Peter Manseau

  • Craft Brewing

    Salem gets a bad rap. For centuries, the tidy seaside suburb twenty miles north of Boston has served as shorthand for both colonial spookiness and the potentially fatal effects of small-town gossip. But it was not, in fact, the witchcraft capital of early America.

    According to the latest scholarship on necromantic allegations made at the height of the ten months of madness later known as the Salem witch trials, that distinction actually belongs to nearby Andover. In a recent data-driven visualization created by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities,

  • The Believers

    One autumn afternoon in AD 312, Constantine the Great searched the sky to determine which gods he should enlist in his campaign to win control of Rome. According to legend, what he saw above the noonday sun signaled both a turning point in world history and a radical shift in the meaning of the symbol that would soon dominate Western civilization. “He saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens,” the fourth-century bishop and historian Eusebius wrote, “and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS.”

    Conquer he did. Within a year of the following day’s victory, Constantine

  • The Neverending Story

    When Saint Francis Xavier attempted to bring Christianity to Asia in the middle of the sixteenth century, he believed for a time that his mission was going quite well. With the help of a former samurai, whom he had converted at the start of his travels in Japan, he translated and memorized sections of the Gospels in order to explain himself to the locals. He told everyone he met that he was there to teach about Dainichi, the word his translator told him was a close enough approximation of God.

    One of the first Jesuits, Francis was a founding father of the most successful evangelizing enterprise

  • The Walking Cure

    “Nice just to walk and breathe and not worry about every goddamn thing. Nice, too, to know that when I return life will quickly become very different than it has been.”

    I wrote those words a decade ago, jotted them down in a marble-covered Mead composition book I’d brought with me to record my observations as I hiked a portion of Europe’s most popular pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Reading the words now puts me back in Spanish hill towns and surprises me with nostalgia for a time in my life apparently so full of worry and so in need of change that walking through a

  • The Big Bang

    About an hour into The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s meditation on nature, grace, Brad Pitt’s crew cut, and the laying of the foundations of the Earth, I turned to my wife, snuck a Twizzler from the bag in her lap, and said, “I knew this was going to cover a lot of ground, but I really didn’t expect the dinosaurs.”

    I should have guessed that for a director obsessed with Big Questions, a family drama set in 1950s Texas would also be an epic about the birth of the universe, the origins of life, and, yes, frolicking CGI velociraptors, which give the film a Land of the Lost vibe that is at once

  • Losing My Religion

    Those most likely to read Stephen Batchelor’s new memoir, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, might find the title redundant. The deity-free character of Buddhism is fairly common knowledge among its enthusiasts in the English-speaking world. The Gautama they have encountered in their various modes of countercultural rebellion comes filtered through the sensibilities of writers such as Hermann Hesse, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Pirsig. To the crowds drawn to “Eastern” philosophies because “Western” traditions are kind of a drag, the Buddha offers religion without the baggage.

    But of course the

  • Revolutionary Road

    To be the child of true believers—whether religious zealots, political ideologues, or Cubs fans—is to learn from the cradle that beliefs have consequences. For Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, whose parents joined the Socialist Workers Party a few years before he was born in 1968, those consequences included poverty, abuse, and a promise of revolution as empty as it was constant. His tale of how utopian dreams led to both the dissolution of a marriage and a disillusioned childhood, When Skateboards Will Be Free, plays out like the fate of the past century’s revolutions in miniature: When things fall apart