicated to sharing so-called Himalayan Yoga.
Indian Philosophy: Volume 1
This volume of Radhakrishnan’s two-volume work on Indian philosophy goes into detail on the Rig Veda and Upanishads, Jainism, Buddhism, and the theism of the Bhagavad Gita.
[india philosophy buddhism hinduism jainism]
Interfaith Dialogue for Combating Extremism among Young People
Explore the role of interfaith education in preventing forms of violent extremism and building resilient communities.
[interfaith extremism young people violence]
The Jain religious tradition focuses on liberation from the suffering of rebirth, and in this sense has common ground with its near geographic neighbours - Hinduism and Buddhism.
Keeping it 101: A Killjoy's Introduction to Religion
Aimed at a general audience who want to get to grips with contemporary religious studies, this podcast explores a range of topics, including the concept of religion as category, and the significance of race, gender, and sexuality.
Texts (of all kinds) are controlled and mediated by people, and therefore restrictions can sometimes be made about which texts are preserved and shared, and which are ignored or destroyed. This can lead to an erasure of certain material from a religious tradition, or from the public understanding of that tradition, particularly if the material disagrees with the perspective of those in positions of power.
[texts scripture bias]
Muslims in Britain: Changes and Challenges
Develop your understanding of Muslims and their faith through an exploration of communities in Britain.
[islam muslims britain united kingdom]
Smart was a Scottish writer and educator who developed the field of academic religious studies, and helped to distance it from theology. He took the investigation away from which religion was 'true', and instead looked at the lived experiences of religious adherents.
[phenomenology religious studies]
Podcast about the New Testament and Christian Origins. Condensed comment from an academic perspective for everyone interested in historical approaches to the New Testament. By Mark Goodacre, Frances Hill Fox Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University.
Pilgrimage is a practice of journeying to a significant location, but the location, method of travel, and meaning attached can vary widely. There is often a close relationship, or even overlap, with tourism.
Religious practices are those behaviours and actions that have religious meaning for those who perform them; there are many different types and examples of such practices, including pilgrimage to holy sites (such as the tomb of Imam Husayn for Shi'ite Muslims), prayer, and song – to name a few.
Psychology and Religion
G. S. Spinks
A detailed review of the psychological study of religion, touching on the theories of Freud and Jung, and exploring the psychology of prayer, worship, and mystical experiences.
The Ramayana (literally Rama's travels) is about the character Rama, prince of a kingdom called Ayodhya (and later its king), but Rama is actually the god Vishnu who has taken birth in a human form, or avatar.
Religion, Radicalisation, Resilience
Understand religious radicalisation and violence and learn strategies to build resilience in communities and schools.
[violence radicalisation terrorism]
Religions From The Inside: Improving Interreligious Dialogue
Explore the value of cooperation between faiths and learn how the five main world religions’ core beliefs relate to each other.
Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures
Learn how to better understand the rich and complex ways that religions function in historic and contemporary contexts.
Some religious practices have specific rules about how they are performed, these practices are sometimes called rituals. There is no hard line between 'religious practice' and 'ritual', but practices with more rules can be described as more ritualistic.
[ritual order meaning]
An English social anthropologist and philosopher, he carried out specialised study in comparative religion which challenged and expanded views in the study of the anthropology of religion.
[anthropology philosophy africa indigenous religion magic myth ritual]
Self-religion is a term used by scholars to describe the modern phenomenon of highly individualised religious practice, which draws from diverse spiritual traditions in order to create a unique form of religion that is acceptable to the individual.
Seven Dimensions of Religion
The seven dimensions of religion are a framework for exploring and understanding religion, developed by the Scottish scholar of religion, Ninian Smart.
[phenomenology religious studies]
Sikhi is the name of a religious tradition which emerged in the Punjab, initiated by Guru Nanak, and led by a series of Gurus who acted as divine intermediaries between God and humanity. The final human Guru bestowed spiritual authority onto the community's scriptures and the community itself.
Six Articles of Faith
Within Islam, there are three aspects which are generally agreed upon - these are islam (submission), iman (faith), and ihsan (perfection). In this article, we're going to focus on iman and see how it is understood in relation to Islam as a religious tradition, but it's clear from this threefold division that faith by itself isn't the whole story.
Text Talks provides teachers and students (and anyone else who’s interested) with weekly podcasts and resources based around the GCSE and A Level Syllabuses for Buddhism and Hinduism.
[hinduism buddhism religious education gcse a level]
The Classical Ideas Podcast
The goal of The Classical Ideas Podcast is to empower students with the core knowledge of major world religions to improve citizenship and agency in a diverse society.
The Indian Theogony
A work on comparative mythology, focusing on Indian deities and mythologies - particularly with reference to the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
[hinduism india comparative mythology]
The International Church of Cannabis
The International Church of Cannabis is a religious group based in Denver, Colorado, USA, which uses cannabis during its ceremonies in order to help members have a better understanding of themselves.
The Religious Studies Project
The Religious Studies Project (RSP) is an international collaborative enterprise producing weekly podcasts and resources on the social-scientific study of religion.
The Serpent Power
Sir John Woodroffe
An introduction to the concept of laya yoga, along with translations of two Sanskrit works - the Sat-Chakra-Nirupana and the Paduka-Pancaka.
[yoga kundalini hinduism india]
The Varieties of Religious Experience
Published at the beginning of the twentieth century, The Varieties of Religious Experience is a far-ranging exploration of the psychology and philosophy behind different kinds of religious experiences.
[religious studies world religions religious experience]
The World Religions Paradigm
When the category of religion is used to describe 'world religions', it is often in a way that turns multiple diverse traditions, philosophies, and practices, into one single entity for the sake of simplicity.
Theravada is a form of Buddhism that venerates the Buddha but does not deify him, follows the teachings of the old scriptures (the Pali Canon), and values the aspirational figure of the arhat.
What is religion?
Although at first glance, you might think that religion is an easy to understand concept - it becomes very difficult to pin down, the more you look at it. There are lots of possible definitions, but none of them are 100% right.
What is religious literacy?
Religious literacy is a term that has become more popular in recent years, but what exactly do we mean when we talk about it?
[religious studies religious literacy]
What makes a place sacred?
To claim that a location, structure, or geographical feature is sacred is to assert that it is set apart and regarded with special reverence, yet there are many ways to understand this sacrality, where it comes from, and how it is expressed by different groups of people.
[sacred place geography]
Who creates religion?
The modern study of religion, beginning in the 19th Century, has been traditionally driven by male European scholars, who have carried their own cultural biases and assumptions - some unconscious, others less so.
Why Religion Matters: Religious Literacy, Culture and Diversity
A free online course from the Open University, exploring the importance of religious literacy.
[religious studies religious literacy]
Worldviews: A Multidisciplinary Report
Céline Benoit, Timothy Hutchings and Rachael Shillitoe
As part of the Worldview Project, the REC commissioned a multidisciplinary academic literature review on the worldview concept. This was prepared by three academics working in different disciplines in different universities.
[worldviews religious education]