Archive for the ‘pluralism’ tag
by Jahnabi Barooah
from The Huffington Post
This week’s Faith Inspires highlights the work of Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), an organization whose mission is to engage in “seva, interfaith collaboration, pluralism, social justice and sustainable civic engagement to ignite grassroots social change and build healthy communities.” Seva, which means “service” in Sanskrit, is an important aspect of the Dharmic traditions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama issued a “call to serve,” Anju Bhargava, a Hindu American resident of Livingston, NJ, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. HASC is a result of that collaboration, and was designed to strengthen and put a spotlight on civic engagement and community service efforts in the Dharmic community.
Despite the White House’s support and guidance, HASC did not have the easiest start, and their success over the past two years can be attributed as much to creative theological thinking, as to the Dharmic community’s desire to be fully accepted in the American community.
“The Hindu community didn’t have a faith-based infrastructure [to perform community service],” Anju Bhargava, the founder of the HASC told The Huffington Post. Even though many Hindus were engaging in community service through informal means, Hindus did not have access to sustainable community service programs that were faith-based. If the goal was to bring seva to the forefront and make it relevant in the American context, the challenge was that the Hindu-American community was so fragmented because of its varied religious and philosophical beliefs, Bhargava told The Huffington Post.
by Amy B. Dean
from the Huffington Post
Sometimes, as an activist, you look upon the world and think you will never be able to see the changes you seek in your own lifetime. It’s easy to despair, to succumb to the isolation and self-doubt that come from being a thoughtful person trying to change the status quo.
In those moments, I’ve learned to find renewal and hope not in myself, but in other organizers, in our shared values and experiences. Saul Alinsky wrote, “We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it.” A shared belief in what is actually possible to achieve, despite what others may tell us: that is the organizer’s gift.
In one respect, this principle sounds self-evident. And yet, while our social movements are often full of talk about policy, tactics or messaging, values are regularly left to linger in the background. They become things that are left to theologians to debate, or we allow values to be a walled-off part of the political conversation.
The following article is a final synthesis paper written by Lora Burge, a seminarian at McCormick Theological Seminary. The course, Religious Pluralism and the Ministry, has been taught by Prof. Robert Cathey and CPWR Trustee Janaan Hashim since 2006. The course developed as an off-shoot from the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona. Over the course of the semester, students actively study five faith traditions: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism. Students’ final reading includes Tariq Ramadan’s The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism. Equipped with a semester of observation, research, and writing, students leave the class working on a philosophical and/or theological framework for thinking about religious pluralism in Chicago and beyond. With Ms. Burge’s permission, Prof. Cathey and Prof. Hashim are pleased to share with you this young interfaither’s thoughts. Enjoy.
Finding a Universal
by Lora Burge
Humility is my table, respect is my garment, empathy is my food and curiosity is my drink. As for love, it has a thousand names and is by my side at every window. –Tariq Ramadan 
Approaching the sacred, finding the holy, listening to the divine, worshiping God within and among us. As I reflect on the journey and experiences of this semester, I can’t help but marvel at everything I saw and observed. On one hand, it’s hard to make comparisons between the different religions. Friday afternoon prayers, puja, and a Shabbat service are organized different ways for different purposes. Yet, on the other hand all these involved searching. Looking out and watching for something bigger, something outside of themselves, something beyond human reason and quantifiable experience. They were seeking Brahman, Allah, YHWH, God, enlightenment.
Growing up in a pluralistic, postmodernist world, I have always been taught to be suspicious of overarching truths and meta-narratives. I’m well-steeped in the practice of criticism and always asking “Whose truth? Whose narrative? Who’s speaking? And with what authority?” I wonder if those questions don’t put more distance between myself and my neighbors. Are these questions I was taught to ask other-izing the “other”? It’s a lot easier to ignore, overlook, and mistreat people when central parts of their identity and belief have been objectified away.
