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World Water Day: A Call to Faith

by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post

March 22 is World Water Day, and today events the world over focus on water’s importance, for life in every form, and for the human spirit.
Few would disagree that WASH — the acronym that links water, sanitation and hygiene — is a critical need. Many actors are working hard to fill the glaring gaps that still exist and to meet the ideal of assuring “clean water for all” and decent sanitation. There’s some good news: the targets for water supply set by all the United Nations at the turn of millennium for the year 2015 have already been met (though 780 million people still lack safe drinking water). That’s something to celebrate and the achievement reflects extraordinary efforts — providing water to 2 billion people since 1990 is no mean feat. But sanitation goals lag far behind and well over 2 billion people lack access to anything approximating decent toilet facilities. We should never forget the daily challenges this lack means for people, and especially women, whose lives are often in danger as they seek quiet and privacy.

It should come as no surprise that many leading advocates and groups working in the world’s most difficult and remote places on water and sanitation draw their inspiration from their religious faith. In virtually every faith tradition, water plays a central role. It cleanses, purifies, sustains, heals and nurtures. It inspires with its beauty and poetry, and it conveys the mystery of life. In interfaith rituals, the shared focus on water is a common bond. WASH is so universal a need that it gives meaning to calls for social justice and equality. Surely few will be unmoved by the gross unfairness of the gap between turning on a faucet, assured that clean water will flow, and imagining the women who walk for miles to carry home a jug of brackish water.

World Water Day has a different theme each year and this year it is food security and agriculture. It’s a reminder that the main cause of hunger and famine is drought and that water is vital for all agriculture. Each of us drinks between two and four quarts of water every day, but in truth it is in the food we eat that most water is consumed. Producing a pound of beef consumes about 4,000 gallons of water while producing two pounds of wheat needs 400 gallons of water.

Click here to read the full article

Harmony Among Religions at the United Nations?

by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post

The United Nations General Assembly began on February 11 to debate Syria’s prolonged and bitter tragedy of killing, after the Security Council, next door, failed miserably to find enough agreement among the world’s dominant nations to act. United Nations idealists believe that the General Assembly, as a body representing all the world’s nations, has the responsibility and the capacity to protect the vulnerable. Sadly such idealism is generally in scant supply these day and so these General Assembly debates have an aura of symbolism as the tanks mass in Syria.

On February 7 in the same General Assembly Hall a very different group gathered in a very different spirit. It was inspired by what some might call an even more idealistic cause: interfaith harmony. For the first time World Interfaith Harmony Week was celebrated at the United Nations. Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Muslim imams, Christian bishops, Shinto priests, Jewish rabbis, and many others came there to celebrate and reflect on their deep belief that, while religious diversity is part of humanity’s very essence, people can live in peace and harmony. The morning event did change the generally dour tone of the Hall as music echoed, children read inspirational passages, and speaker after speaker spoke to the ideals of common cause and the common good. It concluded with representatives of different religions symbolizing their common, shared care for the earth as each watered a tree.

World Interfaith Harmony week, for those who gathered to celebrate, marked a hard won achievement. In October 2010 the General Assembly passed, unanimously, a Resolution declaring the first week in February each year as World Interfaith Harmony Week. In proposing it, King Abdullah of Jordon harked back to the initiative of Muslim leaders who reached out to Christians in a 2007 letter entitled “A Common Word”. The King urged that: “It is .. essential to resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust, especially among peoples of different religions…Humanity everywhere is bound together, not only by mutual interests, but by shared commandments to love God and neighbor; to love the good and neighbor.” The aim is thus to work through interfaith dialogue and common action to counter the idea and reality of a clash of civilizations.

