President Obama has cited Reinhold Niebuhr's teachings as significant in shaping his ideas about politics and governance. In a public conversation, we discuss the great public theologian's legacy and ideas — and what influence they may play in the future of American politics.
The very words "faith-based" became controversial during the Bush administration, yet Barack Obama has retained the faith-based centers in 11 federal agencies that his predecessor created. And within weeks of assuming the presidency, he announced priority areas for his own White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships — including economic recovery and poverty reduction, abortion reduction, responsible fatherhood, and global interfaith dialogue. In a live, public conversation, we meet the 26-year-old political strategist, Pentecostal minister, and trusted associate of the president who will lead this charge.
Nine Muslims, in their own words, reveal a creative convergence of Islamic spirituality and American identity that is unfolding, largely unnoticed, in the United States. A lawyer turned playwright, a teacher who's a lesbian, a retired federal prosecutor — all giving shape to the nature and meaning of Muslim identity, and sharing how tricky it can be to unravel Islamic religious tradition from the many cultural traditions.
Americans remain divided about how much religion they want in their political life. As we elect a new president, we return to an evocative, relevant conversation from earlier this year with journalist Steven Waldman. From his unusual study of the American founders, he understands why 21st-century struggles over religion in the public square spur passionate disagreement and entanglement with politics at its most impure.
Xavier Le Pichon, one of the world's leading geophysicists, helped create the field of plate tectonics. A devout Catholic and spiritual thinker, he raised his family in intentional communities centered around people with mental disabilities. He shares his rare perspective on the meaning of humanity — a perspective equally informed by his scientific and personal encounters with fragility as a fundament of vital, evolving systems. Le Pichon has come to think of caring attention to weakness as an essential quality that allowed humanity to evolve.
Even among deeply religious Americans, there's no consensus on the proper role of religion in politics. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., recently invited two veteran politicians to address this issue: former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana. They were asked to speak about how they have reconciled personal religious conviction with serving a pluralistic American constituency.
A filmmaker and scholar gives us a parallel story to the ubiquitous news of China's economy and politics. Mayfair Yang discusses the ancient and reemerging traditions of reverence and ritual — revealing background to its approach to Tibet. And, she tells us how China gleaned some of its recent dismissive attitudes towards religion from the West.
The current U.S. presidential election has illustrated how gender, race, and religion can become lightning rods, and may be seen as potential stumbling blocks to leadership. Vashti McKenzie is a pioneering figure on all these fronts. When she became the first woman bishop of the oldest historic black church in America, she declared, "The stained glass ceiling has been pierced and broken." We offer her story, her wisdom, and her good humor as an edifying lens on the American past, present, and future.
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor