At around 10:00 a.m. one quiet Sunday morning, I found myself in the middle of the medieval-style town square of the small Czech city of Kolin. Though a hub for trade, culture, and aristocracy in in its day, on that Sunday the town was silent, empty, and peaceful.
Japanese culture is often reduced to tangible products that are widely consumed all over the world: anime, ramen, sushi. Since coming to Japan, I have found it immensely rewarding to consider the unique characteristics and traditions of the local communities around me that had been inaccessible to me from abroad. These are traditions that have developed over the course of centuries and are preserved by informational plaques that commemorate the of importance historical locations and people.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses urging sweeping religious reforms and catalyzing the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation unleashed an intensified focus on freedom of conscience, with dramatic social and political consequences. It fostered new notions of religious liberty as well as new frameworks for civic life. At the same time, the Reformation built upon centuries of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologies of conscience, dignity, and freedom in ways that are not always understood.
Open dialogue across cultural and religious lines is becoming increasingly more challenging. The role of religion has emerged as a powerful force for combating discriminatory rhetoric and building strong communities across socioeconomic and cultural differences. This year, the Doyle Undergraduate Fellows are investigating new ideas and strategies at the local and national level to build bridges through interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
Sister Agatha Chikelue exudes both determination and warmth. She’s a force of nature. Quick to smile, she minces no words when it comes to her mission, which turns around women, justice, and peace. She is visiting the United States (from her home in Abuja, Nigeria) wearing the hat of Executive Director of the newly renamed John Cardinal Onaiyekan Peace Foundation. She works closely with the remarkable Cardinal John, who himself is one of the beacons of hope for peace and above all more harmony among Nigeria’s complex and often fractious religious communities.
In order to assess U.S. leadership in promoting global religious freedom, it is helpful to place that role in historical context, to take the long view. When the United States emerged as a world power in the twentieth century it became a leading force in enshrining religious freedom as a universal human right. On the eve of the Second World War, for example, President Franklin Roosevelt cast religious liberty as one of the “four freedoms” that conduce to world peace and development.
With the first half of my stay in Jordan completed, I have come to a number of realizations about the country that has become beloved to me in the past two months. The most important lesson of these is simple and revolves around one thing: toilet paper.
There are two religions in Jordan: Islam and Christianity. Of course, there are some people that might not meaningfully identify with either religion, some other religions which have small minorities, and various sects of each religion present. However, there are only two religions in any meaningful sense. Many people think of the Middle East as an exclusively and homogeneously Muslim region—and Jordan is 92 percent Muslim—but the Christians that live in Jordan have often been here for centuries or millennia. After all, Jordan is right next to the Holy Land. In many of my classes, we have discussed issues related to religious minorities like Christians living in Muslim states and societies. We have discussed how sharia should work when there are minorities, the historical usefulness of Christian banking practices in light of Muslim prohibitions against usury, and the seats in Jordan’s parliament reserved for Christians. In the two months that I’ve been here, however, my experiences of religion in Jordan have been far more personal.
Where are you from? ¿De dónde eres? In English or Spanish, this question seems to inevitably permeate any conversation in a new space I inhabit. In the United States, my brown skin gives me away as the “other” and people ask “Where are you from?” When I answer the name of my hometown, Queens, New York, I am given an unsatisfied look. The inquisitive tend to further question with “but, where are you really from?” The truth is, I am still from Queens, but my ethnic and cultural background is Ecuadorian, the homeland of my parents. Ecuador is the answer people seek when they ask me where I am from.
Over 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed the border into Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017. Thousands more are arriving every day by boat and over land. Rohingya refugees and international observers claim that the Myanmar government is pursuing a brutal and unwarranted crackdown against innocent civilians in Rakhine, using counterinsurgency as a false justification for its actions. Unfortunately, this situation is precedented—the Rohingya have long suffered persecution at the hands of the Myanmar state, which denies them citizenship on account of their religion and ethnicity. They have limited access to employment, education, healthcare, and basic human rights.