I am such a product of my own education that I have a hard time conceptualizing what a universal truth would look like. I was taught to be so suspicious of any universals as to make them seem an impossibility. I will always be a child of postmodernism, understanding life in terms of social constructs, contextual truths, and lived experience. It seems unlikely (at least now) that I will completely break out of this mold of thought that has been the result of two decades of education. Yet now I criticize the critical mode of thought itself. If we objectify all truth, and conceptualize of each human being as living in her or her own uniquely-constructed world, then we’ve erased the possibility of common ground and shared experience. Anybody outside of myself will always be “other” to my reality. Not just somewhat “other,” or different, but completely so, which will make relating and understanding each other difficult.
Here’s the crux of it: by asking so many questions and stripping things bare as social constructs and humanity-made realities, we’ve removed the common ground out from under our own feet. Precisely by focusing on each individual’s uniqueness, we’ve lost sight of or lost altogether the universal nature of our own humanity. We are making “other” out of our own flesh and blood. Until we learn a new way of thinking, we will continue to push people away as irreconcilably different.
Something then must be done to reclaim our common ground. It is not hard to see the ways in which our world is tearing itself apart: wars, violence, poverty, economic injustice, and more. Yet how will we put it back together with such differences? It is imperative that we relearn how to understand our common humanity rather than focusing on differences.
If nothing else, we all share in the same humanity. We all breathe, eat, sleep, learn, and to some extent live in community with other human beings. Some faith traditions understand the condition of being human as the nature of being created in the image of God. Some understand the human condition as rooted in suffering. To others, being human is something to be mastered through rigorous spiritual disciplines. Regardless of our personal understandings of what it means to be human, we all are, and that is one universal characteristic that we share. Across religious, political, ethnic, racial, cultural, economic and any other constructed categories that divide us, we are all human. So what are we to do with our universal human nature?
It is time to recognize that shared humanity in itself is enough of a foundation for shared common ground. We must move forward understanding that we share at least one thing with the rest of the world: our being. This shared existence is something to be honored and respected. Tariq Ramadan notes that, “We must love human beings, with their qualities, their beauties and their difference, but also with their weaknesses, their doubts and their fears. This means acknowledging that they, like us, are capable of the best and the worst.[…] Our love must be resolutely universal, and eager to share.” If human nature is the universal condition, then love must become the universal action. Each of us from personal experience knows of the human potential for good or for evil, and everything in between. Love cannot be measured out on the basis of works and worthiness: this will only lead to constructed divisions, categories, and the naming of people as foreign “others.”
Instead, this universal love needs to be something that we have in common and something that brings us together. The free, unconditional giving of love is not something that comes easy. Survival instincts and greed lead to the selfish management of resources, even love. A few millennia of stingy, particular love have left us a world full of divisions, hatred, and violence. There must be another way.
There is a practice within Hinduism of bowing to other people and saying “Namaste,” or “I bow to the God in you.” Hindus will bow to other Hindus and non-Hindus alike; to them, there is God in everyone. For Hindus, this practice is based on their universal conceptualization of a sacred nature present within each human being. It would be presumptuous to think all human beings would want to engage in the practice of Namaste bowing. With many theological, spiritual, and anthropological understandings of what it means to be human, finding the sacred in our fellow humanity will not be a practical approach to the universal. Yet there is something in the practice that could be a helpful model.
There is no rationale or emotion tied to the bowing. I am not bowing to thank someone for a gift or a professor for help with an assignment. I recognize there may be circumstances where this bowing is easier and other situations where it is really hard to see God present in others. But regardless, the bowing happens simply to unconditionally honor the God-nature in others. This is precisely what we must learn to do. Regardless of any words or actions we may use, we must learn to love and respect the humanity—the human nature—of the people around us, both in the local but also the global sense. We need to recognize that within every other there is a shared human nature, a shared life force, and in fact, he or she is not such an “other.”
