Category Religion & Spirituality

Asian American churches call for actions beyond prayer

Asian American churches call for actions beyond prayer

Nation Mar 19, 2021

Asian American Christian leaders said Thursday their congregations are saddened and outraged after a white gunman killed eight people — most of them women of Asian descent — at three Atlanta-area massage businesses. And they’re calling for action beyond prayers.

Asian Americans were already rattled by a wave of racist attacks amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the United States. While the motive behind Tuesday’s rampage remains under investigation, some see it as a wake-up call to stand up against a rise in violence against the community.

The lead pastor at Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, located a few miles from two of the spas that were targeted, said he will ask congregants during his Sunday sermon to “not just pray, not just worry,” because “it’s time for us to act.”

“I’m going to urge people with love and peace that we need to step up and address this issue, so that … our next generation should not be involved in tragic … violence,” the Rev. Byeong Han said. “That’s what Christians need to do.”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry says diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed with police that four of the dead were women of Korean descent, and are working to determine their nationality.

Jane Yoon, a congregant at Korean Central Presbyterian and a 17-year-old high school junior in nearby Marietta, said she increasingly worries for her family, which is of Korean descent, and was shocked by the killings.

“I was definitely very outraged,” she said. “I was in shock at first of the news and just also how close it is to my community.”

It also hit home on a very personal level: Last week, she said, she was in a car accident and another driver punched her in the face and body before she was able to call 911. Yoon said the woman, who was arrested, did not make any racist comments during the assault, but she couldn’t help but think about rising attacks against Asian Americans.

Following that incident, she has been getting spiritual guidance and counseling from the congregation.

In the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, the Rev. Jong Kim of Grace Korean Presbyterian Church said he found a glimmer of hope in the wake of the killings after a woman reached out to donate $100 to his church “to express her feelings of sorrow to the Asian community.”

Kim spoke to several other Korean pastors in the area Thursday, and they now plan to join the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, through which they hope to have discussions about issues of race and ethnicity and provide funeral service assistance for the victims’ families.

The Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice has said that while details of the shooting are still emerging, “the broader context cannot be ignored.” The attacks, it said, “happened under the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fueled by white supremacy and systemic racism.”

Ripples from the killings have been felt well beyond Atlanta.

In Chicago, Garden City Covenant Church invited Asian Americans “in need of a community who understands your pain” to join an online meeting in which they could “share, listen, lament and pray” together.

“There were a lot of tears, and there were a lot of questions, and for many I think there is a sense also of helplessness,” said Gabriel J. Catanus, the lead pastor, who is Filipino American. The church’s diverse congregation includes about 60 percent Filipino Americans, he said, along with worshippers from Latino and other communities.

“It’s an important Biblical practice, and Christian practice, to come before God honestly and to pour one’s own heart out before God,” he said. “God can handle even the rage and the devastation that comes out of us at times.”

Catanus said he was glad to see that people are now “more awakened” to the experiences of Asian Americans. But he said much works remains to be done in faith communities and called on religious leaders to denounce anti-Asian racism from their pulpits.

“In the Christian community and in our Christian institutions, specifically, we need to confess that we have in many ways failed to lead and to teach our people,” he said. “Our discipleship has failed in many ways to address these very powerful forces that have led to violence and death.”

Kevin Park, an associate pastor at Korean Central Presbyterian Church, said not only Asian Americans but the whole country needs to speak out against the violence, racism and “more subtle marginalization” that have been suffered for generations.

“There’s opportunities among faith communities that we need to stand up together and reach out to communities that are hurting, not only Asian American communities but other communities of color,” he said.

“And I think there needs to be kind of this movement toward solidarity. … We’re all in this together.”

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

SOURCE: Luis Andres Henao, Associated Press
Mariam Fam, Associated Press
Jessie Wardarski, Associated Press

Life after death: Man believes he crossed into 'perfect' realm

Life after death: Man believes he crossed into ‘perfect’ realm

A MAN who had a brush with death believes he saw the afterlife, where he was bathed in light in an otherworldly realm.

Dec 23, 2020

Following an accident as a child, a man named Chris believes he was taken to the afterlife. While Chris was not clinically dead, he was unconscious for several minutes following an accident, and believes he saw the afterlife. The afterlife, according to Chris, consists of being bathed in a “formless” light where one instantly forgets about what came before.

He also said that the place he was in was “perfect” where he was no longer a physical being.

Writing on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, Chris said: “I suddenly found myself in a different realm. It was formless, light, and colourful. I didn’t see anyone. It was like a soft, light-bath.

“I was fully surrounded in and a part of this light. I felt at one with the light and at peace. I was definitely ‘me,’ but I didn’t’ have a body. In this place, my old life didn’t exist.

“I had no thought of the life on earth. I was just there, and ‘there’ was perfect.

“Then I felt a strange, sucking sensation. It felt like I was being pulled into and becoming something else at the same time.

“As I got closer, I could see my old life coming back to me. I suddenly remembered I had this other life with school, family, and friends.

“I had a sinking feeling of ‘oh no, not this’ and I knew I’d have to face all the mess of normal life again.

“I even had this feeling about my own family. Although I loved them, my family was imperfect and unhappy in many ways.

“The realm I visited is so hard to quantify or describe, because it was totally formless so it was purely a subjective experience. There is no way to explain it to other people

“When I came back to my body, I recognised my life with the feeling of ‘oh this thing again.’ It was as if I had forgotten about this life, but then remembered it only when I came back into the body.”

While Chris believes his experience is proof of the afterlife, researchers state that the vivid vision is actually associated with a surge in brain activity as one dies.

Researchers from the University of Michigan came to this conclusion after they clinically induced cardiac arrest in rats while simultaneously monitoring their brain activity.

The found a huge surge in brain activity in the final 30 seconds of the rodents’ life.

