Archive for the ‘Interreligious Movement’ Category
A Many Splendored Jewel
By Dr. Jim Doty
Why, in a country that consumes 25% of the world’s resources (the U.S.), is there an epidemic of loneliness, depression, and anxiety? Why do so many in the West who have all of their basic needs met still feel impoverished? While some politicians might answer, “It’s the economy, stupid,” based on scientific evidence, a better answer is, “It’s the lack compassion, stupid.”
I recently attended the Templeton Prize ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and have been reflecting on the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conversation with Arianna Huffington: “If we say, oh, the practice of compassion is something holy, nobody will listen. If we say, warm-heartedness really reduces your blood pressure, your anxiety, your stress and improves your health, then people pay attention.” As director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University (one of the two organizations recognized in the Templeton Prize press release), I would agree with the Dalai Lama.
What exactly is compassion? Compassion is the recognition of another’s suffering and a desire to alleviate that suffering. Often brushed off as a hippy dippy religious term irrelevant in modern society, rigorous empirical data supports the view of all major world religions: compassion is good.
Our poverty in the West is not that of the wallet but rather that of social connectedness. In this modern world where oftentimes both parents work, we are spending less time as a family. People are living farther away from extended families and perhaps more disconnected than ever before as suggested by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone. Putman observes that we thrive under conditions of social connection but that trust and levels of community engagement are on the decline. Loneliness is on the rise and is one of the leading reasons people seek counseling.
Close Enough to Share a Problem
One particularly telling survey showed that 25% of Americans have no one that they feel close enough with to share a problem. That means that one in four people that you meet has no one to talk to and it is affecting their health. Steve Cole from UCLA, a social neuro-genetics scientist, has shown that loneliness leads to a less healthy immune stress profile at the level of the gene – their gene expression makes them more vulnerable to inflammatory processes which have been shown to have negative effects on health. Research by expert well-being psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman indicates that social connectedness is a predictor of longer life, faster recovery from disease, higher levels of happiness and well-being, and a greater sense of purpose and meaning. One large-scale study showed that lack of social connectedness predicts vulnerability to disease and death above and beyond traditional risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, obesity and lack of physical activity.
The Dalai Lama is a founding patron of CCARE and has spoken at Stanford on compassion. Photo: CCAREWhile many pay attention to their diet and go to the gym regularly to improve their health, they don’t think of social connectedness this way. Just like physical fitness, compassion can be cultivated and maintained. Chuck Raison and colleagues at Emory University have demonstrated that a regular compassion meditation practice reduces negative neuroendocrine, inflammatory and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Exercising compassion not only strengthens one’s compassion but brings countless benefits to oneself and others. In fact, Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia and others have shown that, not only are we the recipient of compassion’s benefits but others are inspired when they see compassionate actions and in turn become more likely to help others in a positive feedback loop.
As human beings, we will inevitably encounter suffering at some point in our lives. However, we also have evolved very specific social mechanisms to relieve that pain: altruism and compassion. It is not just receiving compassion that relieves our pain. Stephanie Brown, professor at SUNY Stony Brook University and the University of Michigan, has shown that the act of experiencing compassion and helping others actually leads to tremendous mental and physical well-being for us as well. While survival of the fittest may lead to short-term gain, research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to the long-term survival of a species. It is our ability to stand together as a group, to support each other, to help each other, to communicate for mutual understanding, and to cooperate, that has taken our species this far. Compassion is an instinct. Recent research shows that even animals such as rats and monkeys will go through tremendous effort and cost to help out another of its species who is suffering. We human beings are even more instinctually compassionate; our brains are wired for compassion.
At Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), in collaboration with colleagues in psychology and the neurosciences worldwide, we aim to further research on compassion and altruism. CCARE sponsors an ongoing series of programs. Many pioneering researchers of compassion, including several mentioned in this article, have been presenters and will be again in future programs. We invite you to join us. For more information, please click here.
Dr. Jim Doty is the Chairperson to the Board of Directors of The Dalai Lama Foundation, and serves on the International Advisory Board of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
This article appearing in the May 15, 2013 issue of the Interfaith Observer has been republished with permission.
This article was originally published by Huffington Post on June 7, 2012.
Taking time to mark twenty years of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, on May 11, the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago opened doors to the interfaith community of Chicagoland to kickoff the anniversary year’s celebrations. Speaking from a Christian community, Joyce Shin of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church offered reverence to a God whose world is failing to live up to his image, asking for strength to be stronger and to cultivate peace. Praying for justice, Shin’s words mirror the mission the Parliament follows moving forward in Presbyterian-religious terms.
Great is your Word, O God, and great are your works. Each day we breathe in what you breathed out.
We take in the goodness and beauty of your creation, the love you have for it, and your command to care for it.
