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8 Podcasts for the Spiritual Searcher


8 Podcasts for the Spiritual Searcher

Oprah Winfrey brings her trademark empathy to weekly sit-downs with artists, leaders and entrepreneurs in a format that encourages candor and self-reflection. The podcast, a spinoff from Winfrey’s OWN show “SuperSoul Sunday,” is closely aligned with the principle of mindfulness, as Winfrey encourages listeners to “take time to be more fully present” and “more connected to the deeper world around us.” Though some episodes are overtly religious — recent guests have included the evangelical Christian pastor Rob Bell and the influential Franciscan friar Richard Rohr — most take a broader view of spirituality, and have featured timely gems like Reese Witherspoon discussing the #MeToo revolution in Hollywood. If Religion & Spirituality isn’t your usual genre, this is a good gateway drug.

Starter episodes: “Norman Lear: Lessons on Longevity” (Dec. 27, 2017), “Marianne Williamson: The Spiritual Purpose of Relationships” (May 8, 2019)

Rob Bell, a pastor turned media personality, has built a reputation as one of the most influential and divisive Christian figures in the country, known for his progressive interpretation of the Bible, his denial of the existence of hell and his outspoken criticism of homophobic and anti-scientific views within the church. Since its debut in 2015, Bell’s podcast has offered a weekly deep dive into his reimagining of Christian faith, delivered in an affable stream-of-consciousness style that feels like a window directly into Bell’s brain. While he’s generally piloting the podcast solo, Bell is occasionally joined by a celebrity guest (Pete Holmes of HBO’s “Crashing” is a regular), and he examines scripture in ways that are applicable to everyday life. For Christians and skeptics alike, Bell’s podcast represents a rare and valuable point of crossover.

Starter episodes: “Jesus H Christ: Part 1 — They Look Like Trees” (Sept. 17, 2018), “What Happens Every Six Months” (Aug. 20, 2016)

Though not explicitly about Islam, this new show from Southern California Public Radio exclusively features Muslim voices, and its first season was released over consecutive weekdays this year during Ramadan. Misha Euceph kicks off each episode with a brief vignette from her own life, often detailing her experience of moving to the United States from Pakistan when she was 12. What follows are interviews in which guests — who have included Tan France (the fashion expert on “Queer Eye”), the comedian Ramy Youssef and G. Willow Wilson (the writer of the “Ms. Marvel” comic book) — describe the moments that defined their lives and careers. The results make for consistently hypnotic listening, and give Muslims a space to tell their own stories.

Starter episodes: Episode 9: “Sahar” (May 16, 2019), Episode 22: “Akbar” (June 4, 2019)

Bishop T.D. Jakes has become one of the most famous pastors in the country since founding the Potter’s House, a 30,000-member nondenominational megachurch in Dallas. What “The Potter’s Touch” lacks in production values, it makes up for in sheer energy and verve thanks to Jakes’s rich, sonorous baritone and knack for persuasive oratory. Most episodes are wholesale recordings of Jakes’s sermons, which often use religion as a jumping-off point for discussions about personal upheaval and even mental illness, as in a memorable installment from last year titled “When Anxiety Attacks.” Though a tough sell for anyone not predisposed to the megachurch style, the show provides a unique window into the worshiping habits of vast swaths of America.

Starter episodes: “When Anxiety Attacks” (April 8, 2018), “Bridging the Racial Divide with Miles McPherson” (Aug. 25, 2018)

Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy are former evangelical Christians who channel their mutual fascination with belief into this weekly show, which turns skepticism into a wry, revealing art form. “Oh No, Ross and Carrie!” allows the duo to conduct undercover investigations of religious groups, cults and fringe science, and then discuss their findings back in the studio. Some of their missions are wrapped up in a single episode, while others take longer; their gripping investigation of Scientology is spread over a well-earned 10 chapters. At the end of each investigation, Blocher and Poppy rate their subject in a series of categories, including creepiness, danger and pseudoscience, so the show works both as entertainment and as a kind of public service. As the hosts put it, “We show up so you don’t have to.”

Starter episodes: “Ross and Carrie Audit Scientology (Part 1): Going Preclear” (Feb. 1, 2016), “Ross and Carrie Study Christian Science: The Germ Delusion” (March 1, 2015)

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