Jimo Borjigin, PhD, associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and associate professor of neurology, said: “This study, performed in animals, is the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow.”

Essentially, if the brain is more active, one might have vivid visions, leading them to believe they had seen the afterlife.

Dr Borjigin added: “The prediction that we would find some signs of conscious activity in the brain during cardiac arrest was confirmed with the data.”

MAIN IMAGE: Life after death: Man believes he crossed the line into ‘perfect’ realm (Image: GETTY)

Why Inner Peace Is the Workplace Skill You Didn’t Know You Needed

Why Inner Peace Is the Workplace Skill You Didn’t Know You Needed

When life is chaotic and precarious, we can’t go to work a stressed-out mess. Instead, we must be calm, positive, and perpetually open to hearing and acting on the best ideas. Ed Hess explains why inner peace is the business skill we all need.

November 13, 2020 by Edward D. Hess

Oakland, CA (November 2020)—No doubt about it: The world is loud, chaotic, and outright scary. And with a pandemic piled on top of political/social/economic upheaval piled on top of “normal” disruptors like AI advancements that change everything about the way we work, it’s only going to get more so. Here’s the question: How do you get heard above the chaos? Do you shout louder? Work harder? Bulldoze over others?

Actually, quite the opposite. Ed Hess says your “secret weapon” to thriving in a world of chaos, change, and uncertainty might surprise you. Inner Peace.

“Whether you’re a leader or an employee, you need to be kind of a port in the storm right now,” says Hess, the author of Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, September 2020, ISBN: 978-1-523-08924-6, $29.95, “You need to be fully in the moment so you can connect and listen to others. And you need to tune out the noise and do the kind of high-level critical thinking that lets you make smart decisions.”

So, touchy-feely though it may sound, cultivating Inner Peace is a hot business skill.

Not that it’s a brand-new COVID-era issue. Hess—known for identifying workplace trends early on and helping companies operationalize behaviors that allow them to excel in the face of change—has said for years that we need a new way of being and leading. Keeping your head down and following orders (if you’re an employee) or letting your out-of-control ego confirm your biases (if you’re a leader) just don’t work in today’s world.

Hess says Inner Peace is a foundational building block to becoming a Hyper-Learner: a person who has the mindset and humility to continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn by adapting to the reality of the world as it evolves. And you won’t be able to excel at one of the remaining jobs that require “human skills” after the machines take over the rest unless you embrace Inner Peace.

“Inner Peace is really a survival skill,” he says. “It’s what allows us to bring our Best Selves to work and engage with others in ways that enable them to be their Best Selves also.”

Here are a few simple steps for achieving Inner Peace:

Take a good look at how you define yourself. Ego is one of the biggest inhibitors of Hyper-Learning. When we define ourselves by how much we know and how “smart” we are (a common problem for leaders!), or when someone disagrees with us, our very sense of self is threatened. If you want to be open to feedback and are willing to challenge your own perceptions, you must first make a conscious decision to quiet the ego.

“The first step is admitting you have a non-Quiet Ego!” says Hess. “The next step is to redefine yourself, perhaps by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating. Making this mental shift is surprisingly difficult, but it is a necessary starting point.”

Give mindfulness meditation a try. To be a Hyper-Learner, you must develop a Quiet Mind that is fully present. Mindfulness meditation can help. It’s a way of focusing awareness to something specific like your breath or a part of your body or an object or mantra and continually bringing your attention back to that thing every time your mind wanders off. Hess recommends you start small—perhaps just two to three minutes at first. Eventually, you’ll be able to work your way up to 20-30 minutes a day.

“Mindfulness meditation is Inner Peace ‘superfood,’” says Hess. “Research suggests it may quiet down your brain’s default mode, leading to less self-referential mind-wandering. It also suggests that training in mindfulness can lead to an ability to let go of thoughts rather than fixate on or identify with them. The goal is reaching the stage where you are not your thoughts and you are not your emotions—they do not control you and your behavior. You have the choice—you can engage them or let them go so you focus your attention on what you want to attend to.”

Engage in acts of gratitude. This practice reduces your tendency to be self-centered and cultivates a Quiet Ego. Acts of gratitude may include saying thank you in the moment, writing thank-you notes, keeping a gratitude journal, and every night reflecting back on those who’ve had the biggest positive impacts on your life.

“The idea is to steep yourself in daily reminders that individual success is not all about ‘me,’ and that none of us got here all by ourselves,” says Hess.

Practice deep breathing to calm your body, emotions, and mind. Hess says back in 2018 he started practicing deep breathing exercises that the Navy SEALs do and monitoring his heart rate daily. Now he does breathing exercises a couple of times a day to regulate the pace of his body so he can be more in the moment.

“When I experience a fast heart rate, rising temperature, or stress in parts of my body, I immediately do my deep breathing and my self-talk,” he explains. “I tell myself to slow my motor down, and I try to experience a micro-joy—feeling very positive about someone or nature or something positive in my life.”

Create micro-joys throughout your workday. Hess is a big fan of Barbara Fredrickson’s writings on the power of positivity resonance, which is the highest level of human connection that results from the sharing of positive emotions. Teams are far more effective when they can attain this elusive state. Obviously, leaders who are mired in negativity will inhibit positivity resonance and thus team performance. This is why it’s crucial to do what you can to keep yourself in a state of joy and happiness—one of the keys to being your Best Self.

“What has worked well for me is creating micro-joys during my day,” says Hess. “For example, I might focus mindfully on the beauty of nature, the beauty of colors, the unconditional love of a pet, seeing a friend in passing and wishing them a good day, thanking a custodian for keeping the bathroom so clean at work, and going out of my way to smile and express gratitude to fellow workers for specific things I have witnessed.”