With heads bowed down and hearts broken, we confess to you, O God, the sorrow we feel for the great mistakes your world has made.
Together we bear the consequences of a creation marred by sin. Your truth has been twisted and your providence perverted.
Anger has been sown and violence spread. And when violence is committed in your name, we shudder with shame.
For the way things are, we are sorry, for we know your world has fallen short of your creation. We see the scars on both friend and stranger.
We have condoned ignorance and allowed injustice, and we have made others to suffer for our mistakes.
We do not take lightly, great God, the damage done, the lives lost, and the grief immeasurable.
When we fear that the world is beyond repair, remind us that you have created us to be in your image. We are not sure what that means.
Compared to you we are fallen, frail in strength, and fickle in conviction.
At most, God, we hope that, if we imitate you all the days of our lives, we will come to embody what you have in mind for us:
that our bodies will bear the grooves of daily service and that our faces will reveal lines of compassion;
that our souls will be strengthened to speak out for those whose voices are ignored and to stand up against forces that keep people down.
Then when you look upon us and the world you have created, most merciful God, we pray that you will see some semblance of your image:
a world in which just priorities are pursued; the young are educated; the elderly cared for; the vulnerable protected; the hungry filled; the homeless safe.
Do not let the needs of your creation overwhelm us, Lord. Though the world’s needs are great, your power is greater. Amen.
How Did The Sacred Spaces Solidarity Pledge Come About?
How Suzanne Morgan Measures The Impact Of The Solidarity Pledge
The fact that all eight congregations got up at the podium, read their tradition’s declaration and signed the pledge on behalf of that tradition, along with Vance Henry of the Mayor’s office, and the CPWR, was amazing and touching. The proof of its effect, for me, was when a man working on the stage and sound setup came up to me afterward. He said to me, ‘My wife and I are having problems; Monday we are going to a marriage counselor. Well, after what I have witnessed here today, people of these different faiths, known by their fighting around the world, agreeing to work together in the face of any defamation or threat to their religions, certainly, I can work things out with my wife!’That did it for me!
Deep Connections Over Year Two Programs
Congregation Sinai invited each of the communities to view thought provoking documentaries with a presentation by a panel of speakers and Muslim-led open dialogue. Chicago Sinai also invited each of the communities to an educational Seder dinner fostering love of neighbor and interfaith understanding.
During UN designated World Interfaith Harmony Week, The Downtown Islamic Center demonstrated the hospitality of Abraham by hosting a meal and dialogue workshop: Beyond Separation, Seeds of Change, Dialogue Skills for Cultivating Interreligious Cooperation. A Program of Dialogue for the Common Good, LLC. In addition, Islamic prayers were explained, followed by open dialogue to respond to curious participants.
Also during World Interfaith Harmony Week, the Midwest Buddhist Temple and Sacred Spaces jointly hosted a New Year celebration programmed to release the hardships and limitations of the past and to plant seeds of hope and peace. All the religious communities were invited to share and present at this experiential interreligious New Year’s ceremony, dining on symbolic Japanese cuisine and refreshments.
Fourth Presbyterian Church invited the Sacred Space communities to the Community Grand Opening of their newly constructed Gratz Center followed by an Open House. Guests enjoyed lively conversations together, appetizers, and live music. Fourth Presbyterian Church also hosted an event with world-renowned speaker Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Institute and member of the Interfaith Center of New York.
Old St. Pat’s Catholic Church invited the Sacred Spaces religious communities to their annual Memorial Service for the homeless attracting so much attendance it became a standing room only event.
Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist invited the religious communities to participate an intimate experiential Mid-Week Prayer Meeting focused on “How Can We Feel Safe in the Face of Danger.” The evening began with sacred readings from Holy Scripture and Mary Baker Eddy’s works, and progressed into quiet time in between open dialogue, as participants felt compelled to share.
Saint James Episcopal Cathedral ended the second year of events with a Concert & Photographic Display, “Portraits and Voices” by Michael Nye on Mental Health Disorders in the United States.
Sharing Sacred Spaces in Hyde Park, Chicago Launched, Too
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion’s Sharing Sacred Spaces program has two objectives for interreligious community building in a neighborhood or city: (1) to facilitate a collection of diverse congregations to become comfortable with each other and enthusiastic about signing a pledge of solidarity agreeing to stand with each other in the face of antireligious defamation or threat and then (2) to see that newly bonded group select a humanitarian issue in their neighborhood/city to address, and articulate a way to implement a solution together.
A May 5 event at First Unitarian Church completed a yearlong program from the Sharing Sacred Spaces project in Hyde Park. Six South-Side Chicago congregations agreed to each hold an event at their sacred space for the purpose of interreligious engagement for those attending, including KAMII congregation, Ellis Avenue Church, Chicago Theological Seminary, Augustana Lutheran Church, St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church
The Sunday afternoon events began in October of 2012 and were completed this May. A second year of events is being planned to continue the engagement. The Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council has been in existence for over 100 years, mainly consisting of Christian denominations in the Hyde Park area. With the SSS program, they plan to widen their vision to include additional traditions in new ways.