‘The Common Welfare Is Our Business’ – Study Shows Link Between Belief and Giving

by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post

Marley’s ghost, in Charles Dickens’ great moral parable, The Christmas Carol, reflected in anguish on what, beyond the grave, he finally understood to have been his core moral obligation in life: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

“Bah, humbug”, responded Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley’s partner in life. So Marley pursued his plan to awaken Scrooge to the realities of need and to tug on his deeply latent conscience. Finally when one of the three Spirits who visits Scrooge by night confronts him with two pathetic children, a vestige of moral sense begins to stir. Asked whose they are, the Spirit answers that they are Man’s. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

Just as Marley and his Spirits exhorted Scrooge to confront the realities of poverty and his responsibility to help, we also are confronted during this end of the year holiday season with appeals to our conscience. They come, thick and fast, framed as frantic pleas for help or as generous offers or gentle reminders to contribute to a cause. Each day the mail, phone, and email deliver an extraordinary range of requests to support causes that respond to the urgent needs of our community. The urgent tone of the appeals seem all the more poignant at this time when the “Bah, humbug” Scrooge-style response seems to need seems to have gripped America’s public debate.

The tugs of conscience and appeals for charitable donations call to mind moral values deeply rooted in spiritual teachings. Perhaps the strongest common ground that links the world’s great faith traditions is the call to compassion, to fight precisely Dickens’ ghostly images of ignorance and want. Charitable giving has deep spiritual roots in history. Even in today’s far more pluralistic and secular world, the appeal to spiritual values evokes both the nobility of mankind’s capacity to care and the shame of turning one’s back to those in need. Even the very wealthy, who give less to explicitly religious causes, see religion as key to transmitting their own commitment to charity to their offspring.

What does lead people to give to charity? And what evokes responsibility and caring as Americans look to the nation’s responsibilities towards the world? As always in such matters, the answers are complicated and there is much we do not really understand. But a recent public opinion survey offers evidence of how far values linked to religious teachings do color attitudes towards the broadest policy issues. And it also offers encouraging signs that the appeals to conscience resonate with most Americans. That people respond to an appeal to their better nature echoes long-standing evidence that charitable giving is highest among those who count themselves as believers. What is of particular interest here, however, is the degree to which religious and spiritual values color attitudes to issues that tend to be debated in more technocratic terms.

Click here to read the full article

Webinar: Ending Poverty: Practical Steps for Those Inspired by Their Faith

Katherine Marshall

Katherine Marshall

Register Now Wednesday, December 14, 2011
10:00am U.S. Central Time

This webinar will address spiritual and practical imperatives that emerge from the intersections of religion and development. We now approach the culmination of the Millennium Development Goal challenge set in the year 2000. What are the successes, flops, and challenges we must face to create greater equity in our communities and around the world?

Katherine Marshall is a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Visiting Professor in the School of Foreign Service. She leads the Berkley Center’s work on faith-inspired institutions working in development, that has involved both a regional “mapping” and explorations of priority development topics, around the basic questions: what can we learn from faith inspired work and why is it important for global development efforts? She is Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue.

Title: Ending Poverty: Practical Steps for Those Inspired by Their Faith
Date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees:
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees:
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

Praying for Peace with the Community of Sant’Egidio

by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post

For 25 years, the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic group inspired by the ideals of true friendship with the poor, has organized an annual gathering of religious and lay leaders from all corners of the world. Peace is the theme always, and the event has the character of a pilgrimage, as it takes place each year in a different city. This year it is in Munich, and this sparkling city in southern Germany is witnessing a colorful array of visitors that represents a living pageant of world religious history. Catholic and Orthodox leaders are perhaps the most obvious, in their contrasting red, white and black robes and hats, but a splash of orange on monks from South and southeast Asia, more sober garb on Japanese Buddhists and the meticulous robes of the Japanese Shinto group are testimony to the wide reach of this gathering.

The annual event brings the leaders together to demonstrate that indeed peace is for them a powerful and common bond. Dozens of panel discussions explore different conflict situations and issues. And there is a vivid public face. This year’s title and theme is, with a somewhat stilted but thought-provoking title, “Bound to Live Together: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue.” “Bound to” evokes the powerful links in today’s globalized world. Speaking among many other issues to Europe’s tensions in grappling with immigrants, “bound to” also means that we simply have to live together, like it or not.

