December 14, 2009

Pluralism Project Newsletter
December 14, 2009
In this Issue:
  • A Letter from Diana Eck
  • Lohre Elected President-Elect of the National Council of Churches
  • Affiliate Network Updates
  • Case Study Initiative
  • Community Conversations in Boston and Beyond
  • Film as a Medium for Community Conversations
  • Recent Guests at the Pluralism Project
  • Religious Diversity News Spotlight


A Letter from Diana Eck
[ Image: photo of Dr. Eck ]
Dear Friends,
We had a remarkable turnout at our reception at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) last month in Montréal. It was wonderful to hear Dr. Patrice Brodeur and Dr. R. Scott Hanson offering presentations based on their work as affiliates of the Project; you can read more of the details below. The theme of our program, “Religion in the New Cosmospolis,” is an area of work that the Project has always been committed to through our demographic research in cities and towns across the United States, and increasingly in other parts of the world. I am convinced that we must continue to remain focused on our cities, understanding them as learning labs for inter-religious encounter and engagement. It is in our cities that we find both the difficult dilemmas and bridge-building efforts that challenge aspiring leaders – whether in education, religious communities, civic institutions, or community organizing.
It was at long-last in Montréal that many of us were able to join Swiss ethicist and Islamic scholar Dr. Tariq Ramadan in face-to-face discourse. Ramadan’s visa to enter the US (in order to become a tenured professor at Notre Dame) was revoked in 2004, and he was denied a visa again in 2006, in both cases because he had donated money in the early 2000s to a Palestinian charity. As many of you know, I was very much involved with the case of Dr. Ramadan, both as a scholar and as President of the AAR in 2006, when Ramadan had to deliver his plenary address via video-conference. Ramadan’s work builds a serious dialogue between Islam and the West, encouraging young European Muslims to become civically engaged with Christians, Jews, and secularists in contributing to a positive society. This is precisely the voice that we in the US need to be in dialogue with in our work. In July of this year, a federal appeals court reversed the rulings; yet it is with cautious optimism that we received this news. In Montréal, I had the privilege to share a panel discussion with Dr. Ramadan and Dr. Brodeur on the topic of “Multiculturalism and Pluralism in Canada, the US, and Europe,” and I am grateful that we finally had the opportunity to think critically together about our contexts while seated at the same table.
Just three weeks later, a referendum to ban the construction of minarets was passed in Switzerland. This unanticipated outcome indicated that the populist party endorsing the initiative had successfully played on the Swiss people’s fears about the changing religious landscape in Europe. (After all, there are currently only four minarets in all of Switzerland.) Ramadan was among the first to offer an analysis, publishing an Op-Ed entitled, “My Compatriots’ Vote to Ban Minarets is Fueled by Fear,” in which he explores the implications of a more visible Muslim population in Europe, and the impact of various fear-mongering tactics. But he goes on to suggest that Swiss Muslims are, in part, to blame for remaining under the radar when it would have been to their benefit to build alliances with Swiss organizations, political parties, and civic organizations that set these wheels in month. This is a lesson for all of us about the critical role of civic engagement in building a culture of pluralism.
Immediately after this news broke, we contacted Project Affiliate Dr. Martin Baumann, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Lucerne, to ask him for his analysis. He developed a paper entitled, “Anxieties, banning minarets and populist politics in Switzerland,” which is available for download from our homepage spotlight or from Dr. Baumann’s affiliate page. Again, we experienced the critical value of our network of affiliated colleagues.
In late November, I had the pleasure of hosting my dear friend and colleague Karen Armstrong here at Harvard. Karen had just launched her international “Charter for Compassion” in mid-November, which is based on the recognition that, “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.” As of today, nearly 29,000 have signed on in affirmation; the names of all those who have affirmed it by the end of the year will be sent to five leaders whose countries are engaged in conflict. If you haven’t already, you might wish to log on to the website to read and affirm this brief but powerful call to action. The website also provides opportunities for sharing the charter, and participating in events related to the campaign.
Finally, my sincerest congratulations to the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, a longtime Friend of the Project, who was recently elected bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. As the first openly lesbian priest to be elected bishop in the Episcopal Church, she will no doubt face the challenges that mark our society, but we trust that Mary’s work will continue to be dedicated to the difficult task of building bridges across the chasms that divide us.
Warmest wishes for these final weeks of 2009. We look forward to another year in conversation with you.
Sincerely,
Diana


