Religions have undergone major change since Hindus traditionally practiced animal sacrifice, or Mohammed’s portrait was featured in Islamic art. But how?
CPWR Trustee Anne Benvenuti recommends a new chronicle:
The BBC Magazine delves deep into the ways and whys of historical influences shifting the religious stance on many customs from antithesis to synthesis:
Once upon a time, animal sacrifice was an important part of Hindu life, Catholic priests weren’t celibate and visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad were part of Islamic art. And soon some churches in the UK may be marrying gay couples. How do religions manage to change their mind?
In 1889, Wilford Woodruff became the fourth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – more commonly known as the Mormon Church.
As president, he was seen as a living prophet, someone who could receive wisdom and advice from Jesus Christ. And he was certainly in need of advice – his church was in crisis.
For 40 years, Mormons had been at loggerheads with the US Congress over the issue of polygamy, which was encouraged among male believers. The government said it was illegal, and held that religious conviction was no defence.
Author Karen Armstrong contributes perspective on what perceptions earlier religious and philosophical titans would have of today’s religious culture,
“Medieval thinkers such as St Thomas Aquinas or Maimonides would be astonished at the way we read, preach and pray today, says author Karen Armstrong.
“We’ve tended to lose older, sometimes more intuitive patterns of thought,”
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.
INTERFAITH EVENT FRIDAY: Solidarity Circle for Father Solalinde and the Caravan Opening Doors to Hope
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in partnership with the DePaul University Office of Religious Diversity is convening a special one hour solidarity circle for interfaith leaders to meet Catholic priest, Padre Alejandro Solalinde, and his Caravan Opening Doors To Hope.
Solalinde is traveling the U.S. with a large group of victimized migrants turned activists who have experienced human rights abuses in Mexico. The story of 70,000 Central American brothers and sisters disappearing over the last few years, while Solalinde has been imprisoned and arrested for his work operating a network of shelters is shocking. We are helping share this story and honor his bravery.
NOTE: This event is being produced to connect university-level Interfaith leaders with Padre Solalinde’s entourage, but we are inviting you as guests of CPWR.
In this hour we will…
-Hear words from Mexico’s 2012 Human Rights Award recipient
Watch a short film documenting the reality of the migrant train in Mexico
-Welcome Amnesty International to recognize the work of Padre Solalinde
-Share our blessings and offerings to the migrant activists
-Extend our wishes for peace and security to the caravan
-Personally connect Chicago’s young interfaith leaders with a hero to a humanitarian crisis
TO ATTEND: All are welcome, but for seat reservations contact molly@parliamentofreligion
DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE – JOB OPENING
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) has a rich history and current efforts in working with communities of spirit and faith to foster harmony and engagement to bring about a just, peaceful and sustainable world. CPWR is looking for a Development Associate.
The small staff and volunteers work together to carry on the initiatives with the help of an engaged board, and the development associate would work with the Executive Director and others. The scope of the work includes researching and developing resource opportunities with foundations, corporations, individuals and religious groups. Work would also include writing proposals, arranging appointments and events, and follow through with donors. The Development Associate works with Board committees, and shares the mission of CPWR with visitors and events.
Desired skills: articulate, with both written and oral communication talent, some experience in fund raising, positive personality, computer and internet skills.
Salary at the early end of comparable jobs. Job available immediately.
CPWR is an equal opportunity employer.
For consideration, send a resume and cover letter to Stephen Avino (Stephen@parliamentofreligions.org)
Interfaith Youth Core Founder Eboo Patel published a response this week to a Religious Dispatches essay critical of Interfaith as a cure for religious violence. Supporting a notion that Interfaith cooperation has not standardized political values or beliefs across the Interfaith diaspora. Patel asserts differing political positions do not hinder a healthy interfaith community where the shared value is peace and co-existence. Further, he dispels the charge that Interfaith cooperation by default lobbies any “X” political tactic. In Patel’s view, both conservative and progressive political activism follows naturally of many interfaith collaborations, but do not justify a case that value-based outreach stands for the “ends” of Interfaith as a “means.”
Some years back I met the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nechervan Barzani. One of the first things he did was thank me for the American military intervention that he described as freeing his people from oppression. I informed him that many of my friends viewed the Iraq War as profoundly unjust and protested vociferously against it.
