Because of a suggestion from James Wolfensohn while he was in Israel, I was part of an exciting workshop in Neve Ilan at the end of last month. In a nutshell, the meeting was presented as the second designed to reflect on and to revitalize both Jewish and Israeli development work, and to draw together both religious and secular experience and approaches.
Avoid religion and politics at the dinner table -- so goes the conventional wisdom. Tempers will flare and appetites curdle with the passions that both topics so often arouse. But in reality we need to get the kind of dinner-table discussions going that can help overcome some deep and poorly understood prejudices about religion in American life.
You can't miss rising food prices if you do the grocery shopping or listen to the radio these days. They are causing real pain all around the world as family budgets everywhere are squeezed. There's no end in sight, though hunger is much more prominent at least in policy discussions, from Davos to U.S. political campaigns.
Where are the passionate moderates in Islam, Madeleine Albright wanted to know. Why does all the passion seem to come from extremists? The former secretary of State was speaking at the recent U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, sponsored by the Brookings Institution. To the Islamic world, her message was that what we need now is “moderates on the march, moderates with swagger.”
I should have been prepared for the backlash! I stepped right into the middle of a heated controversy when I co-authored a report for Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs in November about the role of religious organizations in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Just last week, an angry letter from the Gerard Health Foundation in Boston to Georgetown University’s president actually called for the report’s withdrawal, with a litany of accusations. The complaint? That our report gives insufficient “credit” to promoting abstinence and faithfulness as a central approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and that it reveals an “anti-Catholic bias” in its treatment of Church teaching on condoms. Perhaps nowhere is the role of religion in public policy and service delivery more significant than in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The storm around the Berkley Center report is a depressing illustration of how hard dialogue can be. And how important.
The emergence of religious fundamentalist movements in many parts of the world is the result of a variety of historical and socio-political processes. By examining women’s attraction to the Islamic revivalist movement in the Middle East general themes emerge which are applicable in other countries albeit within their own unique religious and cultural contexts. Contrary to popular beliefs of Muslim women as complacent and docile, in supporting Islamic fundamentalist movements women in the Middle East operate as active agents seeking to advance their own interests through the revival of religious traditions.