23 September 2014

News Reports & Analysis: Chinese Communist Crackdown on Uighurs and Chinese Muslims

News reports and analysis on various aspects of the Chinese Communist authorities' crackdown on Uighurs, Chinese Muslims and other Chinese minorities (excluding Chinese Christians):

News Reports & Analysis: Global Climate Change and its transnational repercussions

News Reports & Analysis on various aspects of global climate change and its transnational repercussions:
Climate Change - General Discussion

Divestment - Fossil Fuels


Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Indigenous Communities & Climate Change

International Treaties/Pacts
People's Climate March (September 21, 2014)

Religious Perspectives - Christian

22 September 2014

News Reports & Analysis: Buddhist Violence against Minorities in Sri Lanka - 2014

Last updated: September 22, 2014
Selected news reports, op eds and analysis on the Buddhist violence against ethnic and religious minorities (Tamils, Muslims, and Catholics):

Violence against Catholics

Violence against Muslims
 Violence against Tamils


19 September 2014

Orthodox shul takes first step to hiring female clergy

Orthodox shul takes first step to hiring female clergy (Jewish Journal, 12 September 2014)

In what would be an unprecedented move among Orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles, Congregation B’nai David-Judea plans to hire a woman clergy member by September 2015. The development in America’s second-largest Jewish community marks the success of a controversial move by some liberal Modern Orthodox leaders that began five years ago in New York. As a start, B’nai David recently hired Alissa Newborn, 25, for a one-year “kehilla intern” position. Newborn is in her final year at the New York-based seminary Yeshivat Maharat and will complete her coursework from Los Angeles while interning at B’nai David.

Does the church have it right on family teachings in India?

A few lay leaders in India took the initiative to get responses from the laity to the Vatican questionnaire in preparation for the Synod on the Family. The responses when summed up show that the laity are pinning their hopes on the Synod Fathers, realizing that teachings in Humanae Vitae are hardly followed and need change. The Bishop of Antwerp recently wrote, “I had become more and more aware that important questions surrounding relationship, sexuality, marriage and family constitute a very discordant domain within the Catholic community…. In order to avoid mounting tensions, men and women in the 1980s and 1990s opted for the discreet approach.”

The same is reflected in the responses received from over 1,000 Indian Catholics. About fifty to seventy percent who know Church teaching said that they do not follow it and prefer to follow their conscience. Some even admitted that they receive the Eucharist as they do not feel the need to confess this ‘sin’. Eighty to ninety percent want the Church teaching on contraception to change.

I am an imam, but I’m also gay. And I’m prepared to die for this

As I enter the unassuming mosque hidden away behind the store-front facades of Cape Town’s southern suburbs, I realise that I’m joining a Muslim worship for the first time. I remember how I had sneaked into the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem ten years earlier just to see the “Dome of the Rock” and to try to comprehend its place within the greater Middle East conflict. But this time, ten years later, the context is much different. I’m not entering a holy shrine in the Middle East under false premises, but I’m rather coming here to the depths of Wynberg to share a conversation with a man, who may be described as one of the more controversial figures in Islam – not just in South Africa.

It is not just the sum of his views, which squarely challenge the fastest-growing religion on earth, but it is in fact his entire persona, his credo, his ethos, which almost appear to turn the very concept of Islam on its head: Imam Muhsin Hendricks is one of the few Muslim community leaders in the world, who is outspokenly gay; a man, who dares to swim against the tide in a day and age where several countries and communities around the world still condemn gay men to death on the sole grounds of their sexual orientation.

Buddha seems to bring tranquility to Oakland neighborhood

Buddha seems to bring tranquility to Oakland neighborhood (San Francisco Chronicle, 15 September 2014)

Dan Stevenson is neither a Buddhist nor a follower of any organized religion. The 11th Avenue resident in Oakland's Eastlake neighborhood was simply feeling hopeful in 2009 when he went to an Ace hardware store, purchased a 2-foot-high stone Buddha and installed it on a median strip in a residential area at 11th Avenue and 19th Street. He hoped that just maybe his small gesture would bring tranquillity to a neighborhood marred by crime: dumping, graffiti, drug dealing, prostitution, robberies, aggravated assault and burglaries.

What happened next was nothing short of stunning. Area residents began to leave offerings at the base of the Buddha: flowers, food, candles. A group of Vietnamese women in prayer robes began to gather at the statue to pray. And the neighborhood changed. People stopped dumping garbage. They stopped vandalizing walls with graffiti. And the drug dealers stopped using that area to deal. The prostitutes went away.

