June 14, 2006

In this Issue:
  • Director Diana L. Eck’s Comments
  • The Pluralism Project Welcomes 2006 Summer Interns
  • The Pluralism Project Hosts State Department Visitors From Jordan and Egypt
  • “Divided We Fall” Screenings
  • Please Fill Out Our Survey on the National Day of Prayer 2006
  • AAR-EIR Presentation on the Interfaith Movement
  • Fostering Dialogue Across Divides
  • New Slide Show: Devotee Service at New Vrindaban
  • Religious Diversity News: Top Headlines
  • International News: Top Headlines

Director Diana L. Eck’s Comments

We have just come through commencement week at Harvard and I have been thinking again about the issues of ceremonials and religious pluralism. Harvard College is vividly multireligious and this fact is reflected in the Baccalaureate Service in the Memorial Church in Harvard Yard attended by virtually the entire senior class in cap and gown. Here over a thousand seniors hear members of their own class reading from traditions of wisdom. This year there was a reading chanted from the Torah in Hebrew, a Hindu reading in Sanskrit, a reading from the Qur’an in Arabic, and a reading from the New Testament in Greek, each followed by a translation. There was nothing syncretistic about it, but it was a simple, elegant, straightforward rendering of the reality with which today’s college seniors live and have come to expect. It would be good to collect local examples of how such ceremonials are handled in the academic festivals of our day. Send us yours! In the meantime, look at the research report written recently by Aaron White on “Baccalaureate Services and Pluralism.”

Baccalaureate Services and Pluralism

The Pluralism Project Welcomes 2006 Summer Interns

The Pluralism Project is pleased to welcome eight summer interns to our offices this month. These interns will be working on projects relating to our city hall, interfaith, international, and women’s initiatives. We are thrilled to have such a talented group of students, and look forward to the contributions they will make to the Pluralism Project over the next three months. For their names and biographies, please see our “People” page.

Pluralism Project People

The Pluralism Project Hosts State Department Visitors From Jordan and Egypt
[ Image: Group photo of nine visitors with Diana Eck ]
On May 8, 2006 the Pluralism Project hosted a State Department visit with guests from Jordan and Egypt, many of whom were imams. Their study-tour was on the topic “Islam: Scholarship and Practice in the United States.” The visit was born out of an initiative in interfaith dialogue that was started by Father Nabil Haddad, executive director of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center in Amman, Jordan. The purpose of the tour, which included Boston, Washington DC, Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, was to explore the role of religion and Islam in public life; to broaden understanding about the importance of religious study in the US; and to examine the compatibility of religious practice and democratic processes in a multi-religious society. Other delegations will be sent in August 2006 and in January and May 2007. Note: Syrian participants were unable to enter the United States.

“Divided We Fall” Screenings
[ Image: Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju introduce the director's cut. ]
On May 6-7, 2006 the Pluralism Project hosted a preview and director’s cut screening of “Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath” at the Harvard Film Archive. Writer/Producer Valarie Kaur, a master’s candidate at Harvard Divinity School, and Director/Producer Sharat Raju were on hand to answer audience questions. The auditorium of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts was filled to capacity for the director’s cut screening with artists, academics, activists, and citizens from around the greater Boston area. The finished film will premiere this fall in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more information and updates, see: www.dwf-film.com

Please Fill Out Our Survey on the National Day of Prayer 2006

The Pluralism Project is conducting research on National Day of Prayer events in May 2006. It’s not too late to fill out our survey. If you attended an event, please take a few minutes and fill out the brief survey online. Thank you!

