Islam

The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

Seattle University is one of those institutions that conservative Catholics love to hate.

Not only does the Jesuit school host an annual Lavender Celebration that has honors such as the “Sylvia Rivera Award for Queer Activism,” but it includes faculty who write books such as “A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion.” Alhough it's odd that a Muslim cleric might feel at home there,  what is interesting is that the story about this imam first ran in the Oregonian.

The premise of Abdullah Polovina's story sounds like the start of a bar joke:
A Muslim imam walks into a Catholic university...
Except it's true. Polovina, who leads a congregation of Bosnian Muslims in Portland, did walk into a Catholic university.
And in June, he'll walk out to "Pomp and Circumstance." The 41-year-old recently completed a master's degree at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry, where he was the first Muslim to ever enroll.
"I was looking for a place to be accepted as myself and to be the true face of Islam, though I am not the best follower," Polovina said.

I first spotted this story in a Washington state newspaper, which had picked it up because there’s a reporter at “the Big O” who has reinvigorated the religion beat. Or the “faith and values” beat, as they call it. Whatever.

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State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

JOSHUA’S QUESTION:

Ed Stetzer suggests the rise of the “nones” -- the religiously unaffiliated -- is a dual trend. On the one hand, the more nominal “cultural Christians” are no longer self-identifying as Christians, and on the other hand the more theologically conservative Christians are becoming more robust. What are the political consequences?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Following Joshua’s posting, the Pew Research Center issued an attention-getting “Religious Landscape Study” of the U.S. that appears to support such a scenario. Introductory notes: “Nones” is shorthand for folks who say “none” when pollsters ask about their religious self-identity. The Pew study calls them “unaffiliated,” whether agnostic, atheist, or the largest subgroup,  those whose religious identity is “nothing in particular.” Stetzer is a church planter turned LifeWay researcher and seminary teacher on mission analysis.

Pew has produced a mass of data that will be chewed on for years. A huge sample size of 35,071 U.S. adults made possible accurate and detailed breakdowns for religious groups. The respondents were interviewed in mid-2014 by phone in either English or Spanish. Unlike most polling with its crude categories, scholars helped Pew frame careful questions to separate out “mainline” Protestants (in 65 sub-categories) from the more conservative “evangelicals.” Keep in mind that there are also significant numbers of self-identified “evangelicals” in “mainline” groups, and in the third Protestant category of “historically black” churches. Since Pew posed these same questions to another large sample in 2007, it can offer timeline comparisons.

The two surveys show that, yes, the “unaffiliated” are increasing. They constituted 16.1 percent of the population in 2007 and jumped to 22.8 percent as of 2014 to become the nation’s second-largest religious category. Evangelical Protestants maintain first place with 25.4 percent of Americans versus the previous 26.3 percent.

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Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

It's complicated.

Asking where religious communities stand on capital punishment is not a simple question.

But in the wake of the death sentence handed down Friday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, give the Boston Globe credit for recognizing the news value in that question.

The Globe's compelling lede captures the emotional nature of the faithful's reactions:

They are torn.
The congregation at St. Ann Church where the family of Martin Richard attends Mass is struggling with a federal jury’s decision Friday to sentence Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.
“You don’t want to see another life gone, but when you know the family, you’re sad,” said Kathy Costello, 54, a member of the Dorchester church and a teacher at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, where Martin went to school.
The video showed he placed the bomb very close to the Richard family, she noted. “We’re torn.”
A similar sentiment was expressed in Greater Boston’s churches, mosques, and temples Sunday as religious leaders and congregants largely condemned the sentence.

Keep reading, and the Globe quotes a half-dozen other sources, including more Catholics, Muslim leaders, a Jewish rabbi and Protestant pastors.

While I applaud the Boston newspaper pursuing this timely angle and reflecting a diversity of sources, the story itself presents a rather shallow view of this complicated subject. 

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Ex-Muslims: The Guardian produces long indepth, yet leaves much unsaid

Ex-Muslims: The Guardian produces long indepth, yet leaves much unsaid

A furtive, fearful group -- Muslim unbelievers -- gets a massive, 3,200-word spotlight in The Guardian, with however mixed effectiveness. The indepth details the plight of people who are rejected by their families and communities, and sometimes threatened with death.

