With the 2007 presidential elections fast approaching, France has reached a new point in the debate on laïcité—the country's version of separation between church and state. Recently, a large and increasingly vocal Muslim population has called into question the complete absence of religion in public affairs, and for the first time in over one hundred years, the public feels that their tradition of laïcité may be threatened.
Apr 5 2007
Juliana MacPherson April 5, 2007
Mar 30 2007
Mela Louise Norman March 30, 2007
To imagine South African society is an exercise in thinking in parallels, recognizing the inherent duality which results from centuries of rule under a regime which privileged a minority at the expense of the vast majority. After hundreds of years of colonization and the end of nearly a half a century of apartheid policies the “new” South Africa has emerged, an unbelievably rich and diverse country with vast economic inequality. Before traveling to South Africa, I had often heard the country described as both thoroughly “first world” and “third world.” I have found this description, while reductionist, acutely accurate in describing the communities within Cape Town.
Mar 21 2007
John Stewart March 21, 2007
Riding on horseback through the Sacred Valley in Peru, my attention was grabbed by a unique phenomenon: Every single one of the small mud and straw huts that spread lazily across the verdant river basin was festooned with a small wooden cross and a diminutive statuette of a bull. This was my first introduction to the magnificent combination of traditional Andean beliefs and Catholicism that defines religion in the Andean region of Latin America.
Mar 20 2007
Julie Yelle March 20, 2007
Yuletide in Menton, France announced itself this year with the sudden appearance of winter decorations adorning the towns, shops bursting at the seams with Yule logs and baskets of the “desserts of Eden,” carols proclaiming the birth of the divine child flooded the streets, and even the transformation of the local gardens into a “Santa's ark” with giraffes, elephants, seals, donkeys, and an ostrich. Down the street in my host town of Menton on the water were rows of booths where artisans, including several from the Holy Land, sold their wares to those frequenting the town's Christmas market. Come pre-Lenten season, the same garden contained sculptures of the Taj Mahal and an enormous Buddha-like statue (the theme this year was India), with the occasional windmill constructed entirely out of citrus fruit.
Mar 9 2007
Charles Prahl March 9, 2007
Walking along a ridgeline that parallels Table Mountain, the majestic mountain around which Cape Town furls itself, I came across something most unexpected. It was a squat building with white-washed walls that had been painted aquamarine and yellow complemented by red-ledged windows. Most curiously, the building had three very prominent minarets. It was, I realized with a start, a mosque. I was self-conscious and embarrassed that I should question its presence in South Africa.
Mar 6 2007
Brittany Gregerson March 6, 2007
Approaching Cape Town from the airport, one is struck first by an aggressively Mediterranean landscape—very Cádiz in the summertime—and a grand bay vista that evokes San Diego, California more than anywhere else. A small collection of neatly packed plate-glass skyscrapers; impatiently blue waters filled with all manner of boats; chain stores and cheeseburger joints. It wouldn’t mesh with the common American preconception of Africa. Few things about Cape Town do.
Mar 6 2007
Dorothy Voorhees March 6, 2007
With under 50 days until the first round of the presidential elections (the primary paper here, Le Monde, has a countdown going), French political life is reaching its high point of activity. Each candidate is doing his (or her) best to gain the most favorable position, paying careful attention to the latest polls, which come out practically every week. In that respect, following politics in France is much like following a sports team—new rankings every week, analysis of the smallest phrases—what makes the poll numbers go up or down, what shifts public opinion.
Mar 2 2007
Alexandria Rose Motl March 2, 2007
Writing this second letter has proved quite difficult for me, which surprised me—I never thought writing about religion in Spain would be a difficult topic. It’s a Roman Catholic country, rich in religious history as a result of the heavy influences of the Moorish and Jewish peoples living in the south of Spain in past centuries combined with the ever-present Catholic influences of the various Spanish monarchs—how hard could it be to find something to say? However, after living here for six months, I have only found myself thoroughly confused by the religious lives of the Spanish people. In my last letter, I talked about the absence of true religion—that religion was more of a classification or an excuse for a celebration rather than a way of life or a belief system. I continue to stand by these views, and yet at the same time, I’m coming to believe that the Spanish are so Catholic that they are ignorant when it comes to the rest of the world. That obviously needs explanation—how can a people be both not enough and too much of something at the same time? Answer: I’m not sure, hence my confusion and difficulty with this letter. However, I’ll do my best in the next few paragraphs to try to explain what I’ve seen and draw some conclusions.
Mar 1 2007
Katharine Davis March 1, 2007
Chile has traditionally been a Catholic country, and almost 90 percent of the population continues to be at least nominally Catholic today. Church and state were officially separated in 1925, but religion has helped to shape the policies and decisions of the government in matters ranging from the direct involvement of the Church during colonialism to the pope’s arbitration of the Beagle Channel dispute in 1985 to the socially conservative policies that continue to exist today. For centuries and particularly during the military dictatorship, the Catholic Church has played an interesting part in Chilean politics and society, but its future influence remains uncertain.
Mar 1 2007
Emily Liner March 1, 2007
In the random draw for a host family in Lyon, France, I was given a very devout Catholic family with four grown children and one still at home. My host mother, who teaches catechism in a private elementary school part-time, often laments the decline of the Catholic Church. Historically, the Catholic Church has been strong in France, but in the twentieth century, participation has dropped precipitously. Fewer French citizens consider themselves Catholic, fewer French Catholics practice their religion, and fewer men are entering the priesthood. About 77 percent of the French population has received a Catholic baptism, but only about half of the country's citizens actually consider themselves Catholic. In contrast, about a quarter of the American population describes itself as Catholic. Furthermore, in France, only 8 percent of Catholics attend Mass once a week.