Two Spirits in the Venezuelan Jungle

Two Spirits in the Venezuelan Jungle (New York Times, 5 September 2014)

A chance encounter with an anthropologist in Caracas led Álvaro Laiz to Venezuela’s remote eastern edge, where an indigenous people known as the Warao have lived for millenniums. Mr. Laiz was intrigued when he heard about transgender women the Warao called “tida wena,” or, twisted women, because he had been working on a global project about transgender identities in nomadic and indigenous populations.

“For me it’s about identity,” Mr. Laiz said. “The kind of things that make you the way you are.” Like other women, the tida wena tended to the home, cooked and cared for children and elders. They also participated in the harvest of important crops, like the ocumo chino, a starchy tuber. Historically, tida wena were sometimes the second or third wives of polygamous men. They also occasionally performed the role of shaman — the Warao are deeply rooted in the shamanist tradition — and tida wena in particular are thought to possess two spirits, bringing them closer to the ancestor spirits that roam the jungle.

14 September 2014

Shabbat Is a Day of Rest—But Does That Mean I Can’t Text My Friends?

Some Modern Orthodox teens observe ‘half-Shabbat,’ using cell phones in private. How widespread is the trend? Is it a crisis?

That some Modern Orthodox teenagers sometimes break Shabbat is not new. That teenagers might push boundaries in private, with an eye toward returning to the communal norm in adulthood, is likewise not a surprise. But technology is not a youthful fad to be picked up in high school and easily discarded as an adult. Forgoing technology on Shabbat, not being able to use your phone for 25 hours, has become an increasingly dramatic restriction over time, as more and more people read books online, use online maps, get their news digitally, and generally make open-ended social plans based on an assumption that they can contact one another as needed. Today, little in our lives can be done without technology, and as the recent products unveiled by Apple demonstrate, this will only become truer tomorrow.

SAN FRANCISCO / Buddha arrives in the Mission / German Lutheran church now serves growing Asian community

Inside an old German Lutheran church in San Francisco, Chinese nuns sit on the glossy wooden floors, wearing headphones, listening to Buddhist mantras on portable CD players. Gone are the pews and the church piano, but the organ pipes and stained glass windows remain -- a backdrop to giant Buddha statues at the Hua Zang Si temple, which opened its doors this week in the Mission District. The Buddhist temple reflects the changing demographics of this working- class Latino neighborhood, and of the Bay Area.

State of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Series

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPIs, are a significant factor in the changing demographics in the United States. But the lack of centralized and accessible data has created a large knowledge gap about this fast-growing and influential group. Data about this group have often not been available or presented in a way that is accessible to policymakers, journalists, and community-based organizations.

The Center for American Progress in conjunction with AAPI Data, a project at the University of California, Riverside, have launched a series of reports on the state of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders communities, featuring the most comprehensive research and analysis of its kind for the AAPI population in the United States. The report series will provide an unprecedented look at this community and provide new insight and analysis along various issue areas including: demographics, public opinion, immigration, education, language access and use, civic and political participation, income and poverty, labor market, consumer market and entrepreneurship, civil rights, health care, and health outcomes.


National Congregations Study: 2012 NCS-III Data

The National Congregations Study surveys a representative sample of America's churches, synagogues, mosques and other local places of worship. Initiated in 1998, the NCS gathers information about a wide range of characteristics and activities of congregations. With 1331 participating congregations across the United States, the 2012 National Congregations Study is a nationally representative survey of regularly gathering religious groups. The congregations who participated in Wave III of the NCS survey represent over 70 Christian denominations as well as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other religious groups. Based on an in-depth interview of congregational leaders, the survey documents the worship, programs, staffing, and other characteristics of American congregations. The 2012 NCS is the third wave of the study since 1998, and therefore also helps us document change and continuity over time.

Islamic, yet integrated

Islamic, yet integrated (The Economist, 6 September 2014)

The State Department estimates that up to 100 American jihadists are fighting in Iraq and Syria. A video appearing to show a second American journalist being beheaded by the Islamic State is circulating. You might think this would be a difficult time to hold the annual conference of America’s largest Muslim organisation.

Yet the Islamic Society of North America’s gathering, which took place in Detroit over the Labour Day weekend, served as a reminder of how well America is assimilating a religious minority that has often struggled to feel at home in Europe. The conference hall was filled with Muslims of different races wearing clothes that identified them with different traditions. The Islamic Boy Scouts had a stand, as did a Muslim liberal-arts college from California. People discussed how to erect mosques without infringing America’s arcane building regulations, or swapped business cards in the food court. The star turn was a Southern Baptist, Jimmy Carter (whose grandson is in the news, too: see page 42). The only overt hostility to Israel came from two Hasidic Jews in fur shtreimel hats, who had come from Brooklyn to announce their solidarity with the people of Gaza.

