Category: Religion

Pope Francis’ Woman Problem

DIANE WINSTON, Knight Chair in Media & Religion, USC Annenberg

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 4.

Last week, Pope Francis loosed a media tsunami by dropping a pebble of sanity into an ocean of religious angst. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he told reporters on the flight back to Rome after his trip to Brazil.

What did it mean? Was he changing church teaching? And how might it affect 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide?

Habits of the Heart Still Matter to Voters

DIANE WINSTON, Knight chair media & religion, USC Annenberg.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

What role will religion play in the 2012 elections? According to voters, not a big one. A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that most Americans are comfortable with what they know about the candidates’ faith and that their votes will have little to do with the nominees’ religion. In fact, a majority of the electorate is significantly more interested in Mitt Romney‘s tax returns and gubernatorial record than in his beliefs.

Salvation Through Good Works

DIANE WINSTON, Knight chair media & religion, USC Annenberg.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Do something!”

That was the command William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, gave his son upon seeing homeless men huddled under London Bridge. Booth was a man of action who, in his zeal to save souls, valued deeds over creeds.

What would the 19th century Christian evangelist have done about the growing number of poor today, huddled in American cities, suburbs and on farms? According to a recent Associated Press article, economists expect that when the 2011 census figures are released this fall, they will show that poverty has climbed to 15.7%, its highest level in 50 years. Heavily mortgaged middle-class families, out-of-work laborers and debt-ridden college graduates have found themselves suddenly and unexpectedly joining the ranks of the poorest poor.

The Role of Sacred Values in the Iran Nuclear Standoff

MORTEZA DEHGHANI, research assistant professor, USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies, and SONYA SACHDEVA, postdoctoral fellow in psychology, Northwestern University.

This op-ed originally appeared at Aljazeera.

Beneath the intensifying crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme is a startling disconnect between what the two sides perceive to be the target of the West’s sanctions. To the US and its allies, the sanctions aim to cripple the Iranian economy to the point that Iran’s government will realise the error of developing nuclear weapons.

To Iranians, however, the sanctions represent an encroachment on their country’s sovereignty over an issue – nuclear energy – they believe goes to the core of national identity. This view has deep historical resonance because of previous foreign efforts to undermine the nation’s sovereignty – the Western-sponsored coup of a democratically elected government in 1953 – and to interrupt scientific advancement – Iran’s quest for nuclear technology dates to the shah. For these Iranians, the country’s nuclear programme has become a “sacred value”.

What is a “sacred value”? We all intuitively feel that there are certain things and values in our lives – the right to vote, the graves of our ancestors – that we would never give up or compromise no matter how tempting the reward or menacing the threat. What’s more, to even be asked to consider a tradeoff on such matters would be an outrage.

‘Sacred values’

Sacred values play significant roles in many socio-cultural conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian divide is a prominent example. The problem is that sacred values are beyond the reach of traditional diplomacy, which assumes rational actors weighing the costs and benefits of taking a position. Who would bargain away the sacred? But in the case of Iran’s nuclear programme, diplomacy has a chance of succeeding in upcoming talks because Iranians may consider the programme sacred only up to a point.

In 2010, we surveyed Iranian attitudes toward their country’s nuclear programme. The 2,000 participants were young (average age 30), college graduates and mostly male, a sample highly representative of the population as a whole except for the predominance of males.

We presented one group (about 1,400 Iranians) with three different tradeoff scenarios: Would they give up the nuclear energy programme in exchange for material compensation from the United Nations, under the threat of sanctions or in the absence of external pressure?

Grading the Media on Religion Coverage

DIANE WINSTON, Knight chair media & religion, USC Annenberg, and JOHN GREEN, Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, Akron University.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Washington Post.

A visiting Martian might be forgiven for thinking that Americans care more about the religion of prospective presidential candidates than they do about the economy, the environment, health care, or even space travel. And, according to a recent poll, a growing number of Americans would likely agree. Last week a Pew Research Center survey reported that almost two-fifths of the public says the candidates talk too much about their faith.

Thanksgiving Dreamer

  PETER C. MANCALL, professor of history and anthropology, USC Dornsife: “When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, the Algonquian speakers of the region had little anxiety about them. The Indians did not know that the Pilgrims feared the “wild men,”…

Broadening Shoah Remembrance

STEPHEN D. SMITH, Executive Director, USC Shoah Foundation Institute “Last week, Manhattan College also appointed a Muslim woman, Mehnaz Afridi, as director of its renamed Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center. The appointment, coupled with the college’s decision to study…