January 19, 2008

Pluralism Project Newsletter
January 19, 2008
In this Issue:
  • Diana Eck’s Comments
  • A Mosque in Morgantown
  • “Interfaith Heroes Month” Underway in Southeast Michigan
  • High School Students Produce Documentary About Unity Program
  • “Engaging Muslims: Religion, Cultures, and Politics”
  • Religious Diversity News: Top Headlines
  • International News: Top Headlines

Diana Eck’s Comments
[ Image: photo of Diana Eck ]
Dear Friends,
Happy new year from all of us at the Pluralism Project. We look forward to all that this year has in store for us. There is much to hope for as the presidential campaign gets into high gear. Very rarely, however, do candidates directly address the promise of a truly multireligious America and the contributions of people of many faiths to our society. Let’s all listen carefully for how, if at all, these issues are articulated.
I was distressed to learn in late December that Tariq Ramadan, whose book Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, my religion students read carefully this past term, was again unsuccessful in his bid to enter the United States. The decision rendered by U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty on December 20 said, essentially, that the courts do not traditionally over-rule consular visa decisions. I have written a piece on this that is posted on the Pluralism Project website. It is a sobering decision, to say the least.
Later this spring, we will premiere our new documentary film, Fremont, USA, which is now in final production. This film explores the problems – and the promise – of pluralism in one of our country’s most diverse cities. Stay tuned for more information about the premiere and distribution of this resource, which will be a marvelous educational tool for teachers and religious communities alike.
We also plan to publish a number of the case studies that have been in development over the past year, including “A Mosque in Palos Heights” and “Trouble in Troy,” as well as cases exploring the alleged proselytization at the Air Force Academy and the controversy over the VA’s approval of the Wiccan Pentacle gravemarker. Over the last semester, I used these cases in my course, “Religion in Multicultural America: Case Studies in Religious Pluralism.” Feedback from students has been very positive; they are eager to engage with materials in a hands-on way, developing skills for critical thinking. We look forward to sharing these and other cases with you for use in your own contexts, and to receiving your feedback. Again, stay tuned.
In mid-December we learned that we will receive funding from The Louisville Institute for a new project. “Christian Ministry in Multi-Religious America: Boston Workshop” will bring together local Christian clergy to engage with the religious diversity of our city. Drawing on our long-time network of partners who are featured in our online and print resource, World Religions in Boston, we hope to actively engage participants in site visits and theological reflection on pluralism. We are excited about taking this new direction in our work, and look forward to developing a curriculum and set of resources that can be replicated in other cities. Thank you to The Louisville Institute for making it possible for us to embark on this critical project.
[ Image: photo of Dr. Anant Rambachan and Dr. Mary Hunt at the Pluralism Project AAR reception ]
It was such a pleasure to catch up with many of you at our reception at the American Academy of Religion in November. Going around the room to hear about all of the work you are doing reminded me of how much our Project has grown over the years. Many of you who spoke were students when the Pluralism Project began, and now you are truly at the forefront, educating others to take seriously their role in fostering positive pluralism in our communities. For those of you who were not able to join us, please continue to send your updates to staff@pluralism.org We are grateful to hear from you and to learn about how you are moving our shared vision forward.
These are just a few highlights of what 2008 has in store for us. No doubt it will be another exciting year. We imagine you also have much on your agendas for the coming year, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes,

A Mosque in Morgantown
[ Image: Diana Eck with Ann Kim and Brittany Huckabee ]
On December 11, 2007 the Pluralism Project sponsored a rough cut screening of the film, The Mosque in Morgantown, for a select audience of students and scholars. This documentary chronicles the conflict that arises in small-town West Virginia when Asra Nomani, a Muslim feminist, challenges women’s roles at the local mosque. It captures the stories of Nomani and other mosque members as they struggle to shape the future of their community. The film is an entry for viewers into questions about Islam in America, women in Islam, and what it means to be a “moderate” Muslim in America. At the screening, discussion was moderated by Director/Producer Brittany Huckabee, principal of Version One Productions, Inc., and Associate Producer Ann Kim, graduate of Harvard College. The film is scheduled to premiere in fall 2008.

