The first North American meeting of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) drew more than two dozen religion writers from the United States and around the world—including Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Serbia, Spain and Sri Lanka. They gathered in Salt Lake City (Utah, United States) for a two-day conference on “Cultivating Understanding, Accuracy, and Empathy in a Polarized World.” In this column, two veteran IARJ members—Peggy Fletcher Stack and Elisa Di Benedetto—report on highlights of the conference.
Because of the many threats to courageous journalists around the world, the IARJ is marking Word Press Freedom Day 2019 with this important overview of both news—and helpful online resources—for journalists wanting to take steps to protect themselves and their work.
For hundreds of millions of Muslims, Sharia is a way or a path to divine understanding that enables human beings to reach their full potential. So why does so much public conversation about “sharia” or “sharia law” focus on extreme interpretations grounded in intolerance and ignorance? The answers are complex, involving historical, political, cultural, regional and religious factors that need to be understood in context. Yet complexity and reason are often dangerously absent amid the emotion and politics attached to Sharia.
Religion is playing a major role in response to the European economic crisis. As faith-based organizations are increasingly depended upon to meet basic needs, a new landscape of challenges and opportunities is emerging that could result in dramatic shifts in church-state relations. A key question: Can a continent, once seen by many as on an inexorable march toward secularization, create new boundaries between the religious and the secular that respond to social needs in Europe’s increasingly diverse societies?
The global refugee crisis represents a potential transformational moment in world history. Nations from Africa to Asia to Europe to North America with troubled pasts of ethnic conflict and of putting political and economic self-interest above humanitarian needs have an opportunity to write new chapters in their national stories. Religion is playing and will play a critical role.
Religious fashion matters. It matters to individuals who view wearing head scarves, kippas and turbans as a positive expression of faith, and it matters to societies increasingly setting restrictions on religious attire in response to concerns ranging from security to the belief that increasing diversity represents a threat to the essential character of their nations. So how, in the face of intense political and social pressures, can nations balance issues of religious freedom, tolerance and national identity? A developing body of research sheds some light on the debate.
Recent events such as the release of a crude anti-Islamic film made by extremists was associated with violent actions by extremists in other parts of the world shows how issues relating to faith can cross borders with startling speed and emphasizes the importance of the IARJ.