It was a puzzle: intellectual discussions about theological matters rarely engaged issues centered on women, while feminist discussions skirted spiritual dimensions of women's lives. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, found faith and feminism intertwined in her own life but sharply segregated in her professional encounters. An "aha" moment came during an encounter with Egyptian women activists (who on the surface were not especially religious). Rocky communications were explained in good measure by the fact that for the Egyptians the whole area of religion affected everything they did, while for their North American counterparts, religioius dimensions were completely absent from the conversation. Meaningful communication was impossible without appreciating how far religion and women's daily lives and thus faith and feminism were linked.
The crisis in Iraq begs a host of questions. What does religion have to do with the conflict? Is ISIS some abhorrent and aberrant form of religion or something else? Is it a Frankenstein monster, created and imported from outside Iraq or something with roots in the country and its history? What explains the stunning violence unfolding there: religion, politics or something else? How is this spilling over and transforming the Middle East? And what do religious beliefs, institutions and leaders offer as a way forward?
Nigeria is one of the world's most religiously active and diverse countries. It was long regarded as an admirable example of a dynamic society where different faiths lived in harmony, intermarriage was common, and a robust and open marketplace of religious beliefs and institutions represented religious freedom. Today, however, one of the most extreme of the extremist movements, known as Boko Haram, threatens basic security across large areas of the north. The kidnapping of almost 300 Christian girls in April 2014 from Chibok in Borno State by Boko Haram brought world attention to a conflict that seems to divide the country sharply along religious lines: Muslim vs. Christian.
Peace is the future: the title given to the great annual interreligious meeting organized this week in Antwerp by the lay Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio, seemed supremely ironic: a question mark seemed more appropriate than an exclamation point. Religion seems tightly associated with violence these days, both conflicts that erupt like a sudden storm from a cloudless sky, and the deliberate, brutal, and religiously explained violence that we see in the leaders of the Islamic State (IS). The memories of the outbreak of World War I are vivid in Belgium and the Ukrainian crisis is live and close by. Yet the climactic ceremony in Antwerp's central square on September 9 was full of exuberant hope. The ancient ideal of true peace is not a utopia, many cried out, but something that we can and must achieve.
My always iconoclastic grandfather intrigued me by insisting that he wanted to go to Hell. It might be unpleasantly hot but the people there would be interesting and would have a sense of fun. The virtuous people who went to Heaven were not people he wanted to spend a lot of time with.
Not such a long time ago, it was common, even expected, that many babies, children, and mothers would die. Family histories (mine included) are full of poignant stories of lives lost to a multitude of causes. Today, in our country the death of a mother or child is rare and tragic. Many parts of the world have yet to experience the transformation that modern medicine and better public health can bring, but there is rapid progress and very reasonable hope that we will soon live in a world where all families experience this miraculous change. With so much bad news bombarding us, the astounding improvements in child and maternal health that have come in recent decades are a true beacon of hope.
A band of birds of different species set out on a perilous journey through the unknown, in search of their king. That is the story of The Conference of the Birds, the twelfth century masterpiece of Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar. Like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, it offers an amalgam of myths and vignettes of daily life, tales of courage and divine inspiration, and silly, telling stories. It is a parable for humankind's spiritual quest and life's journey.
The word religion keeps coming up in commentaries on the just launched World Cup in Brazil. Let's pick that apart. Obviously people are fingering negative aspects, especially the sense of fanaticism and partisan fervor that seems to be part of large sporting events. But the positives are broader, hopeful, and exciting. Sports has a capacity to transcend barriers and to energize people, all around the world. Many of the values that underlie sports are the core values of social justice, values that should lie at the heart of religion.
"We need passionately moderate Muslims", argues former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Moderates, yes, but not tepid or vacillating moderates; instead, moderates with vim, ready to engage and to bring about change. I was with such a passionate moderate this week, who adds to passion and moderation a sweeping vision of what's happening to modern human society and what it demands of religious communities, one and all.
Robert Putnam, the Harvard professor renowned for his challenging analysis of social trends, lectured Thursday night at Washington's Kennedy Center to an audience that included two Catholic cardinals and a motley group of very religious and distinctly non-religious people. He presented slides showing graph after graph that looked like gaping sharks' jaws. Again and again the lines that show trends in America between rich and poor open wider and wider. The gaps get larger. That's true for education, nutrition, participation in sports, and teen pregnancy. Putnam's message is that inequality is unmistakable and it is getting worse.