FAITHS AGAINST HATE PREMIERING PUBLIC TRAINING DAY IN NEW YORK
- In partnership with the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island, CPWR Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson and Chair Imam Malik Mujahid will join Long Island and New York City’s leaders of interfaith action against hate to deliver frontline training on hate crime and hate culture. On Saturday, June 22, 2013 – we welcome all participants to share training, inspiration, free meals, and action planning to mobilize a Faith Against Hate Task Force to overcome hate, fear, and anti-religious violence in the New York/Long Island area. Sponsors speaking at the event from The Interfaith Center of New York, The Sikh Coalition, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, the Muslim Consultative Network, and more will be on hand to share formal and informal time to all. The training will empower and foster interfaith relationships for concerned citizens, clergy, and civic leaders. Come concerned, leave prepared! Register Free…
FBI TRACKING CRIME AGAINST SIKH-, HINDU-, and ARAB-AMERICANS
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation that tracks hate crimes in the United States announced on Wednesday, June 5, that it will finally include Hindu-, Sikh-, and Arab-American categories in future annual uniform hate crime reporting. This win is celebrated by hundreds of organizations which were heard en masse by the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer at the overdue hearing on domestic extremism and hate crime, which was expedited after the murders of Sikhs at the Gurdwara in the Oak Creek, WI last August. Data on hate crimes motivated by 9/11 backlash and Islamaphobia will finally quantify widespread violence targeting several communities perceived “other-,” “Middle Eastern-”, “South Asian-.” It also signifies more attention by the U.S. government on this pervasive and complex illness in American society.
For more on this, check out our webinar with the chief organizer of the petitions and government relations at the Sikh Coalition, Rajdeep Singh, on “How Interfaith Coalitions Can Strategically Combat Hate.”
ANTI-IMMIGRANT ADS DROPPED BY PANDORA INTERNET RADIO
- Pandora Internet Radio recently dropped hate ads against undocumented immigrants heard by 70 million listeners sponsored by an organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known “hate group.” Sojourners Magazine made major moves to denounce the ads and responded by calling for funds to air counter-hate ads and asking Pandora to remove the ads from airplay. Read more…
Interfaith Youth Core training dates for young activists approaching soon require swift registrations. To join Chicago’s conference, youth registration is today. Upcoming registration dates loom for area conferences in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles planned between now and February, 2014.
Interfaith Leadership Institutes (ILIs) equip undergraduate students, staff, and faculty with the skills to engage diverse religious and non-religious identities to build the interfaith movement on their campuses.
At the ILI:
- Students train to be interfaith leaders who build relationships across identities, tell powerful stories to bridge divides, and mobilize their campuses through interfaith projects.
- Staff and faculty network with other higher education professionals, share best practices, and partner with their students to transform their campuses
- All participants learn how the Better Together campaign and the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge can be catalysts for campus change.
Upcoming ILIs - The standard fee to attend an ILI is $299 (lodging and travel not included). Make sure to check the registration pages for discount and scholarship information.
- Chicago ILI: June 21-23, 2013
Final Registration Deadline: June 6, 2013
- NYC ILI: August 11-13, 2013
Early Bird Deadline ($50 off): June 6, 2013
Final Registration Deadline: July 30, 2013
- Atlanta ILI: January 31, 2014 – February 2, 2014
Los Angeles ILI: February 15-17, 2014
*Official Registration Launch on August, 15, 2013
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advancing the Interfaith movement more into the mainstream, top awards in two literature competitions were snagged by peace builder and interfaith activist Ruth Broyde Sharone’s book. A veteran CPWR activist, Sharon is being celebrated for authoring the groundbreaking a memoir selling the benefits of Interfaith, MINEFIELDS & MIRACLES: Why God and Allah Need to Talk.
Placing first for “religious non-fiction” in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the memoir pushes Interfaith forward by garnering top honors in the 2013 International Book Awards in the category of “social change.” Featuring a chapter entitled “A Taste of Interfaith Paradise,” the history of the Parliament and its current mission are chronicled for their transforming effect on Broyde Sharon.
From the official announcement,
At a time of heightened religious conflict and unrest around the world MINEFIELDS & MIRACLES comes as a breath of fresh air and a statement of renewed hope. Broyde Sharone’s riveting memoir—regaling readers with what she calls her interfaith “adventures and misadventures”– has been endorsed by more than 30 religious leaders including H.H. the Dalai Lama. Paul Chaffee, editor of The Interfaith Observer, describes the book as “a page-turner, a compelling, fearless quest to reach across the toughest interreligious boundaries . . .”