This is precisely what I had a taste of this semester. Going to a synagogue, a mosque, a gurdwara, a Buddhist center, and a Hindu temple—I was an outsider and an observer but I never felt like an “other.” All of our speakers and hosts were eager to have us there and as equally enthusiastic to help us learn about their faith tradition. In some instances, there were shared elements of religious heritage between us, and in other instances, none. Yet we are all human beings, living from the same human condition, and searching for similar things. Instead of seeing a young white liberal Christian woman from the West coast, each of them chose to see and affirm a fellow human being also searching for a life of meaning and happiness.
This is what I need to take with me: there is one possible universal truth, and that is love for my fellow humanity. Not a love that requires uniformity in belief or political systems, not a love that dissolves diversity for a false sense of unity, not love that has any conditions or requirements at all. This universal love then is a deep, unconditional positive regard not because of how people are in the world but because they are in the world. This love honors people simply and wholly because they have a human nature and being, which means they are like us.
This universal love is something that needs to be cultivated and practiced. In an economic system based on achievement and merit, giving anything unconditionally is uncommon. Universal, unconditional love for the human nature of all people is not something that will happen overnight; it will happen in many specific moments and encounters. Tariq Ramadan explains that, “Love too is a journey. We have to set out, get away from ourselves. We have to take the first step, and keep our balance. And, ultimately, it is all a question of balance.” We need to step away from our specific selves, step into our common humanity, and live from a universal love and a shared reality that we are, in fact, all human and we share in this thing called life.
 Ramadan, Tariq, The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism (London: Allen Lane, 2010), xii.
 Ibid., 25
 Pandit, Dr. Bansi, “Hindu Tradition.” Lecture, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, 2 December 2011.
 Ramadan, Tariq, The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism (London: Allen Lane, 2010), 195.
Improved Religious Understanding and Presence Necessary to Transform Conflict, US Institute of Peace Finds
from the US Institute of Peace
Qamar-ul Huda, Senior Program Officer in the Religion and Peacemaking Center and a scholar of Islam at the US Institute of Peace discusses in a newly-published report that discusses appropriate steps to community recovery and rebuilding after incendiary events. He states that “there needs to be symbolic acts of reaching out to communities who have been offended to restore trust, rebuild relationships, acknowledge lapses of proper judgment, and the need to use collaborative conflict resolution. If the aim is to work toward a culture of peacemaking, then a revised training in culture should consist of key religious values and customs, with an emphasis on understanding honor, guilt, empathy, ethics, and justice.”
by Michael Hirst
from BBC News
How do you cater for athletes of nine different religions at the Olympic Games?
The man charged with answering that question for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, Locog, is Reverend Canon Duncan Green, an Anglican priest who has been seconded to Locog as its head of faith services.
His starting point was to form a faith reference group comprising representatives of the UK’s nine largest religions – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Jain and Bahai – to advise on issues around faith in order to cater to the observations of practicing athletes, spectators and officials.
Take a moment to look back on your youth. Do you remember being 12 or 14? That awkward age on the cusp of adulthood, when you were neither a child nor yet an adult, but alternately identifying with both? Imagine your deepest held values and beliefs at that age; your fledgling sense of self and vulnerability. Did you have opportunities to share what mattered to you? To listen to voices different from your own and marvel at their unique worth and beauty? Flash forward a few years to your late teens and early twenties. How do you recall that sense of self now? Stronger? More settled? Perhaps a bit less open-minded than before?
We know that traits we develop as children become the basis of the adults we will become. If a child develops empathy, for example, early in life, we know they are more likely to be empathic later on. Conversely, what happens with negative traits? What about intolerance or its cousins, aggression and fear?
As supporters of interfaith work, we know that building greater understanding and dialogue among diverse groups is a crucial aspect in creating a more peaceful world. We know listening to each other and educating ourselves about our neighbors is central in our interdependent world. Although there are myriad ways for adults to enhance their inner development and pluralistic understanding, there are surprisingly few outlets for youth to develop these same skills, and fewer options still for young teens. How can we hope for a world with greater compassion and understanding without nurturing these qualities in youth?
