FaithWorld

French foreign ministry bureau studies faith issues worldwide

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Bernard Kouchner (L) and Nicholas Sarkozy (R), 10 July 2008/Vincent Kessler

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, one of the original “French doctors” who has been active in humanitarian causes for decades, once said the only major conflict he knew that had nothing to do with religion was the 1969 “football war” between El Salvador and Honduras. With a perspective like that, he naturally asked when he took over the foreign ministry in 2007 where religion figured in its diplomatic analysis and strategy. The answer was that it didn’t really figure in it, at least not in a systematic way. Laïcité — France’s trademark separation of church and state — had created a kind of “we don’t do God” reflex in its diplomacy. Kouchner began a series of internal discussions about the new challenges to diplomacy,  issues such as global warming, terrorism, sustainable development or religion. One of the results was the establishment last summer of a religious affairs bureau at the Quai d’Orsay.

Joseph Maïla, the former rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris appointed to head this bureau, explained the thinking behind this step in an interview that ran on our newswire today. As he explained in that story, the issue has an interesting European dimension, because the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty calls for a regular dialogue with religious groups in Europe. He added that  President Nicolas Sarkozy’s more flexible approach to laïcité also helped bring about a new appreciation of the role religion plays in public affairs. This has nothing to do with any loosening of the actual church-state separation in France, he stressed, but creates an atmosphere in which it’s easier for religious issues to be considered as factors in policy planning. Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Maïla said the bureau’s tasks were to study the links between religion and conflict, follow issues of church-state separation in Europe and advise the ministry on which positions to take on issues where religion is involved. He stressed that France had obviously dealt with international religious issues in the past, when they were clearly relevant to a problem, but didn’t take a systematic approach to faith in public affairs. Now, with a six-person bureau dedicated to the issue, it has one of the largest staffs dealing with the question in Europe. Most other European countries, which don’t have the same traditional reluctance to discuss religion in politics, usually have only one or two diplomats tracking faith issues.

mondes“A new intellectual field, that of understanding the world of religion within that of international relations, has opened up,” Maïla wrote in an article about his bureau in the new quarterly Mondes: Les cahiers du Quai d’Orsay. “Our goal is to serve French diplomacy by strengthening its understanding of religion on the international scene and assuring it is taken account of in our vision of the world.” Kouchner has launched the quarterly in French and English to open the ministry’s analyses of world issues to a wider audience than the narrow group of officials who usually read them. “I thought it was time to present these to the public to share our view of the world, explain the genesis of the ideas we defend and the sense the active diplomacy that the president prefers.” Among the essays is one by the prominent French Islam expert Olivier Roy entitled “Religion in international affairs.”

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from Felix Salmon:

Christian values, only $25.98

Baptist values are going cheap! They're only $25.27 per share, while Methodist values are $25.55, Lutheran values are $25.56, and Catholic values are $25.98 -- the same price as general Christian values.

All these values are brought to you by the good people at FatihShares ("Invest with Conviction"). I'm seeing a long-Baptist, short-Catholic relative value play here; I'm just sad that I can't get the video of this morning's NYSE bell-ringing to work. I was hoping for something a bit more transcendant than usual.

(Via Crigger)

INTERVIEW-Lisbon treaty to boost EU, church contact-Cardinal Dziwisz

dziwisz 2There was something missing from our post yesterday entitled Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church — a link to the story Reuters published based on the interview that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gave to Gabriela Baczynska and me. Since it hasn’t been posted separately on the web, here’s the story:

KRAKOW, Poland, Dec 16 (Reuters) – The Roman Catholic Church should use the EU’s new Lisbon Treaty to make its voice heard on moral issues in a Europe that has lost its Christian moorings, a leading Polish churchman said.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who spent decades in the Vatican as private secretary to the late Pope John Paul II, also said Poland, still one of Europe’s most devout countries, was helping to shore up the faith by sending priests to several continents.

What were the top religion news stories of 2009?

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Hindu lights Diwali candles in Agartala, India, 17 Oct 2009/Jayanta Dey

It’s Top 10 time again. As 2009 nears its end, Time magazine and the Religion Newswriters Association in the U.S. have produced their lists of the main religion news stories of the year. They take quite different views.

