For three years, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) generated significant friction between American Indian groups in North Dakota and the U.S. government. The construction of the pipeline was most often viewed through an environmental lens; however, certain sections of land on which the pipeline is built also hold spiritual significance. The Meskwaki and several Sioux tribal nations, among others, believe the environmental hazard the pipeline poses to the water’s purity directly threatens their ability to use this space for sacred rituals. In a Washington Post article one advocate equated the spiritual significance of the land to that of Bethlehem for Judeo-Christian religions. Still, in January 2017 the pipeline was approved by executive order, and in April 2017 it was completed. More recently, President Donald Trump announced the plans to dramatically reduce the amount of land included in the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, which also generated a concerned response from local tribal leaders. As in the DAPL case, the land affected by the change has religious significance to a number of American Indian nations, who originated the effort to create the Bear Ears National Monument. In an NPR interview, a Ute tribal leader expressed his concern that the reduction could damage the land’s historical and religious integrity. Despite legal challenges, the Bureau of Land Management has drafted plans to move forward with the reorganization of the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante land.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, observers became optimistic about a future of increased civil liberties and religious practices in the former Soviet states. However, in recent years, this hope has faded to a realist recognition of the complicated situation of religious practice in the region, especially in Russia. In the wake of increasing restrictions on religious liberty and the evolution of a symbiotic yet troubled relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government, it is worthwhile to ponder the future role of religious institutions throughout the region.
When I was preparing to leave for Amman, Jordan last fall, one of the most common questions I heard was “Is it safe there?” On the other hand, responses when I said I was coming to Costa Rica this semester were nearly all positive, focusing on the natural beauty, beaches, and my Spanish skills. This is probably because Costa Rica has cultivated an image as a land of peace—it is a popular tourist destination, has a stable government and political system, and most relevantly, Costa Rica does not have an army. However, Jordan shares the first two characteristics, and is still perceived by most people in the United States as a dangerous place to go. After having been in both Jordan and Costa Rica, it’s fascinating to see how discourses of danger, conflict, peace, and safety actually play out in both countries.
Events like the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation represent a continuing effort to spotlight the practice of female genital cutting (FGC—also called circumcision or mutilation). Despite activism and senior religious voices condemning FGC, the practice persists, affecting over 200 million girls and women worldwide. The topic raises fundamental questions about why so many assume that there is a religious justification or obligation for this practice. It also highlights how difficult change can be, in this case where a practice is involved that is painful, has no benefits, and violates the dignity of all concerned. Courageous women who were cut themselves have emerged as some of the most powerful anti-FGC campaigners. The hashtag #endcuttinggirls is an example of efforts to raise awareness and encourage young people to speak out against FGC.
Since its founding in 1540, the Society of Jesus has embraced flexibility and adaptability as key elements in enabling the order to pursue the “greater glory of God” (its motto). While today Jesuits are widely known for their commitment to scholarship and education, throughout their history they have also served as writers, chaplains, royal confessors, and missionaries. Their work has taken them across the globe, often representing the Catholic Church in challenging circumstances (as recently portrayed in Martin Scorsese's film Silence). Much of this work is rooted in a commitment to living with—and even embracing—tension: inter alia, trust in God and trust in one’s own talents, prayer and action, companionship and mission, the center and the periphery, and poverty and use of the world’s goods.
During their fellowship, Doyle student fellows read and discuss academic articles and then put ideas into practice through community engagement. In their blogs, they incorporate personal experiences and themes from the readings. This month, Doyle student fellows read articles on themes including social justice as a moral imperative, the Catholic Church’s role in social justice, and the significance of religion in social justice movements to create a culture of peace. They participated in a variety of worship, service, and activism activities to explore these concepts as they develop their interfaith leadership skills.
In the years prior to the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, pro-life activists came from across the political spectrum. Following the ruling, abortion did not immediately become a defining issue for religiously motivated voters as a group. It took the emergence of the Moral Majority in the 1980s to transform Protestant Christians, in particular, into voters who used abortion as a litmus test for judging which political candidates would be likely to support “family values.” This litmus test phenomenon has also contributed to deepening cleavages between co-religionists and members of the same political party, as ideological purity on the issue of abortion along party lines has become expected. Simultaneously, it has encouraged members of some faith traditions—for example, conservative Catholics and Protestants—to unite behind a common cause. Abortion continues to be one of the most deeply partisan issues in American politics.
The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement as a reaction to police brutality, the explicit racism of white supremacist movements, and greater awareness of more covert systemic racial bias has helped bring racial inequality to the forefront of public discussion with such impact that commentators often draw parallels to the activism of the mid-twentieth century Civil Rights Movement in America (which at the time also faced widespread resistance and ambivalence). The work and speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., is often referenced, with some encouraging activists to pursue nonviolent protest and to work through existing institutions. Others view this stance as a "sanitized" version of King's activism and seek to follow a path of radical resistance inspired by King’s approach. Most Americans are familiar with the call for freedom and equality in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, but in his later address “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” King advocates for a very active, physically engaged form of nonviolence that insists on the right to seek justice through protest marches and economic boycotts, as well as through the court system.
Hanoi is a city very much caught in the past. History is a powerful tool used to demonstrate municipal power. This is done particularly in the built environment through statues, monuments, and signage. For decades, public signage has placed an important role in legitimizing Hanoi's ideal city.
“What is the biggest problem here in Cape Town?”
My Uber driver looked up at me through the rearview mirror as if to verify that I was still talking to him. He did not comment on the lack of transportation or the water shortage or the precarious state of housing as I would have expected. Instead, with his eyes fixed on me through the clouded mirror, he said one word: equality.