Lohre Elected President-Elect of the National Council of Churches
[ Image: photo of Kathryn Lohre ]
Kathryn Lohre, our assistant director, was elected the President Elect of the National Council of Churches (NCC) by its Governing Board on November 10 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The NCC is a “the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s member faith groups — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.”
Lohre was installed alongside incoming President Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, in a service on November 12 during the NCC General Assembly. She will assume the office of President Elect on January 1, and succeed to the presidency two years later. Most notably, her installation as president in 2012 will mark the first occasion in which a woman succeeds a woman in this role. She will also be the first Lutheran and the second youngest person to serve as president since the Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, an American Baptist, in 1979.


Affiliate Network Updates
[ Image: photo of PP reception at the AAR ]
“Religion in the New Cosmopolis” at the American Academy of Religion
On Friday, November 6, we hosted our annual gathering at the American Academy of Religion in Montréal, Canada. The program focused on “Religion in the New Cosmopolis,” using Boston, Montréal, and other affiliate research sites as a starting point for conversation. Diana Eck and our Research Director Ellie Pierce presented how case studies, documentary film, and our recently relaunched interactive webguide, World Religions in Greater Boston, can be used by teachers, religious and civic leaders, and community activists to build a culture of pluralism. Project Affiliates Dr. Patrice Brodeur and Dr. R. Scott Hanson offered presentations on pluralism in Montréal and Flushing, Queens, New York respectively. Other affiliates, friends, and guests, engaged in lively discussion and networking.
[ Image: image of book cover ]
Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters by Omid Safi
We would like to congratulate our Affiliate Dr. Omid Safi who recently published a groundbreaking book entitled, Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters. According to HarperCollins, the book “presents a portrait of Muhammad that reveals his centrality in the devotions of modern Muslims around the world. This religious biography offers new insights into Islam, covering such hot button issues such as the spread of Islam, holy wars, the role of women, the significance of Jerusalem, tensions with Jews and Christians, Wahhabi Islam, and the role of cyberspace in the evolution of the religion.” For more information, visit: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061231346/Memories_of_Muhammad/index.aspx
[ Image: photo of Dr. Baumann ]
Baumann Responds to Swiss Referendum
As referenced above, Affiliate Dr. Martin Baumann, of the University of Lucerne, Switzerland, wrote a preliminary analysis of the Swiss referendum entitled, “Anxieties, banning minarets and populist politics in Switzerland.” We are grateful to Dr. Baumann for producing this analysis in such a timely and effective way. The full text is available for download from his affiliate page: http://www.pluralism.org/affiliates/baumann/index.php
[ Image: photo of Dr. Emmanuel ]
Welcome to Affiliate Dr. Steven Emmanuel
We would like to welcome our newest affiliate, Dr. Steven Emmanuel, Batten Professor of Philosophy at Virginia Wesleyan College. His project, titled “Vietnamese Buddhism in Rural Virginia,” explores the controversy that comes to surround a group of Pure Land Buddhist monks from Vietnam who move to a rural Virginia Beach community known as Pungo in order to establish a permanent temple. Emmanuel’s project includes a public course on Buddhism and a documentary film project, which are described in greater detail at: http://www.pluralism.org/affiliates/emmanuel/
Affiliate Application
If you have interest in becoming an affiliate of the Project, or if you would like to update your Project page, please contact our Research Coordinator Erin Loeb at: eloeb@fas.harvard.edu. Affiliate application materials can be found at: http://pluralism.org/research/affil_application.php


