This Week in Interfaith America: A News Roundup

A line of people reading on their phones. Photo: MD Duran/Unsplash.

Here at Interfaith America, we see the nation’s religious diversity as a strength, and we work to tell stories about the ways people work together, across faiths and philosophical divides, to make a positive difference in the world we share. It’s too easy for these narratives to get lost in a river of news about division and conflict, so today we start a new tradition.

Each week, we’ll highlight our top 10 stories from our pages at Interfaith America as well as from Religion News Service, news sites, magazines, podcasts and journals. We look for stories that reflect on religious diversity in interesting ways and shine a light on lives that show religious pluralism as an opportunity, not a cause for despair. These stories are great reads, great listens, and like a salmon slicing upstream through an icy mountain river, they offer a flash of hope against a dangerous current.

They also tell us something important: we’re in this together. 

1. Oklahoma Welcomes Hundreds of Afghan Refugees — Despite the State GOP's Objections

For NPR, Public Radio Tulsa reporter Chris Polansky describes an interfaith effort to help settle Afghan refugees. Supported by Catholic Charities, the sole refugee resettlement agency in Oklahoma, a group that includes Methodists and Muslims is working to collect donations and welcome new neighbors. One pastor calls the joint effort “holy hospitality.”

2. The Religious Activism Behind U.S. Refugee Policy

For a deeper look at how faith has inspired activists to shape government policies, check out this piece in Religion & Politics journal by Lauren Turek, associate professor of history at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Turek’s book,To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations,” came out last year from Cornell University Press.

3. To Be a Field of Poppies: The Elegant Science of Turning Cadavers into Compost

Lisa Wells, writing for Harpers Magazine, takes us inside a fascinating movement to re-think how we bury our dead. A meditation on death, it’s also about life, love and what it means to be human.

4. Dillard University Professor Mona Lisa Saloy Named Poet Laureate in Louisiana

Dawn Araujo-Hawkins at The Christian Century caught our eye with this report about an English professor at an historically Black, United Methodist and United Church of Christ-affiliated university in New Orleans. Saloy’s poetry is about contemporary Creole culture, and her first book, “Red Beans and Ricely Yours,” won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2005. Read more about Saloy here.

5. Remembering John August Swanson: a life dedicated to art, faith and justice

Don’t miss this beautiful piece by Cecilia González-Andrieu in the Jesuit magazine America. She tells the remarkable story of an acclaimed artist, the son of Mexican and Swedish immigrants, who had a “religious sensibility (that) makes his art ecumenical and often interreligious, arising out of lo cotidiano, the small details of life where the sacred reveals itself.”

6. Ken Burns Portrays the Multitudes of Muhammad Ali

In Interfaith America, Eboo Patel writes a personal reflection on one of the iconic personalities of the 20th century, comparing him with another iconic American poet, Walt Whitman. Eboo’s original title for the piece was Muhammad Ali: American Muslim, and he explores how Islam inspired Ali to grow, change and show the rest of us we can do the same.

7. Why this Berkeley Scholar Thinks Climate Change Has an Impact on Religion

Interfaith America Staff Writer Silma Suba is an avid reader who loves books, and she noticed that a national association of religion scholars recently honored “Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550-1850"  by Sugata Ray, a professor at University of California, Berkeley. Silma’s compelling interview with Ray brings the reader to 21st century concerns, raising important questions about colonialism, architecture and some reasons that sacred tests are filled with stories of gardens, mountains and stones.

8. The Marines Reluctantly Let a Sikh Officer Wear a Turban. He Says It’s Not Enough

The headline doesn’t do justice to this story, written by national correspondent Dave Philipps for The New York Times.  Philipps explains that the Marine Corps permitted First Lt. Sukhbir Toor to wear his turban, a sign of his Sikh religious faith, only in very limited circumstances. The piece includes comments from a civil rights attorney at the Sikh Coalition, and for more on that important advocacy organization, check out Silma Suba’s fantastic piece in Interfaith America.

9. Illinois Passes Legislation to Allow Student Athletes to Wear Hijab Without Waivers

In case you missed it, this story from Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service reports on a law that could potentially impact women athletes of all faiths and backgrounds. As Olympic athletes and others push back on uniform requirements for women in sports, an advocacy group in Illinois helped persuade lawmakers that girls should have more say over what they wear while competing.

10. Albert Raboteau, Expert on African American Religion, is Dead at 78

Take a minute to read RNS’ Adelle Banks thoughtful reflection on the life of this longtime Princeton professor, an Orthodox Christian, an icon painter, and an inspiration to some of the most prominent scholars in his field today, from Princeton’s Eddie S. Glaude Jr. to Anthea Butler at the University of Pennsylvania. And if you haven’t yet, go read one of Raboteau’s books. The ground-breaking classic “Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South” is a great place to start.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.