Create your daily intentions. Spending 15 minutes or so each morning reflecting on how you want to behave today—how you want “to be”—can help you start your day with the right mindset. This can involve inspirational readings and journaling. Hess includes a workshop in his book to help readers cultivate their own daily intentions.

“Daily intentions are very personal,” he says. “The idea is to consciously choose how you are going to react and behave and what you’re going to pay attention to each day. This is very powerful.”

Human Excellence in today’s workplace is heavily dependent upon our being able to control our mind, body, and emotions, says Hess. “It’s a lot harder than it sounds,” he admits. “It takes work. But if we want to be viable employees and leaders, we need to do that work. Once we master our inner world—our ego, our mind, our emotions, and our body—we can better engage with the outer world as it is, not as we want it to be. And it feels a lot better than living in constant stress and turmoil. In fact, the inner calm you can achieve is liberating and joyous.”

SOURCE: Edward D. Hess

Generation Z and spiritual wellnessGeneration Z and spiritual wellness

Generation Z and spiritual wellness

November 4, 2020 
by Aolani Brown | Layout Editor

Teens in 2020 are trading in their parents’ Bibles, crucifixes and holy water for Tarot cards, crystals and sage.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, only about 52% of millennials say that they believe in God with “absolute certainty” and about 41% of millennials think that religion is an important aspect in their lives.

So, why are millennials straying from traditional religious doctrines and leaning toward more free spirited spiritual identifications? What is it about spirituality that is so attractive to the younger generations?

Ayanna Foster, a 21-year-old psychology student at Florida A&M University, felt as though her disconnect to the church was a factor in her waivering religious beliefs.

“I grew up questioning everybody including God and I honestly didn’t find a church I could relate to until I was 19, which was a big struggle for me,” Foster said. “Not having a church that spoke to my heart and not feeling like I was being good enough as a Christian played a big part in me feeling lost.”

Foster’s story is one that mirrors those of many millennials and kids of Generation  Z — growing up in a fundamentally religious household and straying from the path that was laid before them by their parents.

“I realized that I don’t have a specific belief,” Foster explained. “But I realized I don’t have to put a title on it. I believe in astrology, spirituality, witchcraft and God. I talk to my guides, I talk to God. I talk to my ancestors. That’s just what it is. I guess I’m just a free spirit.”

It can be noted that some of the strict teaching in many religions do not align with the current progressive ideals of young adults we see today. The upcoming generations are ones setting out to demolish every problematic ism — the same isms that are found within the sacred texts of the religions they followed growing up.

Social media plays a vital role in the spreading of these spiritual beliefs and practices.

Brittany, a worker at locally owned metaphysical store Stone Age who declined to provide her last name, has seen firsthand the effect that social media has on young people’s spiritual beliefs.

“Spiritual objects have become more popular with social media like TikTok and Twitter,” Brittany said. “We had a lot of people coming in asking about Tarot cards, pendulums and moldavite.”

Moldavite, a forest green rock formed by the impact of a meteorite over 15 million years ago, surged in popularity on the social media platform TikTok as hundreds of thousands of videos were created dubbing the rock the world’s “most powerful crystal.”

“Every single day we were getting phone calls asking if we sell moldavite and where it could be bought,” Brittany said. “The whole market bought moldavite and could barely keep stock because of importing issues and shortages.”

The power of social media on the spiritual and religious beliefs of young people  shouldn’t be overlooked.

Foster feels as though social media helped to further propel her into her spiritual journey.

“I follow many spirituality pages that educate me and give their experiences about their journeys,” Foster said. “Maybe tell me things I didn’t know that make me wanna pick up a book or get on google and learn more about it. Maybe I saw something that I didn’t understand and then I’ll get on Twitter and it’ll explain it deeper for me. Or I’ll go on YouTube and watch others talk about their spiritual journeys and deeper explanations of spirituality.”

Millennials are continuing to carve out their own spiritual path by any means necessary and this shift is anything but unprecedented.

SOURCE: Aolani Brown | Layout Editor

How Religion Influences Our Relationship With the Environment

How Religion Influences Our Relationship With the Environment

OCTOBER 15, 2020

As a marker of identity that transcends national borders, religion influences many environmentally relevant behaviors. Thus, understanding its role is key to tackling environmental challenges that are fundamentally transnational.

Previous research has found that religion influences many aspects of lifestyle that affect the environment. These include childbearing decisions and the use of contraceptives (and resulting effects on population growth); risk behaviors and use of health services (which affect life expectancy); whether people see climatic change as human-caused, or related to forces beyond human control; consumption patterns, and thereby use of natural resources and emissions of greenhouse gases; and willingness to take actions to abate environmental degradation.

We have investigated the link between environmental challenges and religion in a new study in the Journal of Religion and Demography. The work builds on a growing body of research carried out at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the Columbia Aging Center. We looked at the environment-religion relationship by analyzing religious affiliation together with a variety of environment and climate change-related indicators at the country level. We also conducted exploratory and descriptive statistical analyses to better understand the associations among religion on one hand, and economic development, greenhouse gas emissions and exposure to environmental stressors on the other.

Basically, we found that nations whose inhabitants are less religious tend to use more resources and produce more emissions; yet, they are also better prepared to deal with resulting environmental challenges, because they are wealthier. On the other hand, nations whose populations are more religious tend to use fewer resources; yet at the same time, they have less capacity to meet environmental challenges, and are subject to more adverse outcomes, in part due to their high levels of poverty and continuing population growth.

map of world with countries shaded by percent of population with religious affiliation
Percentage of population with a religious affiliation, 2010.

We argue that it is important to consider the religious dimension when discussing who wins and who loses amid environmental degradation, resource shortages and global warming. To address issues of environmental justice, we need to identify groups that are disproportionately causing environmental risks, and those who are disproportionately exposed.