KidSpirit, an organization I founded in 2007, is an online magazine and social networking community that empowers youth from all backgrounds and traditions to tackle life’s big questions in a spirit of openness. The magazine is a nonprofit, ad-free quarterly, written and edited by youth. It embodies a vibrant dialogue between an all-youth Editorial Board based in New York, and kids ages 11-16 around the world who send us their poetry, original essays and artwork for our quarterly themes. All youth, regardless of background or location can participate fully in this forum free.
Our complimentary group guides for teachers and mentors working with youth augment any curricula from religious education to creative writing and are available for download.
My hope in founding KidSpirit was to create a non-commercial platform for youth to share their beliefs, values and creativity and to support their development into becoming world citizens with strong inner grounding. Over the last five years, KidSpirit’s issues have had themes ranging from conflict-resolution and peacemakers and mourning rituals around the world, to moments of transcendence, analysis of materialism in culture and reflections on creativity and meaning (you can see an archive of all of our issues online by clicking here). Our young contributors span many parts of the world and they shine as brilliant examples of the honesty, joy and poignant questioning that so often characterizes the shift from childhood to adulthood.
Our all youth Editorial Board has read essays, poetry, journalistic articles and reviewed original artwork from kids from India and Great Britain to Ukraine and the United States, all based on open exchange on probing topics they choose. The cultural and religious dialogue has taken our editors and readers in unexpected directions that would have been almost unthinkable a generation ago.
In one recent meeting, we were fortunate to have a visit from a new young contributor from Afghanistan. This girl, just 15 years old, was in New York to give a speech about the extraordinary circumstances of her life, and was able to share in the editorial process. Nilab sat on the floor with a dozen or so teen editors, each scribbling on their own copy of an article in the process of being edited for publication. After a period of intense concentration, conversation erupted about the piece in question. The dialogue was vibrant but open and constructive, and as usual, the meeting concluded with cookies. Nilab’s fascination with the proceedings was palpable and she contributed much to our afternoon. It was incredible to witness her joy at the experience and the deep respect that her American peers felt for her.
Another ongoing relationship has come from a writer named Prerna who found KidSpirit from a web search while in her home city of Kolkata, India. Over the years, she has shared her views on Gandhi, written about the festival of Diwali and crafted a piece about meaning in life. Each of her submissions has been through a vibrant and interactive process with the editorial board, resulting in growth on all sides.
In many ways, KidSpirit is a reflection of our increasingly pluralistic world. It welcomes kids who identify themselves as belonging to a church, temple, or synagogue, as well as those who don’t. But most importantly, it offers an oasis for youth to pause while in the maelstrom of adolescence and to connect with each other respectfully on questions of meaning. To observe and facilitate that process is to be filled with wonder.
Elizabeth Dabney Hochman is the Founding Editor of KidSpirit Online and KidSpiritMagazine, a nonprofit web community and magazine that empowers teens to explore life’s big questions in a spirit of openness. A graduate of Princeton University, with a Masters in Music from the Mannes College of Music in New York City, she has over fifteen years’ experience as an opera singer. She and her husband live with their two daughters in Brooklyn, New York.
By Frank Fredericks
From Common Ground News Service
New York – In the 19 November 2011 issue of The Economist, the cover story, called “The magic of diasporas” outlines the benefits of mass immigration, particularly to the West. However the changing demographics in major metropolises can also be a highly destabilising force.
This is especially true in the United States in cities where immigration is high and demographics can change significantly in less than a generation. In some places this has resulted in an increase in hate crimes and communal tensions. Yet some cities handle racial and ethnic diversity better than others and provide valuable lessons for other communities.
One example of this is Queens, one of the lesser known boroughs of New York City. Queens is the most diverse county in America; US Census Bureau statistics suggest that 138 languages are spoken there. Is it a hotbed of racial and ethnic tension? Crime reports suggest surprisingly that it’s not. So how does Queens handle all of this diversity?
