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Archive for the ‘White House’ tag

Social Justice as a Unifying Issue for Dharmic Communities

Joshua Stanton, Co-Founder, Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, State of Formation

by Joshua Stanton
from the Huffington Post

Religious communities are never the same once they reach America. In my view, they often become even more remarkable.

As a third-generation American Jew, it is at times even challenging for me to think of Judaism apart from the American experience. In spite of hardships early on for our community, the search for common threads between the disparate Jewish groups that came in droves to America two (and more) generations ago forced us to reexamine and hone our religious beliefs. What actually bound us together?…

As has become quite evident in the past several years, another set of religious groups, bolstered by recent waves of immigrants to America, is also looking to social justice as a possible unifying trope. Launched by Anju Bhargava, Hindu-American visionary and founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, this effort seeks to increase long-term collaboration between Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities through religiously inspired volunteerism, charity and social services.

Together, these groups — several of which are comprised primarily of immigrants from South and East Asia — represent what may be described as Dharmic religious communities and a new coalition in the American religious landscape. They are seeking a unique American identity and niche for their adherents. Like other religious communities that have flourished during and after waves of immigration, they appear poised to make essential contributions to American society.

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Jimmy Carter: the Role of Faith in Peace Talks, Politics, and Private Devotions

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States, founder of the Carter Center and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has authored many books, the most recent being “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.” In this wide-ranging interview, HuffPost’s Senior Religion Editor spoke to President Carter by phone about the role faith played in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the time of his greatest alienation from God, faith in the White House and his personal daily devotional practice.

In addition to being a Governor of Georgia and President of the United States, you are known as a Sunday School teacher. Are you comfortable with that identity?

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 18 at the Navel Academy Chapel. I led services when we were out at sea while I was in the navy; taught Sunday school 14 times when I was U.S. President at First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. I just finished my 650th lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church, so you might say I have been a Sunday school teacher all my life.

Who were some of your most influential religious teachers?

Well, my father was the main one. He was a Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, and I started going to Sunday school when I was 3. He shaped my early knowledge of Jesus, and I was baptized as a Christian when I was 11 years old.

Later, Billy Graham was probably the closest one to me. I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn’t think that was appropriate. He was injured a little bit, until I explained it to him.

Among the theologians, I think Paul Tillich is probably the one I have read the most because he shaped my thoughts about the relation between religion and politics and the fact that religious faith was not incompatible with political service. I tried to apply my religious beliefs when I was governor and later president without being ostentatious about it.

But I don’t claim to be knowledgeable about theology. Most of my knowledge comes out of my experience and the lessons in the Bible. Every Sunday I’m home I teach 45 minutes and we boiled them down to one page for the new book, “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter.”

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Seeking Sikh-Muslim peace

by Dylan Kaplan
from Washington Post

The large Sikh men with long white beards pounded the drums. Sikh men with red, blue, and orange colored turbans sat cross-legged in all corners of the sanctuary. Women dressed in bold blue, green, and purple Punjabi suits sat consumed in prayer. As I sat on the red carpet among the 300-400 guests in the audience with my hair covered in an orange cloth and my feet crossed I could not help but realize the significance of this moment as the Sikh prayers seemed to float towards heaven and consumed me. I had to constantly remind myself that I was not in a Sikh Gurdwara, the temple of worship for Sikhs, in a village in the Indian Punjab but in Rockville, Maryland.

Last Sunday, November 13th, I had the privilege of attending the most important Sikh holiday, honoring Guru Nanak, the revered founder of Sikhism. My mentor, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, whom the BBC calls “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” was invited by the Sikh community to give the keynote address. This was the first time that a Muslim had ever been invited to speak at this very large Sikh temple. Ambassador Ahmed spoke about religious pluralism and tolerance and the need for Muslims and Sikhs to live at peace. The ambassador explained that through Guru Nanak’s life we “learn how he promoted the dialogue between the two great religions of India; Hinduism and Islam which added to the beauty and birth of Sikhism.” Ahmed quoted one of his favorite sayings of Guru Nanak: “When I give myself to thee O Lord, the whole world is mine.” He also spoke of the great Sufi Islamic saint Mian Mir, who, in an act of religious pluralism, was invited by Guru Arjan to lay the foundation stone at the Golden Temple, the Mecca of Sikhism.

