iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for 06/06/2011

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player


45 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 06 June 2011

Andrew Marr talks to the historian Jane Shaw about the story of Mabel Barltrop: she was renamed Octavia by her followers who believed she was the daughter of God. The theatre director, Jonathan Kent, brings the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire to the stage, in the little known Ibsen play, Emperor and Galilean. Ziauddin Sardar gives his take on the Qur'an, drawing contemporary lessons from this Sacred Text on everything from power and politics, to sex and evolution. And Ross Perlin exposes the world of unpaid work, in his investigation into the deals done in the name of internships.

Producer: Katy Hickman.


    On Valentine’s Day in 1919, a vicar’s widow was proclaimed the daughter of God, and her followers set out to build the New Jerusalem in Bedford. Mabel Barltrop, who became known as Octavia, was a charismatic and autocratic leader. Her community, made up mostly of women, believed that as Eve had brought sin into the world, it was women who were central to the ultimate redemption, and would achieve immortality on this earth, rather than in heaven. The historian Jane Shaw talked to the last remaining members of the Panacea Society. With access to their archive, she marks the progress of this remarkable group of women who, in the period between the wars, found a solution to the world’s grief, and a way to organise and better their lives.

    Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers is published by Jonathan Cape.

    Octavia, Daughter of God

    The Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam, is one of the most influential books ever published. Today its teachings are followed by more than 1.5 billion Muslims, who regard it as the Word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. For the last 1400 years it has shaped the law, politics and morality of Muslim societies around the world. In his new book, Reading the Qur’an, writer Ziauddin Sardar urges Muslims and non-Muslims to ignore their preconceptions about the text and read it again with fresh eyes. He says that all Muslims have the authority to interpret the text if they make the effort to understand it, not just an elite group of religious scholars. Emphasising that the Qur’an is not a static text, he argues that it needs to be interpreted anew by each generation. It should be understood both in the context in which it was revealed and in the context of our own times, taking into account how morality has evolved in the modern world.

    Reading the Qur’an is published by Hurst Books.

    Ziauddin Sardar

    Although rarely performed, Ibsen has described his play Emperor and Galilean as his “most important work”. A play on an epic scale, it tells the story of the Emperor Julian (331-363) who tried to turn the Roman Empire away from Christianity back to the cult of the ancient Greek gods. Now the National Theatre is about to stage the play for the first time in Britain. Set in various locations in Greece and the Middle East, the play explores conflict between faiths, the relationship between religion and the state, and the extent to which individuals can or cannot change the course of history. “All I wanted was to return mankind to an age of joy,” argues Emperor Julian as he becomes a tyrant. The director Jonathan Kent discusses the challenge of adapting Ibsen’s original work, and its relevance to the modern world.

    Emperor and Galilean is on at the National Theatre from 9 June to 31 July.

    Emperor and Galilean

    In February, a Conservative Party fundraiser auctioned off internships at City firms and media companies. With an increasing number of young people struggling to find work, it was the perfect way of both raising thousands of pounds for the Tory Party, and helping wealthy members secure opportunities for their children. Internships have become a contentious political issue, and in his new book, Intern Nation, Ross Perlin condemns their explosion in both the US and Britain over the last 30 years. He argues that it is socially unjust for companies to expect people to work for free, and that poorer students are at a distinct disadvantage. But with so many young people fighting for the same jobs, internships are often a requisite part of applying for work.

    Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy is published by Verso.

    Ross Perlin


Arts & Culture selection

Damian Lewis on reading A Delicate Truth

A selection of highlights from our arts and culture programmes.

Free download

  1. Image for Start the Week

    Start the Week

    Start The Week sets the cultural agenda for the week ahead, with high-profile guests discussing the…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.