The New York Times’ Adeel Hassan reports that the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination has ordained its first minister of gun violence protection. The Rev. Deanna Hollas is believed to be the first clergy person to hold such a national role. Hassan writes, “A Texas native who describes herself as ‘no stranger’ to gun culture, Ms. Hollas, 52, said she was committed to ensuring that Americans from all sides of the gun debate stop talking past one another.”
For The New Yorker, Eliza Griswold reports on sexual assault allegations against Pattabhi Jois, the influential founder of Ashtanga yoga, who died in 2009. More than a dozen of his former students have accused him of sexually assaulting them in yoga studios in India and the United States. Griswold writes, “This is only the latest in a string of scandals involving powerful men within the yoga community that date back decades.” The allegations put a focus on yoga culture and the authority of popular yogis, who in the Western context can be treated like rock stars.
Religion News Service’s Adelle M. Banks reports on the results of a recent Pew Research Center survey of American religious literacy. Banks writes, “Less than 1% of respondents got a perfect score on the 32 survey questions centered on the Bible; elements of Christianity, Judaism and other world religions; atheism and agnosticism; and religion and public life.” Drawing on the expertise of Boston University scholar Stephen Prothero, author of the book “Religious Literacy,” the survey found the average respondent answered 14.2 of the 32 questions correctly.
For HuffPost, Eve Fairbanks reports on a new generation of young women exploring vocations as Catholic nuns. The number of nuns has dropped from 180,000 in 1967 to fewer than 50,000 in 2010, but the thanks to apps such as VocationMatch.com, the religious life is attracting some young, high-achieving women. Fairbanks writes, “And the aspiring sisters aren’t like the old ones. They’re more diverse: Ninety percent of American nuns in 2009 identified as white; last year, fewer than 60 percent of new entrants to convents did. They’re also younger.”
John Eligon of The New York Times reports, “In many black communities, the abortion debate is inextricably tied to race in ways that white communities seldom confront.” Some African American pastors and congregants embrace a religiously conservative view that abortion is wrong, Eligon writes, “But having seen firsthand how their communities have been hurt by high incarceration rates, economic disinvestment and a lack of educational opportunities, some have a hard time embracing what they see as one-size-fits-all abortion bans.”
Hannah Beech of The New York Times reports on radical religious-nationalist movements in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, two Buddhist-majority nations where militant strains of Buddhism are taking hold. Politically powerful monks warn that Buddhist populations are under siege, inspiring Buddhist mobs to attack Muslim minority populations. Beech writes, “As the tectonic plates of Buddhism and Islam collide, a portion of Buddhists are abandoning the peaceful tenets of their religion.”
For The New York Times, Sam Kestenbaum profiles Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, with a focus on the mystical text that inspired her performance at the recent debate and fueled her career as a celebrity spiritual guide. Kestenbaum writes, “She was, in fact, drawing directly from a homegrown American holy book called ‘A Course in Miracles,’ a curious New York scripture that arose during the heady metaphysical counterculture of the 1960s.” While some have dismissed her theology as shallow, others embrace her self-help ethos.
For The New York Times, Courtney E. Martin writes about “Civic Saturdays,” gatherings that feature fellowship, poetry, and readings and are designed to encourage greater civic engagement across political lines. The brainchild of Eric Liu and Jena Cane, this civic analogue to church has hosted meetings across the nation and includes a free “Civic Seminary” funded by grants from the Einhorn Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Martin writes, “The heart of the service is the sermon, designed to get congregants thinking beyond the day’s headlines to deeper themes of their democracy.”
The Boston Globe’s Zoe Greenberg and Danny McDonald report on a march in Boston that included about 1,000 Jewish activists and others protesting immigrant detention centers. Many protesters wore Jewish prayer shawls and head coverings and were part of a nationwide push of young Jews advocating for immigrant rights across the country. Greenberg and McDonald write, “Stosh Cotler, the CEO of Bend the Arc, a national group of progressive Jews, said Jewish activists draw on a long history of migration, asylum-seeking, and detention when they fight for migrants’ rights today.”
For Wired, Amanda Schaffer reports on the battle inside Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community, where misinformation about vaccines spread through a tight-knit parents network and contributed to a measles outbreak in New York City. The piece focuses on an Orthodox nurse’s efforts to educate parents about vaccine safety, as well as one woman’s campaign to spread fears of vaccines through conference calls and a popular handbook. Schaffer writes, “Roughly 40,000 copies of the pamphlet appeared in kosher grocery stores and by apartment doors in Williamsburg and Borough Park, as well as in ultra-Orthodox communities in upstate New York and New Jersey.”