Creator of the Golden Rule Poster, Paul McKenna says MINEFIELDS & MIRACLES should be required reading for anyone who is serious about interfaith dialogue. “I have been involved in interfaith work for more than 30 years . . . and I have seen and heard interfaith stories from around the world, but I have never encountered an interfaith testimonial with the depth and breadth of this one.”
Professor Cornel West at Princeton says: “I strongly support this book.” Best-selling author Marianne Williamson concurs. “This book is a MUST READ for individuals who seek to be collaborators with the Holy in the quest for peace.”
An inspirational speaker, filmmaker, and journalist, and a recognized champion for interfaithengagement, Broyde Sharone was recently inducted into the Martin Luther King Board of Advisors of Morehouse College. Ruth’s documentary, GOD AND ALLAH NEED TO TALK, took top honors earlier this year as the best short in the 2013 World Harmony Interfaith Film Festival.
A former CPWR staff member, Broyde Sharon is currently Co-Chairing for a third term a grassroots interfaith body called the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in Los Angeles, where she’s known for initiating, innovating, and co-producing interfaith programs in Southern California, in the U.S. and abroad.
“Religious Freedom Under Attack” headed a recent L.A. Times editorial. With tunnel vision squarely focusing on the status of turbulent nations, the column exposed merely the harshest facts in a new government report which also shines a little light on world interfaith development.
Of course, it would be neglectful of the media to ignore the current religious climate. One ongoing crisis in this camp is the Bahai’s worldwide protest efforts amping up against Iranian courts for jailing seven leaders for more than five years now, simply for being Baha’i and not sharing the faith sponsored by the state. Therefore, headlining any story about religion and governments because of cases like the Baha’is sets the stage for most reports to seem like totally bad news.
The U.S. Department of State report breaking down the state of religious freedom around the world in 2012 does describe a world beleaguered with turmoil. However, it also clues religious-government watchdogs in on how the American government applies its 15-year-old International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, even when not promising to diffuse some of the worst trouble spots.
It also points to some yet-to-be-really-covered-by-the-media good news:
Mentioning some positive action by governments where promoting religious liberty has proved tricky, 2012 demonstrates some indication that interfaith action by governments on the rise.
15 Countries Improving Religious Freedom
Source: U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2012 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Citations: Section II: Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom. Consult report for more national information, religious demography, identifications and definitions.
In October President Kikwete visited several churches in the Mbagala suburb of Dar es Salaam which were burned or damaged following religious unrest. He urged self-restraint and emphasized that citizens should not take the law into their own hands.In November the prime minister publicly pledged to initiate a national dialogue between religious leaders to promote religious tolerance; this had not occurred by year’s end. Also in November, the Interfaith Council asked to meet with the president to discuss intolerance among factions within the Muslim community and Christian groups. This meeting did not take place by year’s end.In November the prime minister took a strong stand against the October religious violence, calling for political and religious tolerance.On December 31, President Kikwete stated that the country faced, for the first time in its history, the possibility of civil strife and division along religious lines. He encouraged religious and political leaders to take seriously their responsibility to ensure that citizens continue to live peacefully regardless of their religion, ethnicity, color, or place of origin.
Some positive steps were taken during the year to address specific religious freedom concerns. The LFNC, joined during the year by the Ministry of Home Affairs, instructed local officials on religious tolerance and in some situations intervened in cases where members of minority religious groups, particularly Christians, had been harassed or mistreated.
In an effort to promote consultation among all stakeholders concerning revisions to Decree 92, the LFNC and Ministry of Home Affairs organized meetings for religious group representatives in Vientiane, Champasak, Bokeo, and Bolikhamxay Provinces, and the city of Vientiane. The meetings allowed for open discussion about the government’s plan to amend the decree, and provided an opportunity for religious groups to offer suggestions for its improvement.
In collaboration with the LFNC, the Institute for Global Engagement, a U.S.-based religious freedom organization, conducted training for provincial and district officials and local religious leaders to help both sides better understand each other and the scope of Decree 92.
The government eased its control over the Catholic community in the north. At year’s end, a Catholic bishop in Luang Prabang was in the process of establishing residency and identifying land for the construction of a church building with the support of local authorities. A Vientiane church delegation, accompanied by LFNC officials, traveled to Bokeo Province to visit Catholic communities in Houayxay, Meuang, and Tonpheung. The church was able to expand charitable activities and provided assistance to a school for the deaf in Luang Prabang.
On February 21, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin participated in World Interfaith Harmony Week. Activities held during the week included community activities and religious forums.
