Nine of the best podcasts in 2014 according to RNS and Andrew Aghapour.
It’s not just the twelve days of the Christmas season, it is the season of those “best of” lists that help us look back at the year now ending and see where we’ve come.
Andrew Aghapour, a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, has compiled a list of three best podcasts dealing with religion and spirituality in 2014.
Aghapour came up with three categories. Here are the runner-ups in each area.
Category One: Explorations of the Uncanny
Numerous scholars of religion have associated religion with the “uncanny,” an ambiguous, eerie feeling that something is both strange and familiar. This year quite a few podcasts explored this paradoxical experience.
The Runners Up. First up is the excellent podcast Radiolab, a radio program about science and culture whose Halloween episode “Haunted” tells the real-life ghost story of Dennis Conrow, who hired paranormal investigators when his dead parents seemed to be haunting their former home. This episode deftly recounts Conrow’s struggle with skepticism and belief.
Second is 99% Invisible a popular podcast about design and architecture that produced two eerie episodes this year. “O-U-I-J-A” offers a fascinating and textured history of the iconic game, weaving together design, cognitive science, and American religious history. “Ten Thousand Years” documents the federal government’s attempt to label an underground nuclear waste repository that will continue to be dangerous for 10,000 years. Are there universal symbols of death and prohibition? Download to find out!
Category Two: Interviews and Confessions
Podcasts can be digital confessionals, virtual booths for expressing fears and desires. Listening to a podcast is itself an intimate experience, not unlike being third party to a personal conversation.
The Runners Up in this category are both known for using humor to explore otherwise difficult experiences. RISK! by Kevin Allison asks people to “tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public,” and it has quickly become the podcast of record for deep, dark secrets. “Into the Mystic” is a collection of three stories about mystical experiences and crises of faith. It’s also a great introduction to the power of storytelling.
The second runner up, You Made It Weird, is ostensibly a comedy podcast where stand-up comic Pete Holmes interviews fellow comedians. Relevant to our purposes is Holmes’ unabashed interest in each guest’s religious upbringing and spiritual disposition. Visit the You Made it Weird channel at Nerdist.com to pick from any of a wide number of fun and thoughtful interviews. For a crash course on Holmes’ own religious beliefs you can listen to this interview with Emergent Church pastor Rob Bell.
Category Three: Secular Intersections
There is no clean divide between religion and the secular. A number of podcasts have covered contemporary intersections between religion, politics, and society.
The Runner Up. This list’s second Peabody Award winner is On the Media, produced out of WNYC. OTM offers some of the sharpest media analysis and most sophisticated investigative journalism that you can find today. January’s “Secrecy at the Border” was initiated after OTM producer Sarah Abdurrahman was detained, without explanation, by US Customs and Border Protection while trying to return home from Canada. The resulting investigation revealed a shocking lack of transparency and oversight in this government agency.
For the winners? Open the envelopes here.
Posted by Andrew Gerns.