Ahmed reminded us about the pain of partition when in 1947 India and Pakistan separated. He urged that the healing process begin. When Ambassador Ahmed finished, Dr. Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, said “my heart was pounding with the power of his words” and that Ambassador Ahmed’s message was very important for the entire south Asian community. Later Manjula Kumar, a prominent Indian and a director at the Smithsonian institute, wrote that Ahmed was “creating history … I have never had such a wonderful experience at any Gurdwara”.

In addition to Dr. Singh we met White House representative Tuyet G. Duong. She spoke about the Obama administration’s desire to strengthen the relationship between the White House and the Sikh community. She told us about the similarities she found in her Buddhist faith to Sikhism. We also met Dr. Nisar Chaudhury, the president of the Pakistan American league , who was visiting his first Gurdwara and was thrilled. We were also introduced to Sardar Harcharan Singh Brar, who is head of the Mian Mir foundation in Amritsar. This is the equivalent of an Israeli Jew leading a foundation whose namesake is a Palestinian Muslim. I left the event feeling confident that if Muslims and Sikhs can be friends that Muslims and Jews can be too.

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Hindu Community Makes Its White House Debut

by Joshua Stanton
from Huffington Post

Hinduism is hardly new to the United States. Swami Vivekenanda is thought to have first introduced it when he visited as part of the World’s Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He received a standing ovation from the 7,000 people in audience, whom he declared his “Sisters and Brothers of America.”

In spite of Vivekenanda’s reception, subsequent series of lectures, and ultimately the establishment of the Vedantic Society of New York, with satellites in Boston and San Francisco, Hinduism remained a tiny presence in the United States for decades. It was but a demographic trickle. Only after 1965, with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which eased immigration from India and the rest of Asia to the United States, did the population of Hindus begin to grow. They now comprise a reputed .4 percent of the U.S. Population or, depending on whose arithmetic, 1.2 million people.

And what a population it is! According to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, nearly half of Hindus living in the United States in 2009 had a post-graduate degree, by far the highest percentage of any community and five times the national average. As a population, they appear to be socially mobile and rising quickly within American society.

Hindu communal organizations similarly appear to be burgeoning; there may be as many as 1,600 Hindu Temples and centers across the country. And now the Hindu community is developing a national infrastructure.

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Education as Transformation

Education as Transformationby Peter Laurence

With religious and spiritual diversity increasingly present at colleges and universities around the world, there is a great need—and increasing recognition of that need—for new resources and collaboration to address these issues and prepare students to live and work in a religiously diverse world.

Toward that end, Education as Transformation (EasT) was formed as an international project of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. It was launched in 1998 with a conference that was attended by over 800 people from colleges and universities throughout the United States and beyond, and has worked since then to provide educational institutions with the means to develop their religious life programs, staffing and facilities.

EasT works to explore the impact of religious diversity on higher education and the potential of religious pluralism as a strategy to address the dramatic growth of religious diversity in American colleges and universities.

EasT also examines the role of spirituality at colleges and universities, and particularly its relationship to curriculum development; the cultivation of values; moral and ethical development; and the fostering of global learning communities and responsible global citizens. Religion is a global phenomenon, and students will not be as ready for globalization if they lack knowledge about religion.

To attain these goals, EasT has developed books and other resource materials and has provided presentations at professional conferences, as well as direct consulting services for individual campuses. A great deal still needs to be changed if college and university campuses are to become centers of pluralism.