The Crisis in Secular Studies

The Crisis in Secular Studies (Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 September 2014)

Largely secular" is not the descriptor that leaps to mind when thinking about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. But that’s what James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, called the group while testifying to Congress in 2011. Outrage ensued, and within hours his office, to use the Washington adage, "walked it back." The news release read as follows: "To clarify Director Clapper’s point, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak’s rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation. He is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization."

Now it was—why not?—the Mubarak regime’s turn to be acclaimed as "largely secular." If by "secularism" we mean not protecting religious minorities and not respecting freedom of speech, then I guess the DNI was on to something. Though perhaps we should cut Clapper some slack. He wouldn’t be the first or last public figure to utter preposterous and contradictory things about secularism.

Vietnam, Vatican Explore Prospects of Restoring Full Ties

Vietnam, Vatican Explore Prospects of Restoring Full Ties (Radio Free Asia, 10 September 2014)

Officials from Vietnam and the Vatican began two-day talks Wednesday on prospects of restoring full diplomatic ties as a respected local bishop acknowledged that “conflicts” between the government and church have decreased. The two sides said the meeting in the Vietnamese capital was “to deepen and develop bilateral relations between Vietnam and the Holy See.” Vietnam and the Holy See—the government of the Catholic Church— have not had formal diplomatic relations since Vietnam’s communist government took over in 1975, but have been working toward closer ties since resuming dialogue in 2007 with the establishment of a Joint Working Group.

How to Read Agamben

How to Read Agamben, by Adam Kotsko (Los Angeles Review of Books, 4 June 2013)

For someone who has been following the career of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben from the beginning — perhaps even including his cameo appearance in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) — his current notoriety as a political thinker might seem surprising and even baffling. A good portion of Agamben’s early work focuses on questions of aesthetics, and much of the rest is devoted to careful and idiosyncratic readings of major figures in the history of philosophy. Familiarity with his most recent writing would likely increase that puzzlement. In addition to the ongoing, overtly political Homo Sacer series — which so far includes Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995; translated 1998), State of Exception (2003; translated 2005), and Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1998; translated 2002) — he has turned his attention to a commentary on St. Paul’s “Epistle to the Romans,” an enigmatic and fragmentary study of the relationship between the human and the animal, and a series of investigations into the history of Christian theology.

The Struggle for Hong Kong

The Struggle for Hong Kong (The Economist, 6 September 2014)

Chinese officials have called it a “leap forward” for democracy in Hong Kong. Yet their announcement on August 31st of plans to allow, for the first time, every Hong Kong citizen to vote for the territory’s leader has met only anger and indifference. Joy was conspicuously absent. This is not because Hong Kong’s citizens care little for the right to vote, but because China has made it abundantly clear that the next election for Hong Kong’s chief executive, due in 2017, will be rigged. The only candidates allowed to stand will be those approved by the Communist Party in Beijing, half a continent away.

At its worst, this risks provoking a disaster which even China cannot want. Democrats are planning protests. It is unclear how many people will join in, but the fear is that the territory’s long history of peaceful campaigning for political reform will give way to skirmishes with police, mass arrests and possibly even intervention by the People’s Liberation Army. That would disrupt one of Asia’s wealthiest and most orderly economies, and set China against the West. But even if, as is likely, such a calamity is avoided, this leap sideways is a huge missed opportunity not just for Hong Kong but also for the mainland. A chance to experiment with the sort of local democracy that might have benefited all of China has been missed.

The Prophetic Task of Chinese Christianity

The Prophetic Task of Chinese Christianity, by Benoit Vermander (Erenlai Magazine, 5 September 2014)

Chinese Christianity is confronted to many challenges, some of them present from the start of its history, others fostered by current social and political conditions. There is however one challenge that I would like to point out, which is not proper to China but about which Chinese Christians could, I believe, make a difference that would, on the long term, hugely impact World Christianity.

As in other parts of the world, Chinese Christians inherited the divisions that came from the history of the West: the "Eastern {Syrian} Church" that modestly expanded in China around the 5th-9th centuries was already marked by the theological and cultural divisions agitating the Church during that period. Tridentine Catholicism firmly shaped the Chinese Church from the end of the 16th century onwards. The arrival of Protestant missionaries during the nineteenth century radically diversified China's religious landscapes. Cultural differences among the Catholic religious congregations that were in charge of the missionary endeavor also fostered different types of devotion and liturgical sensitivities. Even Orthodoxy has left some marks on Chinese Christianity.

