Ise Jingu is a Shinto shrine in Japan that is full of paradoxes. Every 20 years, for the past 1300 years, Ise Jingu has been rebuilt from scratch. It involves constructing identical copies of 125 structures that cover an area the size of the centre of Paris, using ancient techniques passed down through generations of craftsmen.
It is one of the most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan. Every year, over 10 million visitors and pilgrims journey through the depths of the ancient forest that surrounds the shrine, to pay homage to the deities of the Shinto faith.
Poet and professor Jordan Smith journeys to the heart of the Jingu in search of the rituals, customs, and spirituality that has kept it as alive today as it was over 1000 years ago. But as Jordan finds out, the essence of Ise Jingu cannot be discovered quite so easily. To get close to what Ise Jingu means to the Shinto faith and Japanese society, Jordan must travel into the depths of the forests of Ise to listen to the inaudible and feel the intangible. On his way he meets priests and professors, who help him discover new ways of interpreting Shinto divinity and what Ise Jingu means to those who journey there.
The Pope's astronomer
Br. Guy Consolmagno calls himself a 'Sputnik Kid'. He started school the year the Russians launched the world's first satellite. Growing up in Detroit during the space race he remembers the excitement he felt watching Nasa launch rockets into space, "I grew up at a time when anything was possible." He was always fascinated with astronomy. In fact, his father always wanted to be an astronomer but could never turn it into a career. He would show Guy the stars at night and point out the different constellations. Little did he know back then that his son would not only go on to be an astronomer, lecturing at the prestigious colleges of Havard and MIT, but he would go on to become the director of one of the oldest observatories in the world - The Vatican Observatory.
The Vatican Observatory has been gazing at the stars since 1582. The church started the observatory to study the heavens in order to make changes to the church calendar. Over the years it became a way for the church to marry science and faith and explore the points where they intersect. The first telescopes were placed right on top of the Vatican, but as Rome grew bigger and brighter, the view of the stars started to fade and so in the 1930s the Vatican built a new large telescope at the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo 25km south of Rome, and also one in Arizona in the US!
There are twelve astronomers working at the Vatican observatory, but Br. Guy, the director, is unique as he is the only one who was appointed by a pope and saint, Saint Pope John Paul II. He worked under JPII, Pope Benedict, and now Pope Francis. He still wears his MIT ring, as well as his white priest's collar.
For this Heart and Soul special on the BBC World Service, we will visit the Vatican Observatory to hear about its fascinating history and meet the 'Sputnik Kid' who is passionate about showing the world that science and faith are not as opposed as you might think.
Ground Zero for God
Jim Giaccone will never forget the day his brother Joe simply vanished – killed in a blast so forceful that not even a trace of his remains was ever recovered.
Joe was one of the 2,977 victims of the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 when members of al-Qaeda – an Islamist extremist group – flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York. They also crashed into the Pentagon on the outskirts of Washington DC and another plane was downed in a field near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Jim not only lost his brother that day, he also lost his faith. With grief came anger and a reckoning with God that continues when he revisits New York’s Ground Zero on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Jim tells his story to Jane O’Brien who discovers that he is not alone in re-evaluating his beliefs. She also hears from others who say the terrible events served to strengthen their faith and a Muslim American who say’s they still face hostility because of their religious identity.
The Taliban wanted me dead
Marzia Babakarkhail knows what it's like to have the Taliban break her door down intent on killing her. In 1997 they did just that because of her work promoting education and progress for women. She was forced to flee and now lives in the UK. That work continues and has never been more important.
As the last of the US military presence leaves Afghanistan Marzia tells her story to Matt O’Donoghue, how she rose to become a judge at 26 and was forced to flee and live under threat of death.
But she says her faith never faltered and she carries its strength in the UK where her humanitarian work continues in Manchester. Her fear now is that the progress she has fought for will be ripped away as the Taliban violently grab more and more control of her troubled homeland.
Abused online for my faith
Sophia Smith Galer, reporter and TikTok creator, speaks to users who have faced discrimination and suppression online based on their religion. We speak to YouTuber Nada Majdy, who regularly faces abuse from Islamophobes whose sexualised comments do not get taken down; the Jewish TikTok creators who try to challenge anti-Semitism, only to have their own videos taken down in the process; and we ask why and how Instagram managed to censor #sikh for nearly three months.