Case Study Initiative
Throughout the fall semester, we have been introducing our Case Study Initiative – which applies the case method to the dilemmas of multi-religious societies – to a wider group of educators. We recognize the high level of interest in utilizing this work across a range of educational contexts. In 2010, we will be focusing on expanding this Initiative through partnerships, events, and a summer fellowship program for graduate level students, the details of which will be announced in January.
Case Study Presentations in Partnership with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies
We were invited to share our work on case studies at two conferences convened by Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) Outreach Center. The first was the “Michigan Educators Training Workshop: Boston Mid-Year Conference,” in late October which brought together educator-leaders from Flint, Michigan and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to consider “approaches to and understandings of communities in Michigan related to the Middle East region and how to integrate teaching about them in curriculum and resources.” The other was the “Global Education, Human Rights and the Middle East Region Conference” in late November. This Workshop brought together educator-leaders from around the world in order to explore the “diversity of approaches taken to discussing human rights in the classroom.” Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre presented on both occasions, introducing the method, leading discussion, and test-teaching a couple of our cases in development. We are excited about this new partnership with CMES, and we are grateful to Outreach Director Paul Beren for his collaborative spirit.
Case Study Session with Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations at Boston College
In late October Rabbi Justus Baird, the Director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Seminary joined our Research Director Elinor Pierce for a case study session at Boston College. Baird and Pierce were guests at the annual meeting of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations. The session provided an opportunity to explore how the case method is applied in the teaching of religion and theology. Baird’s participation, and ongoing consultation on the Case Study Initiative, is made possible by a grant on “Teaching Pluralism: Case Studies for the Theological and Religious Studies Classroom” from the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. Rabbi Baird is currently using Project cases in his minimester course at Auburn, ”Religious Leadership in a Multifaith World.”
Case Study Discussion at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
In mid-November Research Director Ellie Pierce traveled to the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, to participate in a series of events on interfaith relations. During her visit, she was invited by Professor Jim Crowfoot to lead a case discussion with students in his course on the “Environment, Religions, Spirituality, and Sustainability.” Students discussed a new case in development by Senior Research Associate Polly Hamlen about a display of Christmas trees at Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
Case Study Initiative Introduced at the Parliament
One of our student research associates, Josh Daneshforooz, attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia in early December. He offered a presentation on behalf of the Pluralism Project on the Case Study Initiative as part of an interactive workshop entitled, “Creative Methodologies for Inter-Religious Dialogue.” This workshop, which included leaders from various organizations and initiatives mainly in the US, was intended to be a showcase of “new methodologies or fresh twists on old methods in inter-religious dialogue.” Thanks to Rev. Bud Heckman, director for External Relations at Religions for Peace, for inviting us to participate in this session. We look forward to sharing more about this and other highlights of the Parliament in our next e-newsletter.
Sign of Division Case Now Available on Website
We have posted one of our cases, Sign of Division on our Case Study Initiative webpage. This case looks at the ways in which the Middle East conflict often emerges as a challenge to interfaith relations. We welcome you to consider using this case in your own educational context, and we invite your feedback.


Community Conversations in Boston and Beyond
Like many of you, we are deeply inspired by the transformative work that is happening at the grassroots level in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities to build bridges of understanding and a culture of pluralism. Over the past few months we have participated in a number of “community conversations” where people from different faith traditions came together to explore the real differences that divide us, but also the common ground on which we can build together. Through these events, we met face-to-face the people whose dedication to interfaith work is an inspiration for our ongoing mission.
[ Image: photo of panelists ]
Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries 43rd Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner
On November 17, staff and students from the Pluralism Project participated in the annual meeting and awards dinner for a local interfaith social action organization, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries. This event, which was attended by over 200 people, was powerfully symbolic of the many new relationships that have been built in recent years through the leadership of Executive Director Alex Kern, expanding the membership of the organization to be more fully interfaith. The evening’s theme, “Social Change and the Spirituality of Hope: Dialogue and Action in Multifaith America,” was addressed by a panel which included Dr. Diana Eck, as well as Salwa Abdullah of Masjid Al-Qur’an and Margie Klein of Moishe/Kavod House and Hebrew College Rabbinical School. Staff hosted a Pluralism Project table in the exhibit area, and engaged with interested visitors in questions about our work and mission. (Photo by Elisheva Ackerson.)
[ Image: event poster ]
Addir Fellows Community Lecture Series at MIT
On November 19, Diana Eck offered a lecture entitled, “Interfaith: The Most Difficult Dialogues,” as part of the 2009-2010 Addir Fellows Community Lecture Series. The Addir Fellows MIT Interfaith Dialogue Program “brings together thirty students of different faiths to learn from and engage each other in a stimulating environment…[in order] to enhance inter-group relations on the MIT campus, and to deepen individuals’ self-awareness.” It is sponsored by The Office of the Dean for Student Life, the Board of Chaplains, and the Chaplain to the Institute. Dr. Eck’s lecture illustrated the interfaith religious landscape in the US, reflected on various obstacles to interfaith dialogue that she has encountered in her own work, and offered direction for how to continue to engage in difficult dialogues in our communities, country, and the world.


