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Female Leadership in Religion

From The Washington Post

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, a courageous woman from the arid north of Kenya, devotes her life to building peace. She compares this work to an egg. “An egg is delicate and fragile. But if given the right conditions, it gives life.” Likewise, the potential for peace is fragile, and it needs careful nurturing if that potential is to be fulfilled.

Only a tiny number of those who sign peace agreements are women (one count puts the share at 2 percent). Likewise, photographs of interfaith gatherings constitute unmistakable evidence that religious leadership is one of the last places where the glass ceiling survives intact. But women, of course — as victims of war, citizens, and nurturers of values that are transmitted from generation to generation — are obviously deeply engaged in peace and religion. So where are they?

This was the question underlying a symposium at Georgetown University last week held by the United States Institute for Peace out of concern that both religion and women were too rarely at the center of its work. The symposium revealed an extraordinary array of activity that involves women, peace, and religion.

Stories of creativity, persistence and heroism tumbled out in a series of interviews and at the symposium. Dekha Ibrahim Abdi quoted the Koran to shame the groups fighting each other in her country into addressing their differences. Nuns in Uganda, Colombia and the Philippines stand as witnesses, hide those in danger, and demand action where rape is used as a weapon of war. Ashima Kaul returns again and again to Kashmir to document a past where different communities lived peacefully side by side. Bilkisu Yussuf demands action from Muslim and Christian leaders alike in the tense north of Nigeria and Amina Rasul-Bernardo helps Muslim women religious leaders (the Aleemat) in the Philippines to break out of traditional supporting roles into action to transform the community. Elana Rozenman hosts women from all Israeli communities at her house in “pajama parties” that offer a tiny glimpse of her vision of peaceful diversity.

Click here to read the entire article.

July 13th, 2010 at 6:00 am

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Examining the Terminology of ‘Spiritual’ and ‘Religious’

From The Washington Post,

Should we be spiritual AND religious?

By Joan Ball
author, blogger

Reading through some of the more than 3.6 million articles that show up on a Google search of the term spiritual not religious one thing is clear — not much is clear about this growing but difficult to define category of believers. While the term has been used for decades in recovery and new age circles, a widely cited report from LifeWay Resources stating that 72% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 consider themselves to be “more spiritual than religious” has spurred interest in the perceived distinction between spirituality and religion and its implications.

Beyond the loose sense that spiritual is less rigidly defined and more inclusive than religious, it is tough to pin down a firm definition of spiritual not religious. Apply the term within the context of a specific faith tradition like Christianity and spiritual not religious can become downright confusing.

The more spiritual folks I encounter tend to push against systems and dogma and call for a more organic expression of their faith. They refer to themselves as followers of Christ rather than Christians in an effort to distinguish themselves from the “other Christians” who, they believe, have given Jesus a bad name. Being the hands and feet of Christ in the world by loving God and loving neighbors of all genders, races and sexual orientations trump the “culture wars” for more spiritual than religious Christians.

The religious folks view this departure from doctrine, creeds, traditions and a more literal view of Biblical teachings to be an attempt to have one’s spiritual cake and eat it too. The road to salvation is narrow, the religious say, and the pursuit of holiness through obedience to the teachings of Jesus, the Bible and church hierarchy is at best neglectful and at worst a cop out fueled by spiritual laziness or a lack of discipline.

As an adult convert to Christianity who was an atheist through my 20s, became spiritual not religious in addiction recovery in my 30s and had a Christian conversion at age 37, these distinctions challenge my sense of the life of Jesus and what it means to follow him. My unfolding understanding of Jesus is that he was both spiritual AND religious. He did not despise tradition – what we might call “organized religion” – as much as those who corrupted it with their selfish and hypocritical behavior. He advocated freedom, yet was completely submitted. He served the poor and downtrodden but retreated frequently to commune with the Father. He hung out with outcasts and criminals but was not afraid to name their sins and call them to repentance.

Click here to read the full article

July 11th, 2010 at 5:59 am

“Repair the World” Encourages Service

Repair the World

Repair the World

From The Washington Post

By Eboo Patel

Nothing is more exciting for me than seeing religious communities practice the command from their tradition to serve others. I had a chance to witness this at the early hour of 7 a.m. in New York today at a breakfast celebrating an emerging organization called Repair the World.

The prophets of our great traditions invoke calls to service – in scripture and verse, parable and hadith, service is a core value across faiths. And because it is a core part of these traditions, it ought to be a core part of both the life the community and religious identity. Repair the World was established to inspire American Jews and their communities to make service a defining part of American Jewish life – “to mobilize Jews to serve with integrity and authenticity” and to inspire and engage the Jewish community in service.

Part of what strikes me about this is the acknowledgment that service is a core part of the American Jewish identity. It suggests that service is a central responsibility of an engaged Jew – an integral part of contributing to the broader community.

Click here to read the entire article.

July 2nd, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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Learning to Listen in Egypt

Initiatives in Education, Science, and Culture

Initiatives in Education, Science, and Culture

From The Washington Post

By Katherine Marshall

Two hands cradling a tender young plant provided the visual image for an ambitious conference last week in Alexandria, Egypt. The image aptly illustrated the underlying question: have the new beginnings that President Obama promised one year ago, in his speech to the world’s Muslim communities at Cairo University, taken root? Not surprisingly, those of us who attended the conference heard a wide range of answers…

Religion found a central but not entirely easy place in the discussions. I moderated a lively session about why interfaith dialogue is needed, and why it is so difficult. Everyone had something to say, less about the merits or demerits of dialogue than about what they think is wrong.

Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzogovina commented, with some exasperation, that everyone has many complaints. What, he said, would have transpired if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had said in his speech, “I have a complaint”? What we need instead, he said, are hopes and dreams…

Evoking the promise of Obama’s Cairo speech, the Sheikh admitted that turning hope into reality is not easy, but there is solid ground for mercy and peace to grow. Of over 6,000 verses in the Qur’an, he said, only 300 are related to legal matters; 97 percent are about moral excellence. Bill Vendley focused on similar themes: we need to learn together, to value together, and to act together.

Women’s roles in Muslim societies were at the forefront in the Alexandria discussions and the Sheikh was challenged to comment. He tried to draw the line between what the essence of religion dictates (equal yet complementary roles), and what he termed bad customs and traditions in some Muslim societies. Interestingly, he reported a recent review he undertook of Muslim history which found over 90 women heads of state, judges, and ministers. The implication: culture, not religion, is the obstacle.

Click here to read the entire article.

To learn more about the Initiatives in Education, Science, and Culture Conference, click here.

June 24th, 2010 at 5:56 am

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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.