A key aim of our study is to assess the religious composition of those subject to environmental changes, and how gaining an understanding can help to craft environmental policies that are more effective in fighting climate change. This aspect is especially relevant in the poorest nations of the world, where close to 100 percent of the population ascribes to a religion, and where religion plays a very important role in providing basic services and social cohesion.

Further, the study looks into the role of religion in shaping human behavior. Religious change can affect social cohesion, consumption trends and willingness to pay for climate-change mitigation or adaptation initiatives. Our findings indicate that religious affiliation relates to greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and gross domestic product on a global scale. Countries with more emissions and greater GDP tend to be less religious, have less population growth and to be better prepared for environmental challenges. Conversely, countries with a greater proportion of religiously affiliated tend to have younger populations, higher environmental risks, lower GDP and lower preparedness levels.

Nations that are more religious may behave differently as they develop economically and technologically. This implies that international disagreements based on religious beliefs, values and viewpoints may play strong roles in the future.

The lowest level of energy use per capita, for instance, is observed among Hindu-dominated countries. The lowest climate-change adaptive capacity is found among countries with Muslim or Hindu majorities. It is conceivable that risk perception, and therefore preparedness, among these religious groups differs from those in other groups. This finding has been backed by previous research.

On the other hand, where the religiously unaffiliated are in majority, levels of climate-change adaptive capacity are the highest. Also, the World Risk Index is lowest for the religiously unaffiliated. In terms of risk of future water shortages, owing to their geography, climate and population dynamics, countries dominated by Muslims and Hindus have the highest levels of water stress. Christian and Buddhist countries have the lowest levels.

As the impacts of climate change become greater, the world is becoming more religious; the share of the world population with a religious affiliation is expected to rise, from 84% in 2010 to 87% by 2050. The world is also becoming more polarized in regard to how different nations affect the environment, with high and growing emissions shares from Europe and China, both regions with a high share of people without religious affiliation.

How exactly growth in the importance of religion might translate to climate policy and the future evolution of the climate system remains to be seen. Since religion may influence which policies are most effective and plausible, it is important to understand the evolution of the religious composition of the world alongside environmental changes. Furthermore, the ethical dimensions of climate change—namely the ways in which different faith traditions disproportionately contribute to or are impacted by climate change—will likely receive growing attention. Finally, identifying effective ways to communicate environmental issues and risks within faith traditions, and encouraging inter-faith and religious-nonreligious collaboration, will be important for addressing future global environmental challenges.

Vegard Skirbekk is a professor of population and family health at the Columbia Aging Center. Alexander de Sherbinin and Susana Adamo are, respectively, senior research scientist and research scientist at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). The other authors of the paper are José Navarro, an independent researcher, and Tricia Chai-Onn, a senior staff associate at CIESIN.


The Movement for Black Lives Has Always Been Spiritual

The Movement for Black Lives Has Always Been Spiritual

by Lawrence Burnley, 100 Days in Appalachia
June 24, 2020

When the Rev. Al Sharpton implored white America to “get your knee off our necks” at the memorial of George Floyd, his words were carried by news outlets across the globe. Meanwhile in the U.S., the Rev. William J. Barber II has been an ever-present voice in the protests, prompting some to place him as the successor to past civil rights greats.

That people of the cloth are at the forefront of the current protests over police brutality should not be a surprise.

From the earliest times of the United States’ history, religious leaders have led the struggle for liberation and racial justice for Black Americans. As an ordained minister and a historian, I see it as a common thread running through the history of the United States, from Black resistance in the earliest periods of slavery in the antebellum South, through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and up to the Black Lives Matter movement today.

As Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matters, says: “The fight to save your life is a spiritual fight.”

Spiritual calling

For many Black religious leaders in the United States, civil rights and social justice are central to their spiritual calling. Informed by their respective faith traditions, it places religion within the Black American experience while also being informed by African culture and the traumatic experience of the Transatlantic trade of African people.

We see this in Malcolm X’s 1964 exhortation that Black Americans should form bonds with African nations and “migrate to Africa culturally, philosophically and spiritually.” Malcolm X’s desire to internationalize the struggle in the U.S. after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca also speaks to the role he saw Islam having in the civil rights movement.

“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem,” he wrote in a letter during his visit to Saudi Arabia. The struggle of Black Americans informed Malcolm X’s reading of the Quran.

Similarly, the interaction between religious text and real-world struggle informed earlier Black civil rights and anti-slavery leaders. Slave revolt leader Nat Turner, for example, saw rebellion as the work of God, and drew upon biblical texts to inspire his actions.

As the historian and Turner biographer Patrick Breen noted in an article for Smithsonian Magazine, “Turner readily placed his revolt in a biblical context, comparing himself at some times to the Old Testament prophets, at another point to Jesus Christ.” In his “Confessions,” dictated to a white lawyer after his 1831 arrest, Turner quoted the Gospel of Luke and alluded to numerous other passages from the Bible.

Turner had visions he interpreted as signs from God encouraging him to revolt.


Such prophetic visions were not uncommon to early anti-slavery leaders – Sojourner Truth and Jarena Lee were both spurred to action after God revealed himself to them. Lee’s anti-slavery preaching is also an early example of the important role that Black religious female leaders would have in the civil rights struggle.

In arguing for her right to spread God’s message, Lee asked: “If the man may preach, because the Saviour died for him, why not the woman? Seeing he died for her also. Is he not a whole Saviour, instead of a half one?”

These early anti-slavery activists rejected the “otherworld” theology taught to enslaved Africans by their white captors, which sought to deflect attention away from their condition in “this world” with promises of a better afterlife.

Instead, they affirmed God’s intention for freedom and liberation in both this world and the next, identifying strongly with biblical stories of freedom, such as the exodus of the Hebrew community from Egyptian enslavement and Jesus’ proclamation to “set the oppressed free.”