National Day of Prayer 2006 Online Survey

AAR-EIR Presentation on the Interfaith Movement
[ Image: Grove Harris and Shaheen Ashraf ]
Managing Director Grove Harris attended the AAR-EIR conference in Quebec, Canada to present work on the interfaith movement, including an updated typology and considerations of selected civic celebrations, women’s groups, and business settings. We will let you know when this paper is available online. She also chaired sessions featuring research on Wicca, and considerations on the nature of scripture (including exploration of artwork of the Bible, the US Constitution, the Homeric Epics, and the Pagan Book of Shadows as “scripture”). Meeting Shaheen Ashraf of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women was one of the highlights of the conference.
Pluralism Project Research Reports- Interfaith
Canadian Council of Muslim Women

Fostering Dialogue Across Divides

Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide from the Public Conversations Project offers the fruit of 17 years of work towards effective dialogue design and facilitation. It is intended to be of use to both seasoned facilitators and beginners and offers core principles and practices as well as advice on each phase in the dialogue process. Appendices offer sample formats and handouts. It is available as a free download or for purchase online. “Dialogue has a vital, if quieter, role to play in a resilient and civil democratic society. It can build bridges across divides in the body politic. It can promote healing in small communities that are struggling with a controversy. It can also reduce the likelihood of gridlock in the halls of Congress, hatred in the arena of public opinion, and potentially dangerous misrepresentations in our sound-bite saturated media.”

Fostering Dialogue Across Divides

New Slide Show: Devotee Service at New Vrindaban
[ Image: Devotee service at organic farm ]
Greg Emery’s students from the Global Learning Community at Ohio University have completed another slide show presentation. They write, “At New Vrindaban, a Hare Krishna community in Moundsville, West Virginia, the motto is ‘God is Everywhere.’ The community’s whole existence is to serve Lord Krishna, and each devotee worships the Lord through his or her own daily actions. Once enlightenment is reached, devotees do not believe they will become God, but will reach pure devotion to God through selfless worship to Krishna’s many forms, as well as ultimately find transcendence. From fertilizing the land to reading the Vedic scriptures the residents of New Vrindaban devote their lives to the Lord. All the work that they do is performed to serve and worship Lord Krishna, not the material world.”
A Photo Illustration of Devotee Service at New Vrindaban

Religious Diversity News: Top Headlines

Widow of Wiccan Vet Holds Alternative Memorial Service
A war widow whose husband was killed in Afghanistan fought for the religious freedom to mark his grave with the Wiccan pentacle by holding her own memorial service shortly before the official one.

Minnesota Democrat May Become First Muslim in Congress
African American Keith Ellison is scheduled to make history on two fronts in Minnesota if he is elected to Congress next session: the first black congressman from Minnesota and the first Muslim nationwide.

Immigration Reform Impacts Sikh Community
Proposed changes in immigration law have the Sikh community worried about potential deportations and broken families which could result from a tougher enforcement policy.

Study Finds that Teaching World Religions Increases Respect for Constitutional Freedoms
A study conducted in religiously diverse Modesto, CA revealed that high school students studying the historical establishment of the seven major world religions developed an increased respect for cultural diversity and religious freedom.

Interfaith Event Planned for National Day of Prayer in Troy
Citizens in Troy, Michigan took back the religiously diverse identity of their city this year by hosting an inclusive event for the National Day of Prayer in response to last year’s Christian-only event run by the evangelical-based National Day of Prayer Task Force.

International News: Top Headlines

Buddhist Economists Make a Plea for their Economic Principles
Sri Lankan Buddhist economists argue that the time has come for their country to devote its economics toward a system that supports “people’s interest” rather than the “self-interest” of Western development theory.

Nepal’s Move Toward Secularism Could Spawn Hindu Backlash
Nepal’s recent move toward exchanging its official Hindu state status for that of a secular government to appease Maoist rebels has been met with anger and rallying by worried Hindu groups.

Toronto Highlights Religious Diversity in World’s Fair Bid
Toronto’s bid for the 2015 World Fair includes plans for showcasing its religious diversity through an interfaith pavilion, highlighting how its 1.7 million non-Christian residents contribute to the harmony of Toronto life.

Hindu American Foundation Expresses Support of U.S. Religious Freedoms Report
The Hindu American Foundation issued a statement in support of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report, a document which this year noted Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as countries which systematically violate religious freedom.

Country’s First Muslim Women Preachers Complete Training
Morocco’s latest step in combating Islamic extremism is to train women, including 50 preachers who completed 12 months of training for chaplaincy work in schools, hospitals, and prisons.