“Interfaith Heroes Month” Underway in Southeast Michigan

On January 1, Interfaith Partners of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion launched a new national celebration called “Interfaith Heroes Month.” Supported by www.ReadtheSpirit.com and WWJ News Radio, this month features 31 historical heroes whose vision and work have contributed to interfaith understanding and peace. Visitors to www.InterfaithHeroes.info can read stories about the heroes, add comments, explore listings for regional interfaith events, and nominate heroes for 2009. Heroes featured this year include: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Henrietta Szold, and Rabindranath Tagore. A companion book that is intended for study groups or personal reading is also available on the website.

High School Students Produce Documentary About Unity Program
[ Image: Unity Program students 2007-2008 ]
Sara Hadi, a Muslim graduate from the Al-Imam School, and Rebecca Katz, a Jewish graduate from the Abraham Heschel School, partnered and produced a ten-minute documentary upon their graduation from the Unity Program in New York City. “The Unity Program is a full-year high school course that educates Muslim and Jewish students about Islam and Judaism while strengthening the relationships students have to their own religious tradition. The course examines the relationship between Islam and Judaism, the historical relationship between Muslims and Jews, and issues within North American Jewish and Muslim communities. Each of these components deepens students’ understandings of Jewish and Muslim individual and group identities in contemporary society as well as the textual, ideological, and historical relationship between and within each religious tradition.” This documentary, in which students candidly tell their stories and share their fears, embodies hope and reminds us that individuals can make a difference. Read more at the Unity Program Student Blog: http://www.abrahamsvision.org/unitynycweblog2007-08/index.php

“Engaging Muslims: Religion, Cultures, and Politics”
[ Image: photo of Dr. Boisclair ]
Pluralism Project Affiliate Dr. Regina Boisclair, Cardinal Newman Chair of Theology and Professor of Religious Studies at Alaska Pacific University, is sponsoring a community education project entitled “Engaging Muslims: Religion, Cultures, and Politics.” This innovative program is bringing Muslim films, exhibits, and prominent scholars and speakers to Anchorage – home to over 2,000 Muslims – in order “to foster a respectful understanding of Islam that recognizes the diversity in Islamic cultures as well as internal struggle within the contemporary Muslim world. . . . While this engagement will not solve world problems, it is our hope that we will all grow beyond the distortions and phobia promoted in much of the public media and come to grow in friendship with our Muslim neighbors.” Engaging Muslims is being developed as a model public education program to be replicated in other US cities. See: http://engagingmuslims.alaskapacific.edu/

[ Image: Religious Diversity News icon ]

Religious Diversity News: Top Headlines

Teenager Takes on School Prayer, Following Activist Father 
into Battle

Atheist activist and Illinois high school student, Dawn Sherman, is challenging a state law that requires a period of silence at the start of the school day.

Ads Ask Candidates to Guard Religious Freedom
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation are spearheading a project encouraging voters to ask presidential candidates to protect the religious freedoms of Americans.

Boston Police and Sikh American Community Achieve Landmark Partnership
Over 3,000 members of the Boston Police Department received training on Sikh religious practices by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund this year.

New Center Offers Sense of Belonging
After meeting in civic centers and schools since 1999, the Chinmaya Mission of Chicago, a branch of the international organization dedicated to the spread of Advaita Vedanta founded by Swami Chinmayananda, recently opened a center in Lake County.

Religion-Based Employee Groups Enhance Culture of Inclusion
Leaders of the Muslim Employees Initiative and the Christian Values Initiative at Texas Instruments discuss the benefits of a diverse workplace.

International News: Top Headlines

Sikhcess™ Announces Launch of Sikh Community’s Global ‘Feed the Homeless’ Campaign in March 2008
A Sikh community service organization plans to feed homeless in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia.

Buddhist Abbot is Face Behind Ask a Monk Online Service

Ven. Shih Ying-Fa, abbot of the Zen Center of Cleveland, is the founder of “Ask a Monk,” an international online information service for anyone who is interested in Buddhism.

Vatican, Muslims Plan ‘Historic’ Meeting
In response to an open letter from Muslim scholars around the world, Vatican officials announced a spring meeting in Rome between Catholic and Muslim representatives.

Bonds of War
After being assigned to work as a translator in his native Iraq for US Marine Lieutenant Seth Moulton, Mohammed Harba and Moulton have formed a lasting friendship that brought Harba to the US and, in 2006, to the Pluralism Project as a summer intern.