Watch Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 2pm on WMHT TV.
Award winning historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes explores the complex attitudes towards women and religion, from 10,000 BC to the present day.
If there was a golden age for women in religion, it certainly isn't the 21st century. The status of women in religion is currently a contentious subject, from the furore in the Anglican Church over women bishops to heated debates about the role of women in Islam. But it wasn't always this way – in the past women were often powerful players in the act of worship.
From powerful Greek priestesses to rampaging Hindu goddesses; from Machievellian Christian matriarchs to the women who shaped the early history of Islam, this series brings stories of the most inspiring female figures in the major world religions vividly to life.
When God Was a Girl | Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 2pm
Historian Bettany Hughes goes back to the beginning of time and visits the world's oldest religious site to find startling evidence that women were part of the very birth of organised religion.
She visits a world where goddesses ruled the heavens and earth, and reveals why our ancestors thought of the divine as female. Travelling across the Mediterranean and the Near East, Bettany goes to remote places, where she encounters fearsome goddesses who controlled life and death. And she ends up in modern-day India, where the goddess is still a powerful force for thousands of Hindus.
Immersing herself in the excitement of the Durga Puja festival, Bettany experiences goddess worship first-hand, and finds out what the goddess means to her devotees.
Handmaids of the Gods | Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 3pm
Historian Bettany Hughes continues her journey into the hidden and controversial history of women's place in religion as she uncovers the lost era of the priestess. She delves into the ancient Greek worship of the goddess of sex, Aphrodite, and finds out what this practice meant for women.
She also heads to ancient Rome, where the fate of the civilisation lay in the hands of six sacred virgins. Returning to the crucial early years of Christianity, she finds evidence that overturns centuries of Church teaching and challenges the belief that women should not be priests.
War of the Words | Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 4pm
Award-winning historian Bettany Hughes discovers how the period known as the Dark Ages was in fact a golden age for a few remarkable women. She finds that education and the written word became vital tools for these women.
First, she looks at Theodora, a prostitute turned empress, who allied herself with Mary the Mother of God to rule over a great Christian empire. Then she looks at the legacy of the wives of the prophet Muhammad, including Khadija, the first convert to Islam and Aisha, whose words are still read by over two billion men and women today. Bettany also discovers the story of Wu Zetien - a courtesan who harnessed the power of a philosophy, Buddhism, to become the only woman to rule China as emperor.
Finally, Bettany explores the history of St. Hilda, a great educator and wise woman, who presided over the crucial conference, the Synod of Whitby, which decided when Christians in Britain celebrated Easter, and cemented the islands' links with Rome and Europe.
Bettany Hughes concludes that these extraordinary women across the globe used their courage, charisma and sheer brainpower to put the female of the species back in the heart of religion. Their incredible achievements still shape our lives today.