Click here to read the full article

Catholic Brokers Of Peace: A Conversation With Sant’Egidio’s Mario Giro

Katherine Marshall

Katherine Marshall, Senior Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, and featured presenter at the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions

by Katherine Marshall
from the Huffington Post

The following interview is part of a series of conversations with activists working for development and peace, who draw their inspiration and often direction from their faith. This series, which also included an interview with Ruth Messinger of AJWS, is based on interviews led by Katherine Marshall, as part of policy explorations for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University and the World Faiths Development Dialogue. The full interviews are here.

You serve as Director for International Affairs for the Community of Sant’Egidio. How did you first become involved with the Community ?

In 1973, I was a 15-year-old high school student, newly arrived in Rome from Brussels, where my father had worked. A small student group at my school invited me to join them in service in an outlying, very poor district. As a newcomer, I was happy to find friends but enjoyed even more the work we did. The children of the new, often illiterate immigrants faced many obstacles and we were able to help them in different ways. I became part of the student community and enjoyed that life. We prayed together each day before setting out for our work. We had long, intense discussions about how to live the Gospel, and how to bring about change. We were convinced that even young people and students could make a difference.

Then, while I was at university and afterwards, I worked with what we had come to call the Community, still in Rome’s poor areas, focusing then on adolescents and young adults. I became what you in the United States might call a community organizer.

Click here to read the full article

Malaysia’s Cool Imam

From The Washington Post

By Katherine Marshall

When South Africa was emerging from the dark shadows of the apartheid era, Malaysia was one place it looked for successful examples of how to address the difficult legacy of racial inequality. Malaysia’s Malay citizens (about 60 percent of the total) lagged behind other groups and helping them to “catch up” was a deliberate government policy.

Malaysia is justly proud of its record in managing what at one time threatened to be a conflict-ridden transition. It also takes pride in its distinctive Muslim culture and in the way its religious and ethnic diversity works in a fast-changing society. But behind Malaysia’s new prosperity, seen in glittering skyscrapers and tangles of freeways, there are lively debates about what lies ahead.

Malaysia’s challenges involve above all its diverse ethnic, religious and economic identities, and today’s debates turn on how the three are intertwined. By constitution, Malaysia is a Muslim nation and its population is majority Muslim. Malays and Islam are tightly linked. That translates, among other things, into legal tussles over whether one can renounce being a Muslim. Malaysians are trying to identify how the country’s Islamic identity is distinct and how much latitude there is for different strands of Islamic thinking; how much can Malaysian Islam change as the country modernizes? The country’s minorities are largely Chinese and Indian, and they are mostly Buddhists and Christians. How do their rights balance with those of the Malay and Muslim majority, in law and in the society?

An example of the way Malaysian Islam is changing was the recent popular reality TV show that selected a young “cool” imam (Muhammad Asyraf Mohammad Ridzuan) from among 10 finalists; the others were voted off the program one by one, just like “American Idol.” The idea was to make Islam more appealing to young people and to make them associate religion with inspiration rather than caning and morality raids. The finalists were chosen from 1,000 candidates, faced written and practical tests on religion each week, and were quarantined in a mosque dormitory and banned from using phones, the Internet and television. They had to persuasively steer youngsters away from sex and drugs. Imam Muda had almost 94,000 Facebook fans when I last checked.

Click here to read the entire article.

August 18th, 2010 at 6:00 am

A Call for a New Interfaith Agenda

Katherine Marshall

Katherine Marshall

Moral and Practical Challenges:
Fighting Poverty and Seeking Global Equity

By Katherine Marshall

My organization, the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), focused at the Parliament, from start to finish, on orchestrating a complex poverty and equity seminar that involved over twenty distinct events. We emerged with a hope that these many different encounters and exchanges did serve what we are convinced is an important purpose: to bring a far wider group of religious communities into the global debates about poverty and equity, and to enhance the commitments of leaders and communities to act.

WFDD’s work centers on why global development institutions should care about religious views, and what religious communities offer, actually and potentially, in meeting the challenges of global development. As we wrestled with these demanding and complex issues and views, we had six topics in our minds that present particular challenges and opportunities. Many themes that were broached during the Parliament touch, more or less directly, on these threads.