On December 26, church leaders announced the government had rescinded quotas, age limits and other travel restrictions previously imposed on Christian Malaysians who wished to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
On November 3, the Perlis Al Islah Association in collaboration with the Islamic Council of Perlis, a government entity, and the Perlis Malay Customs Council (an NGO) organized an interfaith forum “Gateway to Interfaith Goodwill (Gema) 2012.” The crown prince of Perlis chaired the forum, which was designed as a platform for interaction among different religions with the hope of creating a better understanding between them. Seventeen religious groups, including representatives of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism, attended the forum.
In a statement to Christian leaders in January, the prime minister promised full consultation when assigning mission school heads. He also agreed to after-school Bible classes, as well as implementation of a regulation that allowed non-Muslim places of worship to apply for tax exempt status for donations received from individuals. This was the first time the prime minister had addressed these issues in a public statement. The tax regulation went into effect shortly thereafter.
On June 8, in a change of visa policy, the government started granting missionary visas to other orders of religious workers besides priests and nuns. This change granted all male religious orders (priests, brothers, monks) and female religious orders (sisters and nuns) eligibility for visas to conduct religious work. Religious organizations previously complained that only priests and nuns could obtain missionary visas. The immigration law does not have a formal provision for missionary visas for individuals who do not have the rank of priest or nun within their respective religious orders, which includes Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist workers. In the past, the government regularly granted visas to religious workers of some religious groups who were not priests or nuns and uniformly applied the eligibility to all religious groups by year’s end.
In May the government for the first time granted 20 members of the Baha’i Faith permission to participate in an annual religious pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel. The nine-day pilgrimage allowed Bahais to visit religious shrines and meet with fellow believers. In August the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Hanoi celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its establishment in Hanoi. The day-long public celebration was attended by nearly 100 followers from the northern area of the country, 20 foreign Bahais representing countries in the region, and government officials.
In July and August the CRA registered 20 new churches in the Northwest Highlands. These included both Protestant and Catholic congregations.
During his appointment that began in January 2011, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the non-resident papal representative to Vietnam, made eight visits to the country. The government and the Vatican continued discussions toward normalizing relations. In September Archbishop Girelli made his first visit to the Northwest Highlands to meet with fellow believers. During his visit, the archbishop led mass for congregants of newly recognized churches.
In June the government restored five acres of land to St. Peter’s Catholic chapel in Hanoi. Congregants had formally petitioned the government ten years earlier.
According to contacts from multiple faiths, the government facilitated the construction of new places of worship, including Christian churches, Buddhist temples, monasteries and pagodas. The government’s assistance included transferring land to religious groups, granting building permits, or granting small construction grants through the CRA.
Authorities allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold a three-day convention in Minsk in July. Over 7,500 members from across the country reportedly attended the convention without official interference.
On March 27, the parliament amended the criminal code to make religious motives an aggravating factor for all crimes. Although authorities prosecuted no crimes under the new amendment during the year, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association stated that passage of the amendment could discourage such crimes.
In April parliament passed legislation establishing SPZs in the historic center of Prizren and the village of Velika Hoca/Hoce e Madhe, both of which contained numerous religious and cultural sites dating to the thirteenth century. In July the Constitutional Court upheld the legislation and rejected appeals claiming the law would unconstitutionally give special rights to Serbs over the rights of other citizens.
In a January Holocaust Memorial Day speech, the prime minister apologized for the participation of the country’s officials in the expulsion of Jews during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation. The speech was the first formal direct apology from the government and was commended by religious figures. In November the head of the police department also apologized for police participation in expelling Jews during the war years. Some social commentators and religious leaders stated this was even more significant than the prime minister’s Holocaust Memorial Day speech.
The government made a number of monetary grants to increase security for the Jewish community and to combat anti-Semitism in schools. The government allocated 7.2 million kroner ($1.25 million) for security at the Jewish Religious Community’s (DMT) facility and synagogue in Oslo. In addition to the funding, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security announced it would maintain a dialogue with the DMT, the Police Security Services, and the Police Directorate to ensure that the DMT’s facilities were properly safeguarded. The Ministry of Education granted 6 million kroner ($1.05 million) for programs that included training about anti-Semitism in schools throughout the next three years. The Ministry of Government Administration and Church Affairs will finance the DMT’s new online anti-Semitism reporting mechanism.
In a February session held behind closed doors, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the parliament’s Constitutional Reconciliation Sub-Committee, which was responsible for drafting a new constitution. This was the first time in the history of the republic that a leader of a religious minority group addressed the parliament. Subsequently, representatives of the Syrian Orthodox community also testified before the sub-committee.