Barzani was rendered speechless for a moment. When he finally spoke it was to say, through clenched teeth, that the only thing unjust about the war that removed Saddam Hussein was that it didn’t happen sooner.
By Leo D. Lefebure
Board Trustee, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
In 2007, a group of 138 Islamic scholars from a wide range of traditions issued “A Common Word between Us and You,” a public letter addressed to the leaders of the Christian world, including Pope Benedict XVI and a long list of others. The letter proposed the biblical teaching of love of God and neighbor as a common heritage uniting Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and invited further dialogue based on this shared principle. There have been a number of earlier international gatherings that have discussed this proposal at the Vatican, at Cambridge University, Yale University, and at Georgetown University. On April 24, 2013, Georgetown University, the Jesuit university in Washington, DC, which serves as the North American site for the Common Word Project, hosted the most recent Common Word Conference, focusing on “The Boundaries of Religious Pluralism and Freedom: The Devil is in the Detail.”
The opening panel, chaired by Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, explored the question: “Are There Limits to Religious Freedom that Religions Agree On?” The statement introducing session proposed the premise, “Few dispute the value and centrality of religious freedom,” and then went on to pose the question of whether religious traditions can “agree to limitations on blasphemy, building churches, and missionary work.” Professor David Law of Washington University in St. Louis reflected on the question in light of globalization, noting two opposing views. According to Thomas Friedman’s model, globalization is a “happy” process of convergence upon increasingly shared values, largely those of Western constitutional democracies. According to the competing model of the late Samuel Huntington, globalization is a process of polarization with growing conflict over values that are incompatible. Law suggested that while there is some evidence for the model of convergence, there are also problems with this interpretation. Combatting the stereotype that only Muslim majority counties have blasphemy laws, Law noted that the constitution of Ireland contains laws against blasphemy. Law suggested that there are many exceptions to Friedman’s proposal, but he also rejected Huntington’s suggestion that the main polarization is the West against the “Other.”
Thomas Farr, who served as the first director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, rejected the premise of this session that “few dispute the value and centrality of religious freedom.” Farr maintained that there is no consensus on religious freedom either in the United States or in Western Europe or in the rest of the world. He noted the controversial questions surrounding blasphemy, building churches, and proselytizing and mission activities. He strongly defended the right of religious minorities to erect houses of worship, and to share their religious views in a non-violent, non-coercive manner. He suggested that the most successful democracies allow for freedom of religious expression, including proselytism. He objected to violent responses to the expression of religious opinions. He noted the difficult but important change that the Roman Catholic Church went through in its view of religious freedom, and he cited the teaching of The Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) of Vatican II, that the Catholic Church demands the right of religious freedom not only for itself but for every other religion.
Farid Esack, a South African Muslim theologian who is professor at the University of Johannesburg, agreed with Farr that the premise of the session was faulty. Esack proposed that the devil is not just in the detail but in the subject of religious freedom and in the notion that “religions” can agree. He said that there is no “Islam” to make an agreement; there are Muslims who can agree. He acknowledged that many in the Muslim world do not affirm the value and centrality of religious freedom. He suggested that there is often a selective application of concern for human rights, noting that during the apartheid era in South Africa, there was widespread condemnation of the practice of detention without trial; but today the United States, the United Kingdom, and other nations use this same practice because of their deep anxieties regarding terrorism. He suggested that building churches and missionary activity are embedded in a larger ideological project, and he noted that this was true of dawa activity sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the former government of Libya, where the propagation of Islam was linked to ideology.
In another panel focusing on religious pluralism and the Arab Spring, Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, reflected on the status of religious scriptures in the Arab spring. He supported and encouraged the new exegetical moves to appropriate the Qur’an to promote civil religion and society, with tolerance of others as equals. He lamented that often interreligious declarations are crafted by the upper-level leaders but never reach the grass-roots communities. He stressed the vital importance of the training in seminaries; many people are connected with their local religious leaders and reflect the values and attitudes instilled by these local leaders. Much of the new exegesis of the Qu’ran is very academic and is not reaching the ordinary people. This creates problems for pluralism and peaceful, harmonious co-existence.
