A 30-part radio series and exhibition that is to be conducted at the British Museum will explore the patterns of ritual and share beliefs over 40,000 years. The program named, ‘Living With the Gods’ is presented by Neil MacGregor, who is the former director of the British Museum. The program covers shared beliefs and rituals from the ice age to the present.
‘Living With the Gods’ will air on BBC Radio 4 over 6 weeks and an exhibition of the objects that form the core part of this series will open in the British Museum on November 2. MacGregor is an acclaimed curator, art historian, and a devout Christian, who examines shared festivals, sacrifices, rituals, and pilgrimages, and the relation between society, politics, and beliefs. He said, “Questions of faith have, in recent decades, moved to the centre of the global political stage – an unexpected return to a centuries-old pattern.”
After talking to many experts and using the objects from the museum, MacGregor explored the connection between the various structures of the society and structures of belief. He said at the launch of the series that it was about “belonging and believing”.
“It’s not about individual belief, it’s about how patterns of belief have shaped societies and given societies coherence. It’s about what we do on our own and what we do together, and how communities are shaped by rituals organized around an idea,” MacGregor said.
A statue with a lion head and man’s body, found from a cave in south Germany, made from the tusk of a mammoth, is the first object examined in the series. The statue dates back to 40,000 years. MacGregor said that the object had “led us all to think about how ideas, beliefs and communal practices have shaped the way we think about each other”.
Jill Cook, who is an expert of prehistory at the British Museum, said that the figure was a masterpiece. “It is hugely original, it shows great technical virtuosity, and it has incredible spiritual presence. It looks at you, it watches you … It’s a very powerful object.” Cook said, adding that the object was “the oldest known evidence we have of religious belief within our own species … It’s a wonderful place to start a journey not just of how we believe but that we believe. There is no known society across the world that does not have belief at its base.”
MacGregor said that the themes of the series were very much relevant despite starting in the ice age. “We can’t really make sense of the world today without trying to think about why it is that religion plays such a big part in the construction of group identity, and what appear to be debates about faith are actually debates about communities, identities and when those are under threat how people respond.”
‘Living With the Gods’ is the fourth collaboration of MacGregor involving the BBC and the British Museum. If you are to tour British Museum this time of the year, do not forget to explore this exhibition.