The government continued to implement a 2011 decree allowing a one-year period for religious minority foundations to apply for the return of, or compensation for, properties seized by the government in previous decades. Between 1936 and 2011, the government seized thousands of properties belonging to Christian and Jewish religious foundations. A 1936 law required that religious foundations compile and officially register lists of all properties owned. Although it was widely recognized at the time that these lists were not comprehensive, the government then began seizing unlisted properties from religious foundations. A 1974 High Court of Appeals ruling interpreting the 1936 law stated it had been illegal for religious foundations to acquire any new property after 1936, enabling the government to seize without compensation religious foundation properties acquired between 1936 and 1974.
By August, the GDF had received approximately 1,560 applications for the return of seized properties from the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities. By year’s end, the GDF had reviewed approximately 200 of the applications and returned 71 properties to religious community foundations, made offers of compensation for 15 properties, declined 19 applications for lack of evidence, and returned the remaining applications for the correction of technical problems. The government established an arbitration system for foundations that believed the amount of compensation received for a property was inadequate. If the arbitration process is unsuccessful, foundations will have access to the courts for redress.
The decree did not alter the law that made it possible to seize property acquired after 1936, nor did it change the complicated procedure for administering foundation properties that contributed to the seizure of many properties. Additionally, the decree did not cover properties taken from religious institutions or communities that do not have legally recognized foundations, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
The 2011 decree also permitted the formation of new religious community foundations as well as the reopening of foundations that had previously been closed and whose assets the GDF had confiscated. The GDF approved new or reactivated foundations for the Jewish community in Izmir, the Armenian Orthodox community in Istanbul, and the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul. Prior to the 2011 decree, the government had approved only one new religious community foundation since the founding of the republic—the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation in 2003.
In September the Basrah Provincial Council Committee for Religious Minorities called on the central government to provide support for Iraqi Christians who wanted to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, equating these trips with the Muslim Hajj.
Throughout the year, Iraqi Security Forces deployed police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship during religious holidays. In late September, the Iraqi Security Forces deployed 20,000 police and army personnel to Karbala to protect land routes pilgrims take to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj; and in late October, the Iraqi Security forces deployed 12,000 police and army personnel to the holy city of Karbala to protect hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims to the city for Eid al-Adha.
The Ministry of Human Rights reported that it took several steps to protect members of minority religious groups and address their concerns. They conducted an investigation into the phenomenon of suicides of Yezidi young people; provided humanitarian assistance to internally displaced minority groups, including Christians; and held over 200 workshops throughout the country on minority rights.
The Ministry of Human Rights reported that during the year Iraqi Security Forces escorted 1,300 Christian students from al-Hamdaniya to Mosul to attend school each day, and increased the number of night patrols in Christian neighborhoods in Mosul.
The KRG continued to welcome Christians from outside the IKR who moved to the region due to perceived discrimination and threats to their safety elsewhere. Armenian Church of America archbishop Vicken Aykazian said in December that the IKR “has become a safehaven for Christians, [and] the [regional] government is building churches, schools, and community centers for them,” adding that “Christians today feel very comfortable [in the the IKR].”
There were no violent attacks against Messianic Jews and notably fewer physical assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year. The police investigated all known instances of religiously motivated attacks and made arrests when possible, including in August when the police arrested seven suspects for assault, harassment, and arson in connection with Haredi protests against the opening of an Orthodox all-girls school in Beit Shemesh.
The state formally recognized non-Orthodox rabbis for the first time on May 30 and agreed to fund Reform and Conservative rabbis appointed by rural communities.
The MOI did not arrest, detain, require bail for entry or a written pledge to abstain from missionary activity, or refuse entry to anyone due to their religious beliefs. There was no indication that the MOI collected data on alleged missionaries from antimissionary groups and used it to deny entry to the country to foreign individuals. There was no official statement that the policy had changed, but no incidents were reported since the July 2011 action of a Jerusalem district court judge who reprimanded the MOI for the illegal procedure.
On August 2, the Knesset amended legislation from 2010 to apply tax exemptions to all places of religious instruction equally.
13. Israel and The Occupied Territories – Israel and The Occupied Territories – The Occupied Territories
PA-Israeli security cooperation at Joseph’s Tomb improved during the year following an agreement reached in 2011 between the PA, the IDF, and the Ministry of Defense’s civil administration to station 10 permanent PA police officers at the tomb. On February 9, PA forces accompanied 15 rabbis from the West Bank’s Huwwara checkpoint to the tomb in the first such security coordination with Israeli forces. The PA coordinated all visits with Israel.
Israel issued slightly more than 100,000 permits to allow Palestinian West Bank residents to enter Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan, representing a seven-fold increase from the 16,700 permits it granted in 2011. It expanded the categories of people exempted from the permit requirement for men and women above age 40 and allowed persons between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive permits.
In March the government permitted the funeral of Shia cleric Abdallah Dadou, killed in a fire in Belgium, to take place in Tangier. The funeral was the first public Shia ceremony in the country in many years.