Incorporating religion into the Black anti-slavery movement sowed the seeds for faith being central to the struggle for racial justice to come. As the church historian James Washington observed, the “very disorientation of their slavery and the persistent impact of systemic racism and other forms of oppression provided the opportunity – indeed the necessity – of a new religious synthesis.”

At heart, a preacher

The synthesis continued into the 20th century, with religious civil rights leaders who clearly felt compelled to make the struggle for justice central part of the role of a spiritual leader.

“In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in a 1965 article for Ebony Magazine.

Racial justice remains integral to Black Christian leadership in the 21st century. In an interview earlier this year, Rev. Barber said: “There is not some separation between Jesus and justice; to be Christian is to be concerned with what’s going on in the world.”

Recognizing the rich legacy of Black religious leadership in the struggle of racial justice in the United States in no way diminishes the role of historic and contemporary secular leadership. From W.E.B. DuBois to A. Philip Randolph, who helped organize 1963’s March on Washington, and up to the current day the civil rights movement has also benefited from those who would classify themselves as freethinkers or atheists.

But given the history of religion in the Black protest movement, it should be no surprise that the killing of George Floyd has unleashed an outpouring of activism from Black religious leaders – backed by supporters from different faith traditions.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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This article first appeared on 100 Days in Appalachia and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Photo: National Park Service/Flickr

Division or Pluralism? Centering Faith and Spirituality in Diversity Efforts on College Campuses

Division or Pluralism? Centering Faith and Spirituality in Diversity Efforts on College Campuses

by Dr. Cobretti D. Williams
Friday, January 31, 2020


There is no shortage of contested issues on college campuses today. From race to equitable pay for college athletes, many of these issues are explored from different angles and are often taken up by social-justice oriented students and organizations on campus. While the efforts of social change require convergence and different groups coming together for a common cause, a constituency often left out are students and staff working in interfaith organizations and departments on campus. Eboo Patel is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), an organization that works to promote religious pluralism and diversity in higher education. Discussing the differences that face higher education today, he says, “Though our nation is becoming more diverse in every possible way, there are too many examples of difference being divisive rather than constructively engaged. Campuses across America are facilitating positive interactions at orientation, in the classroom, and in co-curricular events that lead to lasting relationships across lines of difference.” A closer look at religious pluralism and interfaith community on campus may provide more insight for social justice initiatives than we previously thought.

At the foundational level, social justice and diversity begin with peer-to-peer interactions among college students. Colleges are becoming increasingly diverse across social identities, as such, the opportunity for meaningful connections across differences is ever-present. IFYC recently released a new report entitled “Friendships Matter” that explores the role of peer relationships in interfaith learning and development. A significant statistic within the report asserts that, among first-year college students, approximately 46 percent have five or more interworldview friendships; furthermore, this figure remains relatively unchanged after their first year of college. Though most social justice and diversity educators focus their efforts on differences in race, gender, or sexual orientation, for example, this report reveals another avenue by which institutions can strengthen conversations and find common ground among college students today.

Creating an environment where students can explore religious plurality and interfaith dialogue is important. It is also beneficial to have leaders that can guide and bridge dialogue between the different constituencies. In an article for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Patel and other leaders of IFYC assert, “Higher education movements lack ‘legs’ if students are not committed or invested, and young interfaith leaders do not emerge unless they have civic spaces within which to develop.” Additionally, research confirms that interfaith programs share similar aims of leadership development for social change. It is clear this work happens in traditional sites of worship such as churches, temples, and monasteries, however higher education also has enough resources to produce similar opportunities for college students. Institutions like DePaul University run successful interfaith leadership programs. Whether or not institutions without religious affiliations have a desire to implement these initiatives is the question to consider.

In tandem with leadership development is civic engagement. Equipped with the awareness and tools to practice interfaith dialogue and cooperation, campuses can engage more with their surrounding communities and build partnerships across public and private spaces. This practice surfaces in a variety of ways, including service-learning and immersion projects built in collaboration within the local, national, or global communities. Furthermore, because students are engaging with interfaith worldviews, and institutions like Seattle University are structurally committed to these efforts, social justice and religious plurality are able to converge on issues involving faith in the queer community, prison reform, or racial justice. Therefore, as far as social justice in higher education is concerned, interfaith practice creates a path for colleges and universities to increase their civic education efforts, external partnerships, and community collaborations.

Despite best practices by some colleges and universities, notably those with established religious affiliations, institutional engagement with religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue still has room for improvement. In order for dialogue on social justice and diversity to broaden its impact through interfaith efforts on college campuses, institutions must reframe and consider their relationship with the topic of religion on college campuses. Though dialogue can often turn to conflict in public spheres of higher education, it is possible to reframe faith and spirituality as potential points of connection rather than a catalyst for division. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a great example of this practice. Jewish and Muslim student faith groups gather for regular interfaith dialogue. Erez Cohen, the executive director of Hillel, has recently organized efforts to bridge conversations between different student faith groups, including the Muslim Student Association and the University YMCA. He says, “immersion programming is an important tool for building interfaith environments. Indeed, in the past three years Hillel has been leading interfaith trips to Israel with the goal of enhancing interfaith learning and understanding. Additionally, the University works with many ministries on our campus to create the Illinois Interfaith Conference each year. This is a unique space where students of different backgrounds and different levels of involvement can come and engage with other faiths.”

In institutions as diverse as colleges and universities, social issues are bound to become divisive; the nature of higher education brings together different opinions, perspectives, and knowledge to inform policies and practices in society. Religion is not absolved from division, but from the evidence of organizations like IFYC and interfaith organizations on college campuses, it can also serve as a point of connection. As Eboo Patel aptly put it, “As people from different backgrounds learn about one another, they grow in appreciation and are more able and willing to work across lines of difference for the common good, and gain profession competency and skills for civic leadership.”

