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Robert Beckford (born 1965) is a British academic theologian and currently a reader in theology at Canterbury Christ Church University, whose documentaries for both the BBC and Channel 4 have caused controversy and debate among the Christian and British religious community.
Beckford was born to Jamaican parents in the English Midlands and was raised in the Pentecostal church. He states that his "white, middle-class" religious education teacher "turned me on in a big way to RE and sowed the seeds to think about religion and culture", while his Communist maths tutor introduced him to politics and the work of Malcolm X, who is still a hero.
After A levels, Beckford studied religion and sociology at Houghton College, New York. He then studied at the London Bible College, Middlesex. After a year in the community, Beckford studied for his PhD while also working part-time at Queen's College, Birmingham, where he became Britain's first tutor in black theology.
Professionally, Beckford has spent his career in academia, beginning in 1999 as a Research Fellow at Birmingham University, then becoming a lecturer in African Diasporan Religions & Cultures. For two years he was Reader in Black Theology and Popular Culture at Oxford Brookes University, and subsequently a visiting Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.
In 2004, Beckford hosted a one-off documentary called Who Wrote the Bible? broadcast on Channel 4 on Christmas Day. Beginning with the question posed in the film's title, Beckford challenges the long standing belief by many Christinans that the Bible is the pure, unadulterated word of God untouched by human hand. He seeks to demonstrate that the Bible's history involves multiple revisions, exclusions and is the likely the result of a number of different authors. Beckford also highlights political motivations that played a role in canon formation, as well as the human propensity for "bias, ignorance or even prejudice".
In 2006, Beckford made the film Ghetto Britain for the television station More 4. Through the course of the documentary, he composes a manifesto of change that he plans to put before the Commission for Racial Equality. Beckford has also made films for the BBC analysing religion and Britain's colonial history, focusing on the role of Britain's African Caribbean community.
On 15 April 2006, Beckford hosted his second one-off documentary, called The Passion: Films, Faith and Fury on Channel 4. This was Beckford's exploration of the history and the increasingly uneasy relationship between religion and the film industry, as well as the controversy that often arises as a result of any major religiously-themed film being released.
Beckford hosted a one-off documentary called The Secret Family of Jesus on Channel 4 on Christmas Day 2006. In this documentary Beckford explores the history and legacy of Jesus' family. Beckford presents historical evidence of: Jesus' familial relationship to John the Baptist; his family unit consisting of four brothers and (at least) two sisters; his relationship with Mary Magdalene; and of Jesus' ministry being passed to his eldest brother James for the approximately 30 years prior to the destruction of the second temple and the subsequent diaspora.
On 2007 Christmas Day, Beckford's documentary The Hidden Story of Jesus premiered on Channel 4. It investigates the parallels between Christianity and other religions, some of which predate it.
In The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples, broadcast in Easter 2008, Beckford explored Paul the Apostle's role in founding the Church and his relationship with Jesus' family; the Roman Catholic Church's claim to Saint Peter; Thomas the Apostle's travels to India; James, son of Zebedee as a patron saint of Spain; the demonisation of Judas Iscariot; and female Apostles.
On 2008 Christmas Day, Beckford's documentary The Nativity Decoded premiered on Channel 4. It provides an in-depth look at the nativity story, its traditions, history and meaning.