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
Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers is published by Jonathan Cape.
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.Ziauddin Sardar
Reading the Qur’an is published by Hurst Books.
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
Emperor and Galilean is on at the National Theatre from 9 June to 31 July.
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.Ross Perlin
Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy is published by Verso.
Start The Week sets the cultural agenda for the week ahead, with high-profile guests discussing the…