This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SOURCE: Dr. Cobretti D. Williams

Marianne Williamson and the religion of ‘spirituality’

Marianne Williamson and the religion of ‘spirituality’

Galen Watts, Queen’s University, Ontario
October 6, 2019

Marianne Williamson recently burst onto the political scene as a somewhat unconventional candidate vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in the United States.

While she has never garnered more than two per cent in the polls and did not qualify for the third debate — meaning it’s likely her run will come to an end soon — her remarks during the first two Democratic debates, as well as her personality and unconventional campaign parlance, have provoked many media responses.

What distinguishes Williamson from other candidates is her personal and professional background. Prior to her foray into politics, she was an internationally renowned self-help and spiritual author and speaker, known for penning bestsellers like A Return to Love.

A child of the 1960s, Williamson was significantly involved with the New Age and Human Potential movements, even spending time working at Esalen Institute in California, the American “mecca” of alternative spirituality.

Today, she’s known as Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual adviser, and remains an outspoken advocate of mindfulness meditation, yoga and therapy as ways to achieve spiritual and social transformation.

Calling for an awakening

Williamson unapologetically infuses her interest in spirituality into her political campaigning.

On her website she calls for a “a moral and spiritual awakening” in America, speaking to those who are “seeking higher wisdom.” And in her closing statement at the first Democratic debate, she proclaimed that she will harness love to defeat President Donald Trump. NBC News.

A number of pundits have mocked Williamson. But the more common reaction is puzzlement: many just don’t know what to make of a renowned spiritual and self-help teacher running to lead the Democratic Party.

I believe this is largely because few are familiar with the history of alternative spirituality in North America and its ties to progressive politics.

We have seen a dramatic rise over the last few decades in the number of North Americans who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.”

Those in this group, while certainly diverse, have deep spiritual interests, often champion something like the existence of a higher power, remain wary of orthodoxy and place a premium on individual autonomy.

It is these people to whom Williamson appeals. And while they might view themselves as seekers who don’t adhere to traditions, there is a longstanding tradition of alternative spirituality in the West.

Metaphysical movements

In Spiritual but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, religious historian Robert Fuller sheds light on the various metaphysical movements that emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries in America.

These include Swedenborgism, Transcendentalism, Spiritualism, Mesmerism, Theosophy and New Thought, each of which — despite being relatively unknown to most people — have significantly shaped the “spiritual but not religious” trend.

These movements were certainly theologically different, but nevertheless, like Williamson and her followers, they postulated the existence of unseen forces and championed the importance of both mystical experiences and individual freedom. If channelled appropriately, those forces could purportedly lead to self-empowerment.

The influence of these movements was far from marginal in American society. They often attracted well-known writers, politicians and artists. Ralph Waldo Emerson, often called America’s national poet, was an avowed Transcendentalist, as was Henry Thoreau, committed civil rights activist and author.

Others who belonged to some of these movements include psychologists William James and Carl Jung, philosopher Rudolf Steiner and biologist Alfred Russell Wallace.

The spiritual is political

Historian Leigh Eric Schmidt of Princeton University usefully traces the historical ties between these movements and progressive democratic politics in the U.S. in Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality.

Schmidt observes that many of the leaders and spokespeople of these movements were ahead of their time, both socially and politically.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), an important leader of the 19th century women’s rights movement in the United States, is seen in this 1890 portrait.

For instance, Margaret Fuller, an early Transcendentalist and confessed mystic, was also a staunch advocate for women’s rights in the early 19th century. So was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a women’s suffrage activist who sought to claim the privilege of autonomy for the female sex in The Woman’s Bible , published in 1895.

Walt Whitman, the famous American poet and writer – as well as a “curious inquirer into clairvoyance and Spiritualism” – championed, in cosmopolitan fashion, “the good in all religious systems,” according to Schmidt.

Felix Adler, a Reform Jew and founder of the Society for Ethical Culture, published in 1905 The Essentials of Spirituality, wherein he championed the importance of “doing justice to that inner self” in order to do “justice to others.”

Finally, Ralph Waldo Trine, proponent of New Thought and author of the successful In Tune with the Infinite, depicted God as a spirit of infinite life akin to a “reservoir of superhuman power.”

And though Trine’s doctrines were eventually appropriated by entrepreneurial and materialist ministers such as Norman Vincent Peale in the mid-20th century, Trine himself was a staunch progressive and social reformer. He was also a committed vegetarian, playing an active role in the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Why is Williamson so mind-boggling?

In light of this history, Schmidt concludes:

“The convergence of political progressivism, socioeconomic justice, and mystical interiority was at the heart of the rise of a spiritual left in American culture.”

It’s therefore worth asking why a candidate like Williamson so boggles the modern-day mind.

In part, it has to do with the way alternative spirituality developed over the 20th century. The New Age movement of the 1970s was arguably the most prominent. And while the “New Age” label may today be out of fashion, many ideas that were once championed under its banner remain strikingly popular.

In fact, it’s likely that many who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” subscribe to a set of ideas and engage in a variety of practices that were once central to that counter-cultural movement. And carrying forward a long-standing tradition, these ideas tend to appeal to the left.

Religion, after all, is increasingly associated in the U.S. with social conservatism. In turn, for many progressives, especially millennials, “religion” is no longer considered a viable option.

Williamson waves during a climate change summit in Washington, D.C., in September 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

So for those with spiritual interests, the cosmopolitan and inclusive spirituality of Williamson has an obvious appeal.

Of course, one of the tenets of New Age thought, at least in its most radical form, is that politics is a distraction from what really matters: self-transformation and spiritual enlightenment.

This may be why the image of Williamson as president is so difficult to entertain: we tend to think spirituality and politics just don’t mix.

