Introducing Things Unseen 17 October 2013
Things Unseen is a new podcast being launched on 17th October 2013. Its focus is on issues of faith and religion. We spoke to Kristine Pommert, the Series Editor of the podcast, about what listeners can expect.
Please tell me about Things Unseen and the story behind it?
Things Unseen came about because we felt there was a gap in the religious broadcasting market. In 2012, the think tank Theos, which examines the role of religion in society, published a survey called Faith of the Faithless, which showed that patterns of faith in “post-Christian” Britain have become astonishingly complex: 47% of the population never participate in worship, 24% define themselves as atheists, and 44% say they are not religious; but at the same time, 31% of those who never worship define themselves as Christian (as, staggeringly, do 12% of atheists); 1 in 5 of those who never worship believe in angels (and 7% of atheists do too!); one third of the non-religious believe in life after death; and more than one in four of the general population believe in reincarnation – a concept which, after all, does not even have a long tradition in this country. All of which shows that there is a sizeable group of people out there who do not belong to a faith community and are not drawn to organised religion, but who do have spiritual beliefs – and it is this group which is largely ignored by established religious broadcasting.
Things Unseen wants to be inclusive of this group. It wants to engage those who, in some shape or form, believe that there’s more to life than meets the eye, alongside those of more defined faith. It wants to engage both groups in conversation together, through intelligent speech radio produced to BBC standards.
I note that you are Series Editor. Who else will be involved in the production of Things Unseen?
Things Unseen comes from the stable of CTVC, an independent production company that makes TV, radio and video content on ethical and moral issues for people of all faiths and none. Among our recent productions have been the award-winning David Suchet: In the Footsteps of Saint Paul for BBC One, and the two-part series Heirs of the Prophet looking at Sunni-Shia relations in Britain against the backdrop of world events, for the BBC World Service.
The small Things Unseen team also includes Assistant Producer Saba Zaman, a Muslim whose strong interest in multi-faith issues led her to specialize in Buddhism as part of her MA studies; and Dougal Patmore, whose technical support is indispensable to the success of the podcast. Dougal has recently presided over David Suchet recording the entire Bible at the CTVC studios between Poirot performances! Other people work on the team part-time or on a freelance basis.
Is there anything particularly symbolic or important about the choice of name for the podcast?
The name is a play on different ideas. Of course it echoes Hebrews 11, where faith is described as “the substance of things unseen”, at least in some translations. But it also plays with the idea that a podcast is, of course, an unseen medium – a medium without pictures, relying on the power of the spoken word alone.
Where can listeners hear the podcast? Will it be strictly online or will it also be broadcasting through other mediums?
The podcast will be available for download on iTunes and other podcast directories, and listeners will be able to subscribe to it via RSS. Things Unseen will also have its own website, www.thingsunseen.co.uk. At the same time, we are talking to a number of radio outlets who may be interested to carry our podcasts, so we hope that over time, at least some editions will be available to radio audiences in different parts of the country. Others’ websites that carry their own audio or podcast strands are also natural outlets for Things Unseen. So we’ll be operating in a truly multi-platform environment.
Avid followers of your Twitter feed will already know that Vicky Beeching and Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad will be featured. Is there anything else you can tell us about upcoming guests on the podcast?
Vicky will be presenting a couple of editions early on – the one with Abdal Hakim Murad (better known to some as the Cambridge scholar Tim Winter) is about “Jesus the Muslim”, examining how Jesus is seen in Islam. With that goes another edition on Jesus from a Jewish perspective, with Vicky interviewing the American Jewish New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine. Both Tim and Amy-Jill make a fascinating listen, blending scholarship with surprising personal revelations – a treat not just for Jewish and Muslim listeners, but also and especially for those from Christian or “post-Christian” backgrounds.
Other podcasts you’ll be able to hear early on include two editions exploring what happens when we die. One podcast tackles what neuropsychologist Peter Fenwick claims is not just the stuff of late-night TV – deathbed visions, when the dying report that their deceased relatives have come to pick them up, and apparitions of dying people in faraway locations. Do these kind of accounts hold water – and what do the established faiths make of them? We also ask how different faiths understand the soul, and what science has to say about its existence and nature.
There will also be podcasts about the spiritual dimension of human interest stories – first up, the harrowing experience of Kevin Gosden, whose teenage son Andrew went missing six years ago and was never seen again. Presenter Mark Dowd discusses with Kevin whether and how the faith of a parent can survive such permanent, tormenting uncertainty. And there will be some strong discussions around modern-day ethical dilemmas, from peace journalism to the question whether those who campaign for the rights of certain groups within the Church of England – such as women and gay people – have become too self-centred and should be taking a step back from their favourite causes to focus on the neediest in society.
Will there be regular features or sections in Things Unseen? What would be included in an average episode?
Most episodes will be either interviews or discussions, and they’ll loosely fall into three main areas, which will each have their own “window” on our website. “On the Borderline” will be dealing with the boundaries of religious experience, and the area where faith and more loosely defined spirituality meet; “Head On” is the space for discussing modern-day ethical dilemmas, sometimes quite passionately; and in “The Spirit of Things”, the experience of faith and matters spiritual will be illuminated from a more personal, individual perspective.
One format that will return regularly is The Word, featuring well-known guests – from Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Speaker’s Chaplain in the House of Commons and the first woman and first black person ever to hold this position; to former Culture Secretary Baron Smith of Finsbury, better known as Chris Smith, who was one of Britain’s first openly gay MPs. The Word gives guests the chance to select their favourite passages from scripture (to be read, again, by David Suchet) but will also offer surprising insights into what else makes them tick as a person. For example, Nicky Gumbel, best known for championing the Alpha course, will be reflecting on what his German Jewish roots mean to him, and whether he feels he’s let them down by embracing evangelical Christianity.
The Things Unseen podcast launches on 17th October 2013 and can be heard at www.thingsunseen.co.uk and is also available on iTunes.