Challenge one: so what do we mean by development?
A first challenge is to appreciate what we mean today when we use the term “development”. A mounting uncertainty and ambiguity in how that term is used spills over into institutional missions, debates about what works and what does not, and into the shape and motivations of the development professions. My urging is that we appreciate this complexity in framing the challenges, but also discern more thoughtfully how we are making sense of the changing world around us. The purpose of what we call development could not be more demanding: to allow human potential to flourish in diverse societies that respect a hard core of human rights and just principles. But we are far from achieving that goal. We readily recognize the bad habits and pitfalls as we listen to people describing the world and prescribing solutions in inherited and outmoded language and categories. In short, the Parliament discussions suggest that we can and need to do better.

Challenge two: focusing on the new “bottom billion” paradigm
One idea that has emerged in part from those contending with the inadequacies of overly simplistic pictures of the world is a new and increasingly influential paradigm. It posits a need to focus far more attention and resources on a specific category of countries and societies that fall at the bottom of welfare indicators. The Parliament highlighted the particularly important role that religion plays in most, if not all, the societies and nations that fall into the “bottom billion” category, which have been far too little appreciated and explored. This is a priority area for attention.

Challenge three: charity, rights, and the MDGs
A major shift in thinking about development has special significance for religions because it is so deeply embedded in history and ethics. There is a move from a situation where international development and objectives for human development have been driven, above all, by a motivation for charity to a paradigm that is motivated by notions of human rights. In this newer frame, the driving force is justice more than compassion.

Challenge four: getting a grip on uncoordinated aid
A theme that preoccupies many people in the developing world is poor coordination; a problem that can be termed the challenge of “getting a grip” on development assistance. The current reality of countless groups working without respect for local situations, without a common strategy, and too often at cross-purposes is daunting. This has special relevance for religious communities because they tend to fall in the minority group that sees virtue in diversity and decentralized initiatives. There is an obvious need to get at least some grip on the situation.

Challenge five: accountability, results, and good governance
With a general pattern of decentralized intervention, which focuses more on human engagement than efficiency in resource management, religious organizations are often coming rather late to global governance debates. They have immense experience and moral authority to offer, so it is high time they become more actively engaged.

Challenge six: how far to press for interfaith action
Appreciating that faith and religious bodies are major development actors that provide extensive services and shape attitudes that are important to change and to the lives of communities, a next question is how far we should aspire to an interfaith grounding for their work. Generally, many see promise in what some might term a “side by side” model. Different religious communities can be encouraged to work together to address a common problem that has little to nothing to do with religion (poor housing, gangs disruption, urban life). Once the groups have experienced working together, they come to know each other, and that builds strength in the community. The question is how far such initiatives should extend beyond spiritual and religious matters.

A central conclusion is that this work has barely begun; much lies ahead. We urgently need more conversations that bring the different views together, so that we can try to find common ground and agreement on common action. We need to focus more sharply on the multifaceted insights and assets that different religions offer, thus building a new agenda for interfaith dialogue. We cannot achieve our hopes and dreams without such conversations and without a better understanding.

Katherine Marshall, a major speaker at the 2009 Parliament, is Executive Director of World Faiths Development Dialogue.

Major Speaker Katherine Marshall Featured in the Washington Post

In an op-ed published today in one of the United States’ most prestigious publications — The Washington Post — major speaker Katherine Marshall extols the fact and potential of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  By focusing on topics such as poverty, climate change, the role of women of faith and indigenous peoples, Margaret presents a vision of “a fresh determination to mobilize the energies and creativity…”

To read the full story, click here.

Religious Organizations and Poverty

The Age has written an article on the role of religious organizations in the war on poverty, featuring many speakers from the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions.  Prof. Katherine Marshall of the Berkley Center for Religion speaks powerfully of the opportunity for good work among the religious of the world: “Poverty is not inevitable, and it is therefore immoral to accept it.”  Other speakers cited in the article include World Vision Australia Chief Executive Tim Costello, Rev. Jim Wallis and Rabbi David Saperstein.

To read the full article, click here.