Religious groups reported improved ability to attract new members without government interference. The majority of religious groups reported reduced interference from the government in conducting their services, and improvement in their ability to import religious materials, receive donations from overseas, and travel abroad to attend conferences and religious events. Many religious groups found it easier to bring in foreign religious workers and visitors and restore houses of worship.
The government requested Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and provided extensive logistical support during his March 26-29 trip, including allowing the Pope to say mass in the central squares of the two largest cities, and declaring the three days of the visit a national holiday to facilitate citizen participation in the open-air religious ceremonies. Footage of the visit was broadcast on state-run television stations, and the visit was reported in print and radio. A few Protestant churches reported that they were also permitted to hold religious ceremonies in public spaces.
The average percentage of global youth trusting religious leaders is now in the single digits. This “mass exodus” is becoming a pervasive challenge for a lion’s share of the world’s major faith traditions while leaders grapple, struggle, and investigate. Even framing the issue is problematic and poses controversy. So how can the claim religious leaders are performing best in South Africa to connecting to youth be considered credible?
Viacom International, the media corporation owning MTV networks and numerable communications platform is spearheading an ambitious research endeavor. “The Next Normal” plans to be the largest, sharpest, and most comprehensive survey of Millennials (Gen-Y, predecessors to “Digital Natives) in the world. In April, research conducted by the project reported a comprehensive look at the generational character on religion, spirituality and faith nation by nation.
Some of the most significant findings include South African millennials having the most trust for religious leaders of any nationality, and that Japanese and Saudi Arabian Millennials are the most inflexible in terms of individualism and choice in religious matters.
Most significant of all is that these numbers are powerful and help plot the future of interfaith around the world.
The study shows,
In exploring Millennial attitudes toward religion, faith and spirituality across the globe, we found that overall, this generation believes that everybody should have the right to choose their own religion. But their openness and tolerance are also marked by distrust in organised religion, as well as distinctions between faith and spirituality in some countries.
On average, only 9% of Millennials say they trust their religious leader and only 10% name “religious leader” among the top 5 inspirational people or bodies of people in their lives (compared to 19% for celebrities and 14% for sports stars). In terms of trust in religious leaders (who could be anyone from a local priest, preacher, imam or rabbi to the Pope), South Africa comes out strongest with a score of 29% trust – still a relatively small minority – followed by USA on 24% and Turkey on 17%.
Trust in religious leaders is lowest in France (2%), Japan and Spain (both 3%).
So where are the magic answers?
The New Digital Age Google forcecasts shows us that via the internet, humans will increasingly utilize their virtual passports to meet on the social web. This creates unprecedented and uncontrollable influences on millennial attitudes, and may reveal why, some unexpectedly, the youth of certain nationalities are shifting longstanding views on religion.
Considering the parallel, but alternate universe existing on and off the world wide web, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently shared a shocking measure of our day and age. In North Korea, he met women conducting traffic that have become YouTube sensations for their strange, revealing clothing and mythical relationship with the supreme leader. Yet, these women don’t have the slightest notional understanding of YouTube, let alone the internet. Nowadays, the web enables geophysical outsiders unprecedented access into clues about what makes any nation’s people tick.
Cultivating Online What We Do Face to Face
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the one global event where these relationships can be built organically through personal encounter, with the intentional and expressed purpose of cultivating international bonds of harmony through interfaith understanding. Historically, youth have made remarkable contributions to the Parliament, and leave changed for life. The difference for the next Parliament is that these meeting will have already happened through introductions on the web.
Can we gauge the meaning of all this, and should we? Does the Parliament answer to the youth exodus? The results of this survey is consistent with the reports flurrying in from all corners of the world in our Global Listening Campaign. These sessions conducted by Parliament Ambassadors have uniquely national flair, but express one sentiment that is resoundingly the same: have we lost our youth? How can we get them back?
The Parliament’s answer is simple: engage online, and act proactively to talk with youth. If confidence is greatest in favor of South African faith leaders, it must mean that faith leaders deliver on their promises and in an age of expecting results, they must act on their word.
Do you find this to be true? How do religious institutions answer to the attitudes of youth to engage millennials in religious and spiritual communities inclusive to all living generations? What can the Parliament do?
- To share a response in writing to become part of a Parliament online publication, please e-mail email@example.com
- To pursue Ambassador opportunities to hold a Listening Session in your community, please e-mail Stephen@parliamentofreligions.org
Young adults take note that the North American Interfaith Network’s annual Connect conference offers substantial discounts when registering by June 15. This year’s events mark the 25th anniversary of the North American* organization planning on August 11 – 14 dates in Toronto with the banner “In Diversity is our Strength.”. Read more…
*This article has been updated from a previous version which incorrectly stated that NAIN is a Canada-based organization. The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions congratulates the North American Interfaith Network on its rich 25-year history of engagement across the continent. We apologize for the error and are pleased to promote this important work.