Time‘s list is quite broad, the top three being the advance of secularism in Europe, Pope Benedict’s invitation to conservative Anglicans and President Barack Obama’s decision to expand the faith-based office created by George Bush.

The RNA picked Obama’s Cairo address to the Muslim world as its top story, followed by the role of religious groups in the U.S. health care reform debate and the Fort Hood massacre allegedly carried out by an American Muslim officer.

from Raw Japan:

Church attacks shake Kansai

In the minds of many people, religious rivalry could occasionally be expected to  spill over into violence in places as diverse as the occupied West Bank or Glasgow's 'Old Firm' football derby.

Japan's Kansai region, home to the world's most renowned Zen gardens and some of the country's finest cuisine, on the other hand, is not generally seen as a tinderbox of religious tension.

But over the last year a series of mysterious attacks on Protestant churches and other facilities have roiled the area, leaving many churchgoers shaken and perplexed.

Pew measures global religious restrictions

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has come out with a new report that tries to measure, country by country on a global level, government and social restrictions on religion. You can see our coverage of the report here and here and can download the whole report here.

The report, which Pew says is the first major quantitative study of the subject on a global level, ranks countries under two indices — one measures government restrictions on religion, the other social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups. NIGERIA RELIGION

A damaged mosque in Onitsha in southeastern Nigeria

The Government Restrictions Index is based on 20 questions used by the Pew Forum to assess state curbs on religion at the national, provincial and local levels.

GUESTVIEW: European liberals – stand up and speak out in Islam debate

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Posters for minaret ban at Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dr H.A. Hellyer is Fellow of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, author of “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans”and Director of the Visionary Consultants Group.

By Dr H.A. Hellyer

The real inheritors of European liberalism need to stand up and make themselves known because the struggle to maintain pluralism in Europe is only going to get tougher from here on in.

People will differ as to when they started, and why, and who is to blame. But one thing is for sure. The problems in Europe around the Muslim presence are not going to go away – they are going to intensify. And real European liberals are going to have make their voices be counted, or say farewell to a Europe that fought so hard to ensure civil liberties and freedom could find homes on the continent.

GUESTVIEW: Faiths meet at Parliament of World Religions

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The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Paul Knitter is the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York.Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Paul Knitter and Matthew Weiner

In 1893, the Chicago Parliament of World Religions was convened to gather the world’s faiths together for the first time. The organizers had a subversive message they kept hidden from invited speakers from non-Christian traditions: Christianity is the one true faith. They assumed that if all the faiths had a chance to speak publicly to the world, it would be obvious that Christianity was superior. But things didn’t go as planned. As it turned out, the Hindu representative Swami Vivikananda from India stole the show, convincing everyone that Hinduism was as valid a way to worship and experience the divine as any other. The state of the world’s religions was changed forever and the interfaith era had its symbolic beginning.

pwr-buddhistsOver 100 years later, things have certainly changed. The Parliament of World Religions is again under way here in Melbourne, with over 6,000 participants from 200 countries representing every major faith in the world. Now, it is assumed that every faith is valid. Here, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will speak on Wednesday, is by far the most popular speaker, followed by Aboriginal and Native American speakers and others.

from Afghan Journal:

Afghanistan: the Gods of war

[CROSSPOST blog: 27 post: 4308]

Original Post Text:
peshawar twoIn openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.

"Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption - even now, after eight years of war - that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive," he writes.  

"This is nonsense - and dangerous nonsense. It would be far wiser to assume that these militias have people who are every bit as intelligent and professional in their thinking and planning as their western counterparts. They have had three months to think through the Obama leadership’s policy-development process; and much of this thinking will be about how the US changes affect their own plans - not how they will respond to the United States. Thus they may have very clear intentions for the next three to five years that are embedded in detailed military planning; and what is now happening on their side will involve adjustment of these plans in the light of the great rethink across the Atlantic."

from India Insight:

India’s 26/11 – religion no bar

A year ago, after the three-day siege of Mumbai ended and people took to the streets with candles and banners, a group of young Muslim men, carrying a hand-written poster, walked quietly with the surging crowds.

Seeing them, people began to clap spontaneously, applauding their assertion that Islam was a religion of peace, and not terrorism.

Since then, people in Mumbai, which has witnessed some of the worst communal riots in the country in the past, have come together in their grief, crossing barriers erected by politicians in the name of religion.