The next speaker, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, DC, began by saying, “Wow!” to Sachedine’s remarks. He noted that “the way forward changes all the time,” pointing out that just recently there have been many changes in religious leadership: there is a new Catholic Pope, a new Coptic Pope, a new Catholic Coptic leader, a new Archbishop of Canterbury—all since October 31, 2012, when this conference was originally scheduled. Cardinal McCarrick observed that many recent events are very worrisome, from the Boston bombing to the kidnapping of the two archbishops in Syria to countless other tragedies. He agreed with Sachedine that if we deal only with the elites, we may not know what is going on among ordinary people. The cardinal cautioned that a single election does not make a democracy, and acknowledged that the United States has only a very limited ability to promote change in other cultures: “We are neither coach not captain, but we have a change to become coach.” Dalia Mogahed, the former executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, acknowledged the difficulty of getting accurate data in some countries and stressed the importance of United States support for democratic transformation in the Middle East.
In another session that focused on issues of gender, Kathleen Moore, Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, described how Islamic women in the diaspora are active in feminist issues, challenging patriarchy with a hermeneutics of equality. Many Muslim women in the United States seek to transcend the polarity between freedom of self and the restrictions of the Islamic tradition by reinterpreting the Qur’an, the hadith (reports concerning Prophet Muhammad), and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Merve Kavakci-Islam, originally from Turkey and now professor at George Washington University, stressed that the suffering of women in the Islamic world is not homogeneous. She challenged the imposition of Western models, such as secularization, on Muslim majority countries such as Turkey. Margot Badran of Georgetown University reported on her extensive experience in Egypt since the revolution in 2011. She proposed that what divide Egyptians is not religion but authoritarian politics and corruption. She observed that the most vulnerable groups, women and Christians, are also the most symbolic. Badran claimed that while there are politically motivated incidents involving women and Christians, there is not a general sectarian or a Muslim-Christian problem in Egypt at the present time. There are efforts to repeal the legislation of 1923 regarding the minimum age for marriage, as well as other efforts to undo the gender gains of recent years, for example by requiring women to have the permission of their husbands to travel abroad. Badran encountered many young Egyptian men and women who are “more determined than ever” to combat patriarchy and to establish gender equality under the law. These people want to make Egypt “its own type of democracy,” not in imitation of other nations.
The conference offered an important international forum for exploring many challenges in interreligious relations. Much needs to be done to spread knowledge of such efforts and to invite more and more people to become involved.
Welcoming All To 20th Anniversary Interfaith Kickoff | Chicago May 11 | Looking Back to Move Forward
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is pleased to welcome all to a kickoff Interfaith celebration of our 20th anniversary! Partake in spiritual music, prayer, and conversation to look back on the 1993 Parliament of World Religions and move forward to a harmonious interfaith future! Attendees are welcomed to share in Langar (a meal) directly following the celebration.
When: Saturday, May 11 | 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. (Meal to follow)
Where: Sikh Religious Society | Palatine Gurdwara Sahib | 1280 Winnetka Street | Palatine, IL 60067
Hosted by: CPWR & The Sikh Religious Society
Our life experiences are shaped and colored by violence. Whether we are dealing with a child caught in the cross fire of gang activity or violence against our religious community or that of our neighbors, transformative leadership demands that we bring compassionate and proactive responses to the tragedies of our day and age. Transformative leadership also demands listening to the stories of those impacted by violence, looking critically at our own faith traditions, and strategizing on how we as religious communities can partner for the sake of peace.
The Council for the Parliament for the World’s Religions Faiths Against Hate Campaign and SCUPE (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education) present “Touched By Violence, Partnering for Peace” on May 22, 2013 at the American Islamic College in Chicago, IL. We are sponsoring this one day workshop for leaders, clergy, and people who are called to make a difference by transforming hate and violence into partnerships for peace.
In this workshop we will…
• Share stories of how we have been touched by violence.
• Explore how our faith traditions may legitimize violence in our communities.
• Build partnerships with others leaders touched by violence.
• Learn strategies for dealing with the aftermath of violence.
• Commit to bold actions for peace in and across our communities.
Day: Wednesday May 22nd, 2013
Time: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm
Cost: *Standard Registration $100, Student Registration $60 (with student ID)
Place: American Islamic College | 640 W. Irving Park Rd. | Chicago IL 60613
*Workshop fee includes registration, materials, breakfast and lunch.
Download the flyer here.