But that’s at odds with the actual history of spirituality in America. Perhaps those who are “spiritual but not religious” will stop drawing a line separating the spiritual from the political. And if this happens, maybe the thought of a Williamson presidency won’t seem so implausible.

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Galen Watts, PhD Candidate in the Cultural Studies Graduate Program, Queen’s University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The impossibility of Indigenous religious freedom

The impossibility of Indigenous religious freedom

by Nicholas Shrubsole. Originally published on Policy Options
November 13, 2017

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) issued its ruling on the first case of Indigenous religious freedom under the modern constitutional order in Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia. The case focused on the development of a year-round ski resort (Jumbo Glacier) on Qat’muk, home of Kⱡawⱡa Tukⱡuⱡakʔis, the Grizzly Bear Spirit. The Ktunaxa Nation said that any disturbance of the land would drive the Grizzly Bear Spirit away, irrevocably impairing their religion, and significantly impacting the vitality and well-being of the community.

Following the 2012 approval of a master development plan for the resort by the provincial minister of forests, lands and natural resources, the Ktunaxa Nation brought the case before the BC Supreme Court (BCSC) and then the BC Court of Appeal (BCCA). The recent SCC decision exposed many of the most troubling prejudices that were bubbling beneath the surface in both the BCSC decision and BCCA decision. Ultimately, the SCC ruling affirms the superficiality of religious freedom in Canada, the impossibility of Indigenous religious freedom in Canada, and the inability of the court to recognize its own colonial and culturally located position — a position reaffirmed under the Charter.

The majority in the Ktunaxa Nation decision succinctly and crudely captured the true spirit of s. 2(a) under the Charter (freedom of conscience and religion). “Religious freedom,” as expressed by the SCC, lacks any measure of depth or recognition of the complexity of lived religious experience and it remains fixed within culturally identifiable limitations that make freedom possible for some and not for others. In the ruling of the Court, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin clarified that freedom of religion is restricted to freedom to hold and manifest beliefs (2017 SCC 54, par. 63).

Belief is, of course, one facet of religion, but not its entirety. Scholars of religion such as Jonathan Z. Smith and Donald S. Lopez (see Critical Terms for Religious Studies) have pointed to the modern Christian origins of the concept of religion and the pivotal shift that took place in the Christian world in the sixteenth century, which saw the concept move from the privileging of ritual to the privileging of internalized belief. It is this popular perception of religion that lies at the foundation of the legal discourse of religion in Canada. As Benjamin Berger reminds us in Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism, law is the product of culture and so too is its construction of religion.

Contemporary scholars of law and religion, notably Elizabeth Shakman Hurd among other contributors to Politics of Religious Freedom, have argued that belief is often prioritized at the expense of embodied and community aspects of religion. As an example, notice how “belief” does not adequately capture the description of religion offered in Article 12.1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), cited by the Ktunaxa Nation in the Qat’muk Declaration:

Indigenous Peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.

Privileging and focusing on belief is therefore a culturally locatable act because the way in which religion is popularly understood (even by the courts) is identifiably, if only residually, Christian in nature. Legally protecting belief, rather than religion, does not adequately address the depth and complexity of religious experience. Wrestling with such matters would require the Court to engage in a self-reflective and complex investigation of the legal construction of a particular type of religion, which the SCC was unwilling to do.

Notably, the Ktunaxa Nation’s Qat’muk Declaration makes no mention of the term “belief.” The Ktunaxa were conscious to the potential for misunderstanding their religion, explaining in the Qat’muk Declaration that “Ktunaxa language does not translate well into other languages and consequently our spiritual relationship with Qat’muk may not be fully understood by others.” They go on to explain, “what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves” and “our people care for the land, the land cares for our people.” This is not worship and cannot so easily be relegated simply as belief or even practice.

For his part, Justice Michael Moldaver in his partially concurring decision was critical of what he described as the “empty” and “hollow” reading of religious freedom by the majority. Justice Moldaver asserted that “courts must be alive to the unique characteristics of each religion.” (par. 128). Justice Moldaver offered a corrective to the majority decision, clarifying that the Ktunaxa were not seeking protection for worship of the Grizzly Bear Spirit, but of the manifestation of belief through practice. While he drew important attention to the complexity and depth of religious experience, he too ultimately privileged belief, locating his partially concurring opinion in the existing cultural construction of religious freedom.

But the most glaring element of the SCC decision in Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia, in my view, is that Indigenous Peoples are not recognized as Indigenous Peoples under the Charter — despite the fact that they possess Aboriginal rights under s. 35 of the Constitution. The chief justice writes, “[W]ith respect to the s. 2(a) [Charter] claim, the Ktunaxa stand in the same position as non-Aboriginal litigants” (par. 58). This is not surprising as the Kelly Lake Cree Nation and Saulteau First Nation were offered a similar reminder in their s. 2(a) claim before the BCSC in 1998.

Under s.35 of the Constitution, the courts have recognized and affirmed Indigenous cultural rights and, more specifically, unique relationships between Creator, community, and the land. “Aboriginal rights” as cited in the Constitution, while fraught with problems in interpretation and application, seek to reconcile the pre-existence of Indigenous Peoples with Crown sovereignty.

In contrast, under the Charter, the courts have set aside Indigenous identities, the legacy of colonialism, and the specific contours of Indigenous religions in favour of legal universalism, where the law stands apart from culture, and treats everyone the same. Justice Moldaver, like the BCCA before him, referred to Qat’muk as public land to which all citizens have a right, rather than contested (or occupied) space in a legal framework that ideally seeks to reconcile Crown sovereignty with the continued existence of Indigenous Peoples on those territories. The relegation of Indigenous Peoples to being just another interest group helped Justice Moldaver to justify the provincial minister’s decision to approve the ski resort based on fiduciary responsibilities. Justice Moldaver did not go as far as the BCCA decision, in which Justice Richard Goepel accused the Ktunaxa Nation of seeking to impose their religion on the public, but the underlying denial of Indigenous identity and the history of colonialism remained.