A Hero of Mine
All of us can look back over our lives as educators and identify people who have been significant role models. One of those persons for me has been Huston Smith. Perhaps the most important American scholar of religions for five decades, Smith was born the son of Methodist missionaries in Dzang Dok, China, where he spent the first seventeen years of his life. Now ninety-three and confined to a chair in his assisted living apartment in Berkeley, California, the old gentleman— eyes sparkling—”banters in Chinese with his friend, Mr. Lin, the maintenance man” (Lisa Miller, “Huston Smith’s Wonderful Life,” The Daily Beast, 2009).
I had read and admired Smith’s premier work, The Religions of Man (1958) many years ago, a book that has sold more than 2.5 million copies and been reprinted over sixty times. My own life experience for twenty-five years, living and working in the religiously plural and multicultural world of Java, Indonesia, caused the book I had read in my seminary class in world religions to be fascinatingly illustrated in the lives of my neighbors, friends, and acquaintances of many faiths.
But it was the chance to meet Huston Smith personally that made such a profound impact upon me. While attending a conference entitled “The World’s Religions after 9-11″ in Montreal, Canada, in 2006, I sat very close to the front of a huge convention hall to hear him address thousands of conferees from all over the globe. Unable to stand at the podium, Smith was seated at a table at center stage. With a gentle demeanor and voice projection dimmed by age, he still had no trouble holding the audience spellbound.
At the conclusion of the session, I rushed to the platform to meet him, and rather than tower above this seated and frail world religions giant, I knelt beside his chair, took his hand, and said, “Dr. Smith, you are one of my heroes.” Without pausing, he smiled and replied, “And if I knew you I’m sure that you would be one of my heroes too!”
I’ve thought about that response many times. Here was a man who has spoken all over the globe, been a close friend of Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, and the Dalai Lama, held teaching posts at Syracuse University, MIT, and Berkeley, written more than a dozen important books, studied and observed ritual practices of Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, and Sufi Islam for more than a decade each, and has been the subject of numerous articles, books, dissertations, and an award-winning PBS series with Bill Moyers, now affirming me as a person who would inspire and instruct him in some way, if only we were able to know one another better. This humble spirit, desire to keep on learning, and willingness to affirm others are secrets to the man’s greatness.
British essayist Pico Iyer, in his introduction to Smith’s autobiography, Tales of Wonder:
Adventures in Chasing the Divine, quotes Henry David Thoreau, who wrote: “To set about living a true life is to go [on] a journey to a distant country, gradually to find ourselves surrounded by new scenes and men” (“Foreward,” HarperOne, 2009, xi). That philosophy is certainly mine, as it has been Huston Smith’s. Journeying to distant countries, finding myself surrounded by new scenes and people—these experiences are the learning laboratories that have changed my own life. Myencounters with serious followers of other faith traditions have made me a better Christian. Their devotion to God, as they understand God, and their commitment to living according to God’s ethical Way, as they perceive it to be, have challenged my own devotion to God and desire to live on the Way. Experiences with the Religious Other and the lessons I have drawn from them—how visibly these threads of meaning seem to lead back to this elderly hero of my choosing.
Smith is often asked why he is a Christian, after his having admired, studied, and practiced elements of so many other faiths throughout his lifetime. Bill Moyers also asked him that question.”Because I know my need for forgiveness,” Smith said with great honesty. Raised as a Christian in China, but a student of all the world’s great wisdom traditions, he says “he will never be anything but a Christian. ‘You subtract Christianity from Huston Smith, and there is no Huston Smith left’” (Quoted in Miller, The Daily Beast). And that, too, is a perspective that I claim for myself. The more I learn about religions and religious people in distant places and next door, the more admiration I have for the world’s wisdom traditions—yet, paradoxically, the more committed I am to my own Christian path.
One of the ways Smith explored religious meaning is frequently cited in articles about him. He was at Harvard University participating in psychedelic experiments with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (also known as Ram Dass). He was also engaged in the Harvard Project, which sought to raise spiritual awareness through the use of entheogenic plants. But Smith, the Methodist missionary kid and forever Christian, looks back on that period of research with a singularly orthodox eye, claiming: “The goal of spiritual life is not altered states, but altered traits” (www.circlesoflight.com).
What a truism for guiding my days! When all of my ongoing study is finally completed, when academic pursuits, world travel, and busy schedules are reduced to simple days spent confined to a chair in assisted living, will people be able to look at my life—as they most certainly do look at Smith’s life today—and judge that my traits were clearly altered by my faith and exemplified in the way I conducted my spiritual life? I pray so.
Dr. Rob Sellers, CPWR Trustee. Sellers is Connally Professor of Missions, and Professor of Missions Ministry at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.