A handful of recent headlines—angry Orthodox Israelis wearing yellow stars, expected wins for Egypt's Islamic parties and religious coexistence in Kerala, India—underscore religion's potency in global politics. But at the very moment when intelligent and insightful coverage of religion's role is needed, news outlets are cutting back on foreign coverage that might plumb more than the latest body counts and troop deployments.
Thanks to a grant from the Luce Foundation, the Knight Program in Religion and Media has been able to support reporters seeking to contextualize global religion for American audiences. Later this month, we'll unveil the first crop of stories from the 2011 Knight Luce fellows, but we decided to start the year with a few examples of the type of reporting we supported and hope to see more of in the New Year.
In September, Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Caryle Murphy produced a series for Global Post on “Saudi Arabia and The Road beyond 9-11.” Whether exploring Saudi thinkers seeking to reconcile Islamic teachings with democracy, Saudi women nudging religious strictures or Saudi leaders confronting the incendiary aspects of Salafi proselytizing, Murphy illuminates the struggles of those whose voices are rarely heard in legacy news outlets.
Likewise, Nicole Greenfield's dispatches from Argentina, the first Latin American country to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, examine an under-reported story with broad implications. Greenfield homes in on the complex interplay of religion, politics and LGBT rights that have made the new law both welcome and contentious in this traditionally Roman Catholic country.
Finally, Daniel Estrin ended the year with a hard look at how Israeli society has become multicultural in some unexpected ways. Reporting on “Novy God,” the Russian New Year celebration that looks a lot like Christmas, Estrin discovers that observance of the holiday, replete with tree and tinsel, is now widely accepted in the Jewish state. Bottom line: most Israeli rabbis don't like Novy God, but it's good for local businesses.
In the weeks ahead, we look forward to fellows' reports on international Christian adoptions, Afghani Shi'ite migrants and itinerant Tibetan lamas. But we'll also keep an eye on how different news outlets cover the manifold forms of experiential spirituality and resurgent religious politics. Stay tuned.