To encourage that change, EasT has fostered many innovative approaches to religious life in education. These include:

  • A staffing model for Religious Life Departments that relies on an administrator who does not function as a representative of any particular religious tradition, but who coordinates the work of a team of advisors, each representing a major religious group on campus.
  • The creation of a team of religious life advisors who serve their particular religious communities on campus but work together in ways that provide visible illustrations of multi-religious cooperation and collaborate with colleagues in other academic and administrative departments.
  • The institution of a student multifaith council, where students from each religious group on campus meet regularly to form a sense of community and discuss issues of religious diversity.
  • The development of programs that bring students together across religious lines, including campus-wide celebrations that serve to create visibility for religious diversity and cooperation.
  • The construction or renovation of campus facilities to provide a multi-faith center that serves the needs of all of the religious groups at the institution.

Most recently, Education as Transformation has begun serving as a resource for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge: Advancing Interfaith Cooperation and Community Service in Higher Education, “an initiative inviting institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith cooperation and community service programming on campus.” This initiative is led by the White House, through its Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and is supported by the Department of Education, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and the Interfaith Youth Core.

The college or university campus is a place in which students come into contact with religious diversity in new ways. In its recent history, the educational system of the United States has tended to marginalize religion. But by avoiding the questions raised by religious diversity, that system has narrowed the field of inquiry available to students. Instead, by exploring the broad spectrum of religious expression historically and in the world today, not only as an academic pursuit but as a living facet of humanity, the phenomena of religion and spirituality can be brought to light and countless misunderstandings can be overcome. As we see it at Education as Transformation, this is a vital educational experience.

Seva: Celebrating the Sacredness of Service

by Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn
from Huffington Post

The best way to find your self is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi

What we seek from religion is a sense of meaning, purpose, belonging; a stronger connection to each other. This is what seva is and this is what seva does. When we speak of seva, we mean ego-less service in which we put ourselves to work in aid of the greater community. It answers all these needs in a profound way. Vikas Khanna and I began exploring seva in True Business, our first Holy Kitchens film about Sikhism. We were intending only to show how people shared food but quickly discovered that sharing food was just the beginning of seva. This work of quiet dignity allows its practitioners to directly benefit from the work they do in that they can see its effect in front of their eyes. Hungry people come and they are fed. The fear of starvation is removed from their lives. When you take away someone’s hunger, you make it possible for him to think about his existence on a higher spiritual plane. In the secular world we refer to this as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In a spiritual setting it is putting someone in reach of the divine. When you put a roof over someone’s head, provide access to clean water, give children medicine to keep them alive, this is seva. It is keeping the promise of the covenant that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

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White House Hosts IFYC Interfaith Leadership Institute


On October 22-24, 2010, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will host a two-day intensive training facilitated by Interfaith Youth Core for 100 interfaith student leaders and 50 campus staff allies in Washington, D.C. The program is designed to equip interfaith student leaders with the skills to lead IFYC’s campaign for interfaith cooperation on campus, “Better Together.”  Student participants will learn how to speak out on the importance of interfaith cooperation on their campus, mobilize their communities to take action, and sustain their efforts to create a lasting impact on campus.  In a concurrent training track, campus staff will be equipped launch new or build on existing interfaith programming on campus as well as support student leaders in these initiatives.

Click here to learn more.

Steven Prothero Blogs on Religion

From CNN,

Religion isn’t just for Republicans any more.srp9.130

One key to President Obama’s 2008 election victory was his willingness to speak openly about his personal faith and to connect the dots between his public policies and biblical values.

In his inaugural address, he famously described the United States not as a secular nation or a Christian nation but “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

Yesterday that patchwork nation was on display at the White House in an event on interfaith and community service on college campuses co-sponsored by the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and its Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

I spoke at this event about the necessity of moving out of the rut of Interfaith 1.0, which all too often made interfaith gatherings look like clubs of like-minded liberals patting themselves on the back for viewing all religions as different paths up the same mountain.

I am happy to report that Interfaith 2.0 was very much on display yesterday at the White House. Joshua DuBois, executive director of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke repeatedly about the need for “authenticity” in interreligious work — of welcoming theological liberals and conservatives alike into the conversation and not insisting on a “syncretism” where all religions are presumed to be essentially the same.

Click here to read more.

June 19th, 2010 at 6:00 am