On January 27, President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring immigration of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and refugees from Syria permanently. National and international protests have erupted in objection to what critics are calling a “Muslim ban,” and foreign governments, including affected nations Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Yemen as well as U.S. allies Great Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, Australia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia have spoken out against the order. Despite a number of legal challenges to the order, the White House has defended its actions as a matter of national security and has received support from European political leaders such as Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders.
After three months of negotiations, Vatican-mediated peace talks between the two factions battling for political control of Venezuela have ceased. From October to December, the Vatican-brokered peace talks between the opposing parties, but at the end of January, the opposition coalition rejected further mediation and instead planned to begin direct negotiations. This intervention was one in a long history of Vatican involvement in world affairs, especially in Latin America. Most recently, Pope Francis assisted in the reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
In the summer of 2016, the Religious Freedom Project awarded its second annual summer dissertation fellowship to students exploring the sources, development, and consequences of religious freedom. Five fellows from diverse academic disciplines explored the relationship between religious liberty and other fundamental freedoms; its importance for democracy; and/or its role in social and economic development, international diplomacy, and countering violent religious extremism. This week, the Berkley Forum asks them to synthesize and share their most pressing findings.
On November 8, the country elected Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. Challenges like ISIS/violent extremism, the refugee crisis, and religious freedom face the new president and his administration. In looking forward to these challenges, one can recall Secretary of State John Kerry's repeated assertion "religion matters" in negotiating international affairs and connecting people across nations. At a 2016 event on religion and diplomacy at the Newseum, he stated, "We must engage more closely with faith communities around the world, because we need to partner with them to solve global challenges."
On November 17, a panel at Georgetown University will discuss the results of a historic encounter between U.S. Catholic bishops and five Iranian religious leaders regarding, among other topics, nuclear weapons. Though the stockpile is decreasing, there are still an estimated 15,500 nuclear warheads among nine nations worldwide. With recent comments from the Holy See, many believe the Vatican is shifting its stance to press the moral case for a world free of nuclear weapons. Growing fears of a nuclear conflict mean that nuclear proliferation is of paramount importance in foreign policy debates and in religious communities.
On October 4, Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace agreement that promised to end a complex 53-year long conflict. The conflict has touched most corners of Colombian society: more than 7 million people have been displaced, the highest number of internally displaced people in the world, and over 220,000 people have been killed. The laborious peace process, led by the government, has involved many actors, and religious figures have been prominent among them. The shock of the hair-thin defeat of the agreement, with announcement of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, leaves a host of questions about conflict resolution and peacebuilding today.
Historically, religious figures and institutions have played a significant role in civil rights movements and the fight for racial equality, both domestically and around the world. In this series, Berkley Forum asks experts to comment on the current involvement of churches and religious leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement. What contributions have they made to the movement? To what extent, if any, is there an interfaith dimension to the movement? What more could religious leaders across faiths and denominations be doing to encourage dialogue and progress on the issues at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement?
The Zika virus, which reached pandemic levels in 2015 and 2016, has produced gripping headlines around the world, notably because of its link to the serious medical condition microcephaly. Travel advisories have been issued to many Latin American countries, including Brazil, site of the 2016 Olympic Games, and have even been issued for Miami, Florida. Women in several countries have been advised to postpone pregnancy for two years, and even Pope Francis has suggested that the use of contraception may be a "lesser evil" in the face of the outbreak.
2016 marks the deadliest year for refugees traveling across the Central Mediterranean: some 281,740 people have crossed the sea to Europe in the first eight months of 2016 and an estimated 4,176 of those have perished during the crossing. European states continue to struggle to accommodate the flow of refugees with some governments facing an internal nationalistic backlash and pressure to close their borders. The total number of refugees and internally displaced people, over 60 million, is higher than at any time since World War II.