Five hundred years ago this year, Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, sparking a religious revolution that changed the Catholic Church forever. Today, attitudes toward and the practice of Catholicism in the United States have also been continuously changing. In the past few decades, 25 million people have stopped identifying with the Catholic Church. Young Catholic Americans are increasingly hesitant to accept the Church’s views on same-sex marriage and on contraception and abortion. These changes are accompanied by a demographic shift: young Catholics are primarily Hispanic, and Hispanics account for a third of U.S. Catholics in general, which has prompted a corresponding shift in the geographic center of U.S. Catholicism towards the Southwest. However, only 3 percent of U.S. Catholic priests identify as Latino, and many of the Latin American countries from which immigrants come have increasing numbers of Catholics switching to Protestant churches. At the same time, since Pope Francis was elected pope, the popularity of the Church has seen a significant boost, partially in response to reforms to the Roman Curia and liturgical language which emphasize Pope Francis' belief in the importance of dialogue, accompaniment, and pastoral discernment for a multicultural Church.
These past five days, I had the opportunity to take a short trip to the Chubu and Kansai regions of central Japan. I visited both Nagoya, Japan’s third-largest city, and Kyoto, the ancient Japanese capital. I had not been to Nagoya before, so it was definitely exciting to explore a new city. I was glad that I had the chance to understand another part of Japan better. However, despite all the fun that I had in Nagoya, the most meaningful part of my trip was when I went to Kyoto to see the autumn leaves.
I stood up and closed up my eyes, blissfully content as the voices of those around me soared in harmony towards the heavens. A piece of me was home at last.
In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins went to Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, soliciting the owner Jack C. Phillips’ services to design and create a cake for their wedding. Phillips refused, claiming that creating wedding cakes for same-sex couples violated his religious beliefs. He argued that decorating cakes is a form of art: it is a medium which he uses to honor God, and creating cakes for same-sex marriages would displease his God. Craig and Mullins filed charges of discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, alleging that Masterpiece was discriminating against them based on sexual orientation in a place of public accommodation, which is in violation of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. When the Colorado state courts rejected the bakery’s arguments, the bakery’s lawyers requested a review of the ruling by the Supreme Court, which will hear the case on December 5.
There are approximately 10 million people living in Jordan. Of those, more than 1.4 million are Syrian refugees. This number includes both registered and unregistered refugees. Some of them live in camps, the largest of which is the Zaatari refugee camp in the north of Jordan, while many refugees live in Amman or other large cities. Meanwhile, refugees from rural Syria, near the Jordanian border, often simply crossed the border to live with their relatives when the war began. These Jordanian relatives have hosted their Syrian family members for the past 10 years. However, refugees from Syria are not the only ones here. There are well over two million Palestinians living in Jordan, many of whom have Jordanian citizenship but do not consider the country their permanent home. After the 2003 Iraq war, many Iraqis fled to Jordan, but the majority have since returned, leaving mostly Iraqi Christians here long-term. Refugees, whether registered or not, are also here from a variety of other countries. The Jordan Times estimates that there are about 1.2 million “illegal” migrant workers in Jordan, many of whom may be fleeing dangerous circumstances in their home countries. In total, this means Jordan hosts at least 4 million refugees—almost half its total population.
Although the separation of church and state is enshrined in the United States Constitution, Judeo-Christian influence is overwhelmingly clear throughout American culture and institutions. Judeo-Christian ideas of morality have influenced America’s laws, its architecture has shaped America’s towns, and Christian holidays determine American calendars. Even if you do not practice Christianity in the United States, its influence will still shape your life. The religious right plays a big role in American politics and many religious institutions have their own lobbying arms. People often associate religion in America with politics and conflicts between freedom of religion and personal liberty. Throughout Chinese history, though, religion has never been as important as “思想,” which means a way of thought or a philosophy. Before coming to China, I had of course studied Confucius’ influence and knew the powerful role he played in shaping society. But I did not have much knowledge of Chinese religion, nor its relationship with the government. So when it came time to pick my Hangzhou Studies class topic, where the requirements were to visit a different place in Hangzhou every week to better understand the city we were living in, I chose to study Hangzhou’s religions.
After a few months in Brazil, I have come to understand the large role that religion still plays in society. Brazil’s population predominantly identifies as Christian, specifically Catholic, but there are individuals that follow the traditions of their ancestors. Many of these individuals practice Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition that started in the northern regions of Brazil. These different traditions have permeated into the current politics and everyday lives of individuals. Overall, there is a growing acceptance of those who do not share the same faith tradition, but owing to the country’s size, these views tend to change depending on the specific region.
The first thing I ever bought in Jordan was in a Starbucks. I realize how basic that sounds. In my defense, the Starbucks was in the airport. I did not go out of my way to get a cappuccino from my go-to American coffee shop—rather, it came to me.
Studying history requires a great deal of imagination. You must combine the information you read, the pictures you see, and the stories you hear to visualize a world that you can understand.
Before I knew anything about Japan, I knew about Hello Kitty. Only after my Japanese reading and writing class watched a mini-documentary about the iconic figure’s global appeal did I begin to consider the ways in which Japan has built a culture around characters. These characters are meant to transmit values and culture through their design and features. One of my classmates remarked that despite being familiar with the Hello Kitty, he had never associated the character with Japan until after our class reading. Hello Kitty as a character is powerful because of all that it can represent to people from different backgrounds and interests. Beyond this iconic pop culture figure, I was surprised to learn about the extent to which various groups, including cities and companies, compete with each other to develop the most memorable and lovable characters. These characters represent their hometowns and their brands.