If we accept the fact that the law is culturally located and that legal culture is rooted within a Euro-Canadian — possibly residually Christian — framework, then the Charter is a potential tool of assimilation.

Some early commentators suggested that the SCC should have considered UNDRIP, which Canada has endorsed, but that would assume that Indigenous Peoples are recognized as Indigenous Peoples under the Charter and they are clearly not. Neither article 12 nor article 25 of UNDRIP, relevant to the subject of Indigenous religious freedom, makes use of the word belief, as the Court did. In fact, the word belief cannot be found anywhere in UNDRIP; instead there are references to the “spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands” and “spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies.” Officially 22 years in the making, UNDRIP is a non-binding declaration constructed by representatives of Indigenous Peoples and of non-Indigenous governments from around the world. Of course, the UN Declaration does not actually matter in the context of the Charter. After all, for the SCC to recognize UNDRIP, it would have to recognize Indigenous Peoples as Indigenous Peoples under the Charter, and this is not the case.

The Supreme Court has certainly come a long way since its last ruling on Indigenous religious freedom in Jack and Charlie v. The Queen (a pre-Charter case that was ruled on by the SCC in 1985), wherein the Court explicitly decided what was and what was not Coast Salish religion. And yet, what may constitute an insurmountable bias remains. If we accept that the law is culturally located and that legal culture is rooted within a Euro-Canadian — and possibly residually Christian — framework, then the Charter is a potential tool of assimilation. Protection under s. 2(a) requires claimants to frame their religion in terms that are recognizable to the legal culture of Canada without reference to the colonial foundations of that very legal system or to the broader colonial context of Canada. This SCC decision indicates that Indigenous religious freedom, under s. 2(a), is currently an impossibility.

Photo: Shutterstock/By Globe Guide Media Inc. Mountain range and glaciers in the Purcell Mountains, near Qat’muk.

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This article first appeared on Policy Options and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

SOURCE: Nicholas Shrubsole

Tutu’s activism for justice shows how theology can be made real

Tutu’s activism for justice shows how theology can be made real

John de Gruchy, University of Cape Town
October 6, 2017

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is internationally acclaimed for his life and work.

He has become best known for his work as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, a base from which he led the churches in the struggle against apartheid for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and his role as Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in which he continued that public role as a leading symbol of black liberation and the bane of white South Africa.

He is also known for his role as the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which he endeavoured to help heal the nation as its father confessor; and lastly in a regularly deferred retirement, as a respected global elder in seeking to resolve both local and international conflicts.

Where does one even begin to start writing in appreciation of such a person and such a life? Fortunately, my task has been defined for me. I have been asked to write about his theology, an unusual request, but important nonetheless, given the fact that everything Tutu has said and done has been shaped, not by political insight and ambition, or by ecclesiastical interests, but by his faith in God, that is, by his theology.

Spiritual leader

Tutu is first and foremost, a spiritual leader, a man of deep prayer. But his deep spirituality is not and has never been the piety of a religious ghetto; exactly the opposite.

It was this that motivated his participation in seeking justice for the downtrodden and supporting the liberation struggle. It was this that gave him the courage to confront political bullies, stand up to abuse even from within his own church, and lead protest marches in the face of overwhelming displays of state power.

Functionaries of the apartheid state as well as those of our current government who abuse their power, look decidedly tawdry alongside the Arch. They are no match for his moral authority, his spiritual depth, or his theological wisdom. Nor can they compete with his humility, humour or humanity.

Unless we begin at this point in acknowledging Tutu’s spirituality we will completely misunderstand who he is and the contribution he makes to the life of the world. Critics who label him a political priest, totally misunderstand him. Tutu is politically astute, but he has had no personal political ambitions, nor was or is he a member of any political party.

Reconciliatory ministry

His social engagement began as he daily celebrated the Eucharist, listening in the silence to discern what needed to be said and done in the public arena. He had learnt this from his earliest teachers, the Fathers of the Community of the Resurrection in Rosettenville and Sophiatown, among them Trevor Huddleston, whose scathing critique of apartheid, Naught for your Comfort, remains a classic.

It goes without saying that Tutu was well versed in the theological doctrines of Christian faith. In particular he had a profound understanding of the incarnational character of Christianity, the faith conviction that

God was in Christ reconciling the world.

Therefore, he stressed the incarnational and reconciling ministry of the church in the life of the world. He discerned the image of God imprinted on the face of all human beings, and believed that despite their sins, none was beyond redemption. Thus forgiveness and the inclusive embrace of the other are fundamental to human and social well-being.

His favourite theological theme was the Transfiguration, a symbol of hope and encouragement in times of darkest despair when the cross looms large and suffering becomes inevitable though potentially redemptive. Tutu drank deeply from the wells of the Hebrew prophets whose words inspired his own as he challenged evil, spoke truth to power and words of hope to the powerless. All the while, he was being drawn deeper into the mystery of God as he journeyed into the suffering of people and trying to find meaning in the darkest of times. On one occasion, in speaking about the untimely death of a young Christian leader, he cried out

God is God’s worst enemy!

That is when theology becomes real – when the very word God becomes difficult to utter, when God is apparently absent. It is at the cross that faith is born. That is the faith of Desmond Tutu; the faith that enabled him to fight injustice and provide leadership in the struggle against oppression. That is Tutu’s theology, profoundly simple, yet simply profound.

John de Gruchy, Emeritus Professor of Christian Studies, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SOURCE: John de Gruchy
MAIN IMAGE: Archbishop Desmond Tutu ‘s deep spirituality drove him to fight for freedom and justice. EPA/Nic Bothma