Sunday, December 27, 2009

International Religious Freedom Report 2009

Happy Break, everyone!

I'd say that I'm procrastinating - but since there's nothing to do over break... I'll say that I'm having fun with random acts of entertainment. Anyhow, I started reading the 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom (from the International Religious Freedom department (under the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor -- which I didn't know even existed!) and I thought I'd share in case anyone else is interested in the state of "religious freedom" in the world. So far I've read most of the "executive summary" which has great paragraph summaries for each country of interest. There is even a section of the "executive summary" about interfaith actions!!

What surprised me most is that the United States is not analyzed at all in the report. I guess the goal of the department is not supposed to be focused on the internal state of affairs... but whose job is it to figure out what's going on in our own country and subject us to the same kind of strict guidelines? I'd really like to know how the US would measure up to its own standards.


~ Jenny

Friday, December 4, 2009

Four Months and Seven Meetings Ago...

As the quarter comes to a close, I want to reflect on where we have come, and where we have yet to go. At the beginning of the year, F.A.I.T.H was essentially Ansaf and myself (with Jenny's loving technical support) running around to every possible faith event, religious chaplain, and student leader on campus with evangelizing fervor, throwing out a big idea and a whole lot of hope. Some of you were at our first meeting, where we described a world in which the dominant public discourse on religious interaction is of violence and mutual incomprehensibility, perpetuated by a minority--a loud, vociferous minority--of religious totalitarians. We questioned our complicity in facilitating the rise of such polarizing voices, either through our personal unwillingness to engage the faiths of others, or through institutional failures to encourage such initiatives. We articulated the need for a more visible, active engagement between the vibrant and diverse religious, secular, and service-oriented communities on campus: providing the lie to the clash of civilizations by organizing interfaith cooperation for social justice. We figured it would take about a couple of weeks.

Now, four months later, we are a full-fledged (albeit very penniless) VSO, with a motivated core leadership team, and (way too many) exciting projects on the table. We have been featured in campus newspapers and national journals alike. We have already built partnerships with the tireless Faiths Act Fellows, Initiative Against Malaria, and Challah for Hunger; while quickly moving on to collaborative projects with MSAN, the Haas Center, and Teach for America. And we are operating on multiple levels at once: both organizing direct interfaith service opportunities on the ground, and working to institutionalize interfaith cooperation from the top.

The latter has become critical to the way we view our success over this year. Increasingly, our focus is on changing the very ecology of campus with regard to interfaith relations. We want to understand the mechanisms by which Stanford understands its religious diversity, and takes active measures to translate that diversity into pluralism. And we want to function both as instigators of and conduits for such change on campus: through the Office for Religious Life, Office of the Provost, Haas Center for Public Service, Residential Education, ASSU Diversity Chairs, Alumni Network, and New Student Orientation, among other institutional entities.

Most importantly, however, we want to insert the identity category of "interfaith leader" into the consciousness of all Stanford students. This year, for Ansaf and myself, can only be about planting seeds in as many corners of campus as possible. But these need to be nurtured by successive individuals who take ownership of that same identity category: who can read a story like the recent atrocious act of the Swiss government banning the presence of minarets, and instead of dividing it along traditional religious or secular lines, advocate for the rights of others through their own shared experience of marginality.

I think of people like my friend Joe Gettinger, president of the Jewish Students Association, who immediately after this news emerged, sent me this article on Jewish criticism of the ban. Joe's awareness, attitude, and actions demonstrate to me the fundamental characteristics of interfaith leadership: a clear vision of the faith line, a knowledge base of one's own tradition and those of others, and the skill to build positive relationships between different communities. A recent IFYC poll showed that while 70% of college students have heard derogatory comments about other religions, only 25% would have spoken out against them. What are these statistics at Stanford, and who will take the lead to change them? If Joe is any indication, we are beginning to receive answers to the latter.

The work ahead is considerable, but significant. We have the potential to make interfaith cooperation--like environmentalism, human rights, and other movements--a social norm and not just an anomaly. That "huge, foolish project," as Rumi would call it, is well underway at Stanford. Will we turn out like Noah? You tell us. Better: We'll tell each other.

May you all have a blessed winter break.