The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008 abolished the common law offence of blasphemy in England and Wales. The offence had first been prosecuted at common law in the seventeenth century and its tortuous history between inception and abolition illuminates much of England’s religious and social history over the intervening centuries. For some of those debating the abolition of the offence in 2008, the ‘blasphemy law’ was one of ‘the historical and cultural threads that make the country what it is’, while in the opinion of the government minister it was ‘moribund and discriminatory’, a blot on Britain’s record in maintaining human rights.2 What MPs were discussing was a specific, but vaguely defined, crime called blasphemy. They did not concern themselves with the underlying notion of blasphemy – and that for a very good reason. Blasphemy is a notoriously slippery concept. The term seems to have its origin in the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew verbs which mean ‘to curse’ and ‘to speak aloud’ in Leviticus 24, where Moses and the children of Israel stone the man who ‘blasphemed’ the name of the Lord.3 Formulating a general category of blasphemy is a challenge. Intending or doing harm is evidently close to the heart of the matter: ‘speaking evil of sacred matters’ is one authority’s definition; another’s is ‘the attacking, wounding and damaging of religious belief’. Many other commentators prefer to regard blasphemy as a cultural phenomenon that arises when one party takes offence at another’s description of something that they hold sacred.4 It is widely held by scholars that accounts of blasphemy must be rooted in specific circumstances; that it is simply more meaningful to discuss a blasphemy than it is to grope after the universal category of blasphemy. They gibe at generalisations such as ‘blasphemy is the speaking of the unspeakable’ on the grounds that ‘there is little to learn from a naked and reductive formula, shorn of historical context’.5