“If someone found out where I lived,” one Sulaiman Vali says, “they could burn my house down.” A woman, who gives only the pseudonym of Nasreen, adds that "it's almost normal now to get threats." And when a Kenya-born Muslim abandoned his faith, one of his brothers told him that "the penalty sharia law stipulates for apostasy is capital punishment," the Guardian says.

The process of radicalization has been studied extensively, the newspaper says, but it adds that those who leave Islam itself are hardly noticed:

Although it is fraught with human drama – existential crisis, philosophical doubt, family rupture, violent threats, communal expulsion, depression, and all manner of other problems – the apostate’s journey elicits remarkably little media interest or civic concern.
No one knows what numbers are involved, few understand the psychological difficulties individuals confront, or the social pressures they are compelled to resist. As with many other areas of communal discourse, insiders are reluctant to talk about it, and outsiders are either too incurious or sensitive to ask.

Actually, the Guardian does get a rough estimate of numbers with the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, which says it advocates for some 350 people a year. The newspaper also interviews the leader of Faith to Faithless, a joint voice for former believers.

Although the Guardian doesn't try to say that every Muslim would kill someone who left the faith, it does bring up the hacking murder of a secular blogger in Bangladesh last week, the third in that nation thus far this year. "And in an era in which British Islamic extremists travel thousands of miles to kill those they deem unbelievers, an apostate’s concern for his or her security at home is perhaps understandable."

The the newspaper gives lots of room to the fears and accusations of its interviewees -- some of them fresh insights, some rather stale. Much of them -- a whopping 17 paragraphs! -- come from Nasreen, probably because she did an anthropological dissertation on "the ex-Muslim reality" for the University of London.

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Maybe Al Jazeera America was a brand that just wasn't meant to work out

Maybe Al Jazeera America was a brand that just wasn't meant to work out

Remember Life Savers soda, a misguided 1980s idea from the marketers of Life Savers hard candies, the sweet-treat so named because they resemble mini life preservers? You don't? Well, neither do I. But Google "worst branding flops" and it shows up again and again.

I can imagine the shocked brain trust behind Life Savers soda sitting around a conference room table flabbergasted that it's bright idea was utterly rejected by consumers who -- surprise! -- equated it with drinking too-sweet liquid candy. What went so horribly wrong in a nation where half of all consumers guzzle at least one sugary drink a day?

Maybe the answer is negative linkage -- like the New Coke thing. And here's another example: It appears we may soon get to add two-year-old Al Jazeera America (AJA) to the list of noted branding miscalculations.

As GetReligion readers may know, the Qatar government-funded television network is drowning in management and staff problems, much of them self-inflicted. Then there's the network's minuscule viewership and the more than passing criticism of the entire Al Jazeera enterprise (by which I mean AJA, the older Al Jazeera English, AJE, and the parent Al Jazeera Arabic channel) as being anti-West and pro-Sunni Islamist.

(For the record, I'm a very spotty viewer of AJA's and AJE's online feeds but a somewhat more frequent reader of their Web articles. I've not watched AJA's TV product, which is unavailable on my local cable system.)

I'm not at all surprised by AJA's problems, particularly given the American public's general lack of interest in international news coupled with its post 9/11 suspicion of all things Arab and Muslim, which has made it exceeding difficult for AJA to gain U.S. broadcast outlets and, therefore, exposure to potential viewers.

Let's face it. American Arabs and Muslims generally have a pretty big p.r. problem right now.

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While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

Movers and shakers from the realms of media and politics can’t get enough of those five Sunday morning TV news gabfests from Washington. Meanwhile, millions of churchgoers ignore the weekly action, unless they religiously remember to set their DVRs.

It’s an important season for these influential shows due to the upcoming  presidential campaign, tight competition for ratings, and three big changes in the cast of characters.

On behalf of his fellow geezers, the Religion Guy is tickled that spry Bob Schieffer, 78, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” regularly grabs more viewers than the younger hosts.  This summer he retires to be replaced by John Dickerson  (a former colleague at “Time” magazine). After last year’s tumult over David Gregory, NBC’s venerable “Meet the Press” is gaining ground with replacement Chuck Todd. In the third switch, CNN cable has tapped Jake Tapper as Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union” successor come June.