Film as a Medium for Community Conversations
“Creating a More Compassionate Community” in Toledo
On November 16, the Multifaith Council of NW Ohio and Erase the Hate Toledo hosted “Creating a More Compassionate Community” to celebrate the new Charter for Compassion launched by Karen Armstrong on November 12. The event included a screening of Fremont, USA, and lively, facilitated small group discussions building on the themes of the film. Judy Trautman of the Multifaith Council wrote, “It was a very fruitful event.”
Michigan Community Scholars Program in Ann Arbor
On November 19 and 20, Research Director Ellie Pierce was invited to Ann Arbor by the Michigan Community Scholars Program (MCSP) for screenings of Fremont, USA and a series of conversations about interfaith relations at the University and in the community.
The Ann Arbor District Library hosted a screening of Fremont, USA and a panel discussion. The panel, facilitated by David Schoem of MCSP, included: Rabbi Nathan Martin of University of Michigan Hillel; Noha Moustafa, a student with United to Heal; Grace Kotre of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice; George Lambrides of the Interfaith Round Table; Rev. Haju Sunim of the Zen Buddhist Temple; Rev. Jeffrey Harrold of the New Beginnings Free Methodist Church; and Ann Arbor’s Police Chief, Barnett Jones. Participants related the film to their own visions for improving interfaith relations in Ann Arbor, and a robust discussion followed.
The Ann Arbor District Library hosted a second screening of Fremont, USA for a group of faith leaders in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti; this screening was followed by a discussion of the current challenges to interfaith relations, and how to establish better networks of communication and response. Finally, the Michigan Community Scholars Program hosted a small group discussion, facilitated by MCSP student Abby White, about forming a new student committee on interfaith relations.


Recent Guests at the Pluralism Project
[ Image: photo of visit ]
Iraqi Activist from La’Onf
On October 19, 2009, the Pluralism Project welcomed Mr. Abdulsattar Younus – a leader with La’Onf, a network of nonviolent activists in Iraq. After a brief video presentation about the work of La’Onf, Mr. Younus responded to questions about the nature of nonviolent resistance in Iraq, and the relationship of the Iraqi example to other international and historical contexts. Mr. Younus was in the United States to accept the Pfeffer Peace Prize awarded by the Fellowship of Reconciliation – USA. La’Onf had been nominated by Peaceful Tomorrows, “an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn [their] grief into action.” Ms. Terry Rockefeller of Peaceful Tomorrows (Arlington, Mass.) and Mr. Tarek El Heneidy of the Fellowship of Reconciliation – USA (Rockport, Mass.) accompanied Mr. Younus at our meeting.
Faculty Group from the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University
On December 3, 2009, the Pluralism Project hosted a group of faculty from the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre received the group, which included Jack Olive, Flora Wilson Bridges, Rabbi Danny Weiner, Mohamed Jawad Khaki, and Laura Ellen Muglia. The meeting was organized to discuss the history and vision of the Pluralism Project, and to offer feedback on various ideas they have about starting a center at Seattle University. Lohre also shared our Case Study Initiative, and introduced them to our field education student, Vaughn Booker, who is developing a case study on religious identity that involves a member of their faculty. The discussion was fruitful and mutually enriching.

[ Image: RDN icon ]


Religious Diversity News Spotlight
Domestic News
Jews And Muslims Celebrate Holidays Together
Young Jews and Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah at a Boston-area potluck dinner to foster interfaith dialogue.
White House Celebrates Guru Nanak’s Birthday
The White House hosted a celebration of Gurparab, Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary, an historic first.
Different Faiths Gather to Mark Annual Interfaith Celebration
Nearly 900 members from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Baha’i and Covenant of the Goddess faiths worshiped together at 25th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and Celebration in Austin, Texas.
International News
My Compatriots’ Vote to Ban Minarets Is Fuelled By Fear
Op-ed by Tariq Ramadan on Switzerland’s decision to ban the construction of minarets.
Hindus Ask Museum to Remove Painting
National Hindu leaders ask the Neuberger Museum of Art to remove a painting of the goddess Kali deemed to be offensive to Hindus. The painting is displayed in an exhibition on the effect of immigration on British identity.
Blessings Aplenty As World’s Religions Gather
4,000 delegates from 200 faith traditions arrived in Melbourne, Australia for the opening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.