Prophet or Judas? Son of China’s church founder tackles thorny legacy

Six decades after Y.T. Wu founded an organization used by the Communist Party to control churches in China, his son is suing the government to get Wu’s diaries back in hopes of rehabilitating his image among the many Chinese Christians who despise him. To this day, the vast rift caused by Wu’s organization defines China’s churches. Among the booming unregistered churches, he is vilified. Some worshipers call him a Judas who delivered China’s Christian community into the hands of the Communist government and abetted the persecution of hundreds of thousands of Christians.

With US youth losing religion, evangelicals struggle to spread ‘good news’

American adults under 30 increasingly identify with no religion whatsoever, but some teenagers on the edge of this demographic are enthusiastically embracing faith. As the fraction of unaffiliated, agnostic, and atheist surpasses one-third of young people, proselytizing denominations are trying to win over the so-called “nones.”

A landmark Pew Research from 2012 shows that attachment by young people to organized religious bodies is on the decline. Many of those who don’t belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque still practice religion informally to a certain extent. However, they have grown wary of the way that traditional institutions mix political power with the pursuit of otherworldly aims.

Nine out of ten older Americans are directly affiliated with a religion, a statistic that goes down to two-thirds with the youngest adults. Softened commitment generally means less strong attachment to God and less frequent attendance at services. It also entails more liberal political views, a higher likelihood of voting Democratic, and support for abortion rights.

05 September 2014

Sainthood isn't enough for Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

When Pope Francis announced he was unblocking the canonization process for Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, killed in 1980 by a death squad during his country's civil war, it was heartening and frustrating. Romero stood up to a murderous army on behalf of the poor in El Salvador. President Obama visited his tomb in 2011, and his statue stands on a wall of Westminster Abbey, among modern Christian martyrs including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet the archbishop's murderers remain free. Judges in El Salvador have said a controversial amnesty law forbids prosecuting war crimes, though the nation's Supreme Court is considering a challenge to that decision. Most notoriously, Romero's brother bishops, who might be expected to call out for justice, have dragged their feet or blocked progress toward legal redress for Romero's killing and the rest of El Salvador's wartime crimes.

"Sainthood, yes — for us he is already a saint," said a Salvadoran friend after he heard the pope's news about Romero. "But without going after the perpetrators, this will induce a form of amnesia, pushing away the violence while creating a kind of myth that serves the country." The perpetrators are alive, he pointed out, as are their financiers.

03 September 2014

Pakistan's interfaith couples defy threats for sake of love

Marriage out of choice remains taboo in Pakistan, particularly when it involves a partner outside one's own clan or faith group. While marriages between different members of Abrahamic faiths – including Judaism, Christianity and Islam – are permitted by law, a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man. People who choose to convert out from Islam can be charged with blasphemy and face life in prison.

Kerala's dwindling Jewish community ponders its fate

Historians believe the first Jews arrived in India more than 2,000 years ago. Some were fleeing religious persecution; others sought out trade and better economic opportunities. The oldest immigrants, known locally as Malabari Jews, represent the majority of those who remain. Another group, known as White Jews or Paradesi Jews, have only seven members left, making them among the smallest Jewish communities in the world. However, following the formation of Israel in 1948, a large numbers of Jews in India left the country, marking the rapid decline of the once thriving community.

Hindoos, Hindu, Spelling, and Theory

Hindoos, Hindu, Spelling, and Theory (Religion Bulletin, 3 September 2014)

t seems to me a Hindu is actually someone quite different from a Hindoo. That is, a Hindu is someone tied up with this world religion called Hinduism. There is the Hindu American Foundation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (or World Hindu Council), and the Pew Research Center tallies up the number of “Hindus” in America. But in the early nineteenth century, a Hindoo was a product of the American and British imagination. When I discuss what Americans thought about India and the people who lived there and these things they did that Americans thought were religion, I am not talking about people in South Asia. I’m talking about representations of people in South Asia. These Hindoos are imaginary. “Hindoos” and their religion were invented by Europeans and Americans. During this period, people in India did not present themselves to an American audience. Rather, they were represented by American and European authors to an American audience and in that process they were represented as Hindoos.

02 September 2014

Church must welcome 'unconventional' couples, says bishops' leader

The Catholic Church should make “unconventional couples” feel at home instead of making them targets of “de facto discrimination,” the leader of the Italian Bishops Conference and an ally of Pope Francis said this week. “Couples in irregular matrimonial situations are also Christians, but they are sometimes looked upon with prejudice,” said Bishop Nunzio Galantino, an apparent reference to divorced and remarried Catholics. “The burden of exclusion from the sacraments is an unjustified price to pay, in addition to de facto discrimination,” he said Wednesday (Aug. 27) in an address to a national conference on liturgy in the Italian hill town of Orvieto.