The other two personalities: Chris Wallace, Son Of Mike and a onetime “Meet the Press” anchor, has led “Fox NewsSunday” the past dozen years. It’s much the ratings also-ran on broadcast but nears audience parity due to Fox News cable reruns.  Onetime Friend Of Bill George Stephanopoulos continues on ABC’s “This Week.” (Religion beat veterans know his father Robert as the longtime dean of Greek Orthodoxy’s archdiocesan cathedral in New York, and his mother Nikki as the Greek-American church’s news director.)

Here’s what we got in the entirety of the five shows for May 10, chosen because there was no one commanding news story gobbling up air. That would have allowed for a timely little roundup on religion and the 2016 race.

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Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

The Pew Research Center scored ample ink at GetReligion and elsewhere with its important April report on global trends that all religion writers will want to keep on file: “The Future of World Religions: Growth Projections, 2010–2050" (.pdf file here). The 245-page publication provides religious population estimates as of 2050 for each of the 198 nations and territories that have  populations of 100,000 and above, by calculating such factors as birth rates, age distribution, migration, life expectancy and  rates of switching between religions in 70 nations for which we have data.

The headline item was the Pew team’s estimate that “by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” (Pew explains that Muslims might have outnumbered Christians sometime between 1000 and 1600 as Muslim forces repeatedly invaded Christian strongholds and the Black Death decimated Europe. But we’ll never know because estimates for the Middle Ages are “fraught with uncertainty.”)

The most significant response to Pew’s report (.pdf file here) comes from another essential resource for journalists, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  That analysis tapped the annual CSGC survey for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, which was expanded this time to include projections to 2050 (.pdf file here).  This center, which the Religion Guy recently visited, provides statistics for various reference books and has just began work on a 3d edition of its World Christian Encyclopedia.

As of 2050, CSGC projects a slightly lower global count than Pew for Muslims at 2.7 billion, and a considerably higher 3.4 billion for Christians.

Why the disparity?

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Muslims in Texas: Stereotyping mars New York Times' otherwise excellent front-page story

Muslims in Texas: Stereotyping mars New York Times' otherwise excellent front-page story

In reporting on the Muslim experience in the Dallas area, a front-page story in today's New York Times seems a bit bipolar.

On the one hand, the report generalizes in a negative way about Texans who are not Muslims, characterizing the state as "accommodating of bigotry" but failing to provide any real evidence.

On the other hand, if you keep reading, the Times actually does a nice job of reflecting real Muslim voices — and their nuanced perspectives on a state and nation they love and neighbors they describe as tolerant and respectful.

Of course, the news peg for this timely story is Sunday night's shooting outside a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland.

After setting the scene, the Times moves to portray Texas — "and Dallas in particular," as the newspaper puts it — as bigoted: 

Muslims in the Dallas area have worked hard to find their footing in the conservative Christian culture of the Texas suburbs, and the shooting on Sunday in Garland set off another vigorous effort to defend their faith and their American ideals, while also condemning extremism of any kind.
Texas, and Dallas in particular, has been both welcoming to Muslims and accommodating of bigotry. Even as the numbers and economic clout of Muslims continue to grow — an estimated 200,000 now live in the Dallas area — they have faced a series of political and cultural challenges just in the past few months.
The shooting in Texas, showcasing that there are Islamic extremists in the United States encouraged by radicals overseas, comes just as Muslims here have been confronting suspicions about their faith and loyalty.
An imam who gave a nondenominational prayer at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in February, at the invitation of organizers seeking to be more inclusive, received so many hateful comments on social media afterward that he canceled a second scheduled appearance there.
In January, at an annual lobbying day in the State Capitol for Muslims, Molly White, a state representative, told her staff members that any Muslim who entered her office must be asked to pledge allegiance to America and its laws and to renounce Islamic terrorist groups.
The Texas Legislature is also considering a bill, similar to ones passed in other states, that would prohibit basing decisions in state courts on foreign legal codes. It was proposed by conservative activists who contend that the goal of Muslims in the United States is to gradually impose Islamic law, or Shariah — an assertion that Muslims say is false.

How has "Dallas in particular" been accommodating of bigotry? The Times provides no evidence and asks no non-Muslim leaders — political, religious or otherwise — to respond to that claim.

 

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