In 2010, the state reported only 51 hate crimes in Queens, or .02 incidents per 1,000 people, which is slightly less than the national average. While Queens may be extreme with regards to its diversity and its success at managing diversity, it is not the only such example. London, Kampala, Sydney and Singapore all have strikingly similar stories.
by Kile Jones
from State of Formation
A new journal is born!
“Religion” is one of the most difficult words to define. People use the word all of the time but have a hard time flushing out its precise meaning. Having spent time on issues surrounding defining “religion,” I felt it would be a good idea to start a new journal where “religion” can be analyzed, interpreted, and compared with other phenomena. I figured it would be an accessible, academic, online forum for people to publish on issues surrounding “religion.” Much likeState of Formation, Claremont Journal of Religion is meant to facilitate academic dialogue and encourage the enactment of deep pluralism.
Claremont Journal of Religion (CJR) is a student led, peer-reviewed, online journal that focuses on the ways “religion” can be understood in the contemporary world. CJR is in relationship with the recently established Claremont Lincoln University,Claremont School of Theology, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont University Consortium, and The Society for Philosophy and Religion at Claremont (SPARC). The goal of this journal is to provide a forum for emerging scholars, academics, graduate students, and lay-leaders to publish their latest work in the broad field of “religious studies.”
by Nathan Schneider
from Religion Dispatches
The first time I went to the American Academy of Religion conference it really got my hopes up. This was the fall of 2006 and, with only a summer in between, I’d just finished college and begun my first year of a PhD program in religious studies. The AAR was at the enormous new Washington, DC convention center. Fittingly, one of the plenary speakers was Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state who had just written a book about why religion is so important.
What I remember her saying, which stuck with me and probably a lot of the other graduate students in the hall, were things like this: “Our diplomats need to be trained to know the religions of the countries where they’re going.” And: “I think the Secretary of State needs to have religion advisors.” I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but it made great sense, especially with someone like Albright saying it. Religion is everywhere. It does matter. The ongoing sectarian violence in occupied Iraq had turned the headlines into daily reminders about the consequences of not taking religion seriously—to say nothing of politics in DC back then. Yes—sounds like a job for a religion scholar.
Suddenly, committing the next however-many years to getting my degree in this stuff switched from the leap-of-faith category to eminently reasonable. Sure, maybe I’d end up a scholar. But I could also be a diplomat. Or the director of an NGO. Or a bartender. Or an astronaut.
Fast-forward a few years—the AAR, 2010. Grad school hasn’t really panned out. (It wasn’t you, PhD, it was me.) By this point I’ve become a journalist, but still go to the conference to connect with friends and keep up with the field. Things have changed, though. The economy crashed, and the bottom fell out of the academic job market. Quite independently, a handful of scholars—established ones, tenured ones, reputed ones, etc.—tell me the same story in the hallways. They confess to feeling remorse about training graduate students. There are so many bright young people, but so few jobs. (The AAR reports 193 positions filled in 2005-2006, compared to 49 in 2008-2009.) They sound kind of despondent.
To me, though, this sounds like an opportunity. Maybe it’s a chance to finally throw religious studies a coming-out party. I’ve learned quickly how little the world (by which I mean, from here on out, the world that isn’t academia) knows about what religious studies even is, and how much the world needs what religious studies does. Now, hearing these professors talking like this, it occurs to me that religious studies needs the world, too. At the very least, the world has a bigger job market.
by Anju Bhargava
Deepavali popularly known as Diwali, literally means a row (avali) of lights (deepa). In essence it is the celebration of the victory of good over evil and the awakening and awareness of the Inner Light. This Inner Light, though not seen outside, outshines all darkness by removing all obstacles and dispelling all ignorance. When this inner realization blossoms then there is universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things. It awakens the individual to one’s true nature, not in the physical, but as the unchanging, infinite, and transcendent reality; the Sat (Truth), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Inner Joy). This, for the Hindus, is the very goal of life. Monotheistic Hinduism’s original name is “Sanatana Dharma” or Eternal Order.
At its heart, Hindu philosophy emphasizes the presence of that which is pure, infinite, and eternal, which is something beyond the physical and mind. The Vedic prayer (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28) captures the spirit of Diwali: Asato ma sadgamaya. Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya…: “Lead me from the untruth to Truth. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality.”
The foundation of Indian civilization is the pluralistic acceptance embodied in the ancient Vedic scriptures; the perennial Vedic thought: “Ekam Sat, Vipraha Bahuda Vadanti”: “The Truth is One. The Realized Ones (rishis) describe the One Truth in several ways.” Acceptance of this Truth gives people a way to express their differences while finding a common ground. And, Diwali shares a special connection with American values. It exemplifies the ideals of “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one.
The ancient ones (rishis) creatively brought Vedas to life through the festivals. The Festivals serve an important link between philosophy and the practical application for people in all walks of life. They exemplify the struggle between good and evil and that ultimately victory is of good and it needs to be celebrated. These joyous occasions remind us, and future generations, that it was only through the selfless service of those who sacrificed that the victory was attained. Service and giving, being a karma-yogi, are an integral part of multifaceted Vedic Hindu traditions.
Diwali is a holiday uniting the world cultures. Celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists (commonly referred to as Dharmic/Indic traditions) and the by those of any, “all and no faith,” the different aspects of Diwali create an interlocking, global mosaic. Often, Muslims and Christians participate, and artisans of all faiths make the lamps, fireworks and sweets that are used to celebrate the occasion. The lights shine and illuminate the small mud homes and the palatial mansions, which now both dot India’s landscape. In America, many homes celebrating Diwali are decorated with Christmas lights as well as Shabbat candles.
For Hindus themselves, the festivities of Diwali are celebrated through the recitation of many stories. Universally, the celebration is the triumph of Good (Lord Rama or Lord Krishna) over Evil (Ravana, Narakasura, etc.).
For Jains, the philosophical significance is similar to the Hindu perspective. Diwali reflects the joy of Lord Mahavir on attaining liberation through the path of right knowledge, right faith and the right conduct; known as three Jewells for Liberation.
The Sikhs, who were the protectors of Hindus, have also always celebrated Diwali. Its significance increased when, on this day the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, was freed from captivity of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, along with other political prisoners.
Buddhists in India and Nepal honor Emperor Ashoka who, on this day, took to Ahimsa (non-violence), a key Vedic principle which became an integral part of Buddha’s teachings. King Ashoka sent his emissaries to many parts of Asia, and they spread Buddha’s teachings.
Diwali traditionally marks the beginning of the New Year for Hindu businesses and the last harvest of the year before winter. Many celebrants close their books and open new accounts with prayers for success and prosperity. Symbolically it is a new start – forgive and forget – in all aspects of life, including relationships with family and friends. It is the time for community and family celebration with prayers through puja, of togetherness, of sharing all resources.
Many Hindus also invoke Goddess Lakshmi, (from sanskrit word lakshye which means aim) for blessings at the outset of this process of worldly and spiritual accounting. Prayers of thankfulness, (Lakshmi Puja), are offered for future prosperity by people of all faiths. Lakshmi Puja is another common factor in Diwali celebrations which connects the people of the Indian subcontinent and now globally.
Today Diwali is enjoyed by most Indians, regardless of faith, and by people of Dharmic faiths globally. Everyone celebrates it through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing of sweets, and worship as is customary for each religious and/or non-religious group. No house is too big or too small for illumination.
While the story behind Diwali varies from region to region, the essence is the same: to rejoice in the Inner Light and understand the underlying reality of all things. Diwali unifies and lights the lamp of understanding within us. Seva (communal service) during Diwali means bringing in light, especially in the life of those less fortunate than us.
May the spirit of Diwali bring Joy, Health, Wealth, Prosperity, Peace, and Spiritual Enlightenment!
Loka Samastha Sukhi Nau bhavantu – May the Lord bless the whole world with eternal peace and goodwill…
Anju Bhargava was a member of President Obama’s Inaugural Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is the founder of Hindu American Seva Charities. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.