What role does religion play in motivating exemplary individuals to commit their lives to humanitarian work? How does engaged spirituality sustain their work in the face of great challenges?
These are the questions I will help the University of Southern California’s (USC) Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) explore as a journalist-fellow reporting on, “Spiritual Exemplars: A Global Project on Engaged Spirituality.”
I am humbled, honored, and terribly excited to join a team of top-notch journalists from around the globe to help report on and write profiles about individuals working on humanitarian causes, such as poverty and human rights.
These “exemplars” are often inspired and sustained by their spiritual beliefs and practices. Whether they are Buddhist, Muslim or Christian — or do not adhere to any particular tradition — their spirituality compels them to be engaged with the world.
Religion and spirituality matter. They motivate us. They move us inwardly and outwardly and move with us across the globe. Throughout the annals of time and over vast geographic boundaries, religion and spirituality have helped humans express their deepest questions, confront some of the most critical issues of life, and influenced virtually every human society, civilization, or culture since the dawn of human history.
Despite their ubiquity and importance, religion and spirituality are still relatively misunderstood. Even if they are valued, there remains a blind spot in our critical, but compassionate understanding of how religion and spirituality function in the lives of some of humanity’s most inspiring individuals and compelling communities. In the U.S., but also abroad, we suffer from what scholar Stephen Prothero calls, “religious illiteracy.”
That is why it is important for us to seek to understand religion and spirituality in all of its vast diversity and from a variety of perspectives.
My writing, teaching, and speaking have been geared toward addressing religious illiteracy since I started with my first blog back in 2007. Given that the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture studies, documents and helps communities understand the changes that shape religious cultures in Southern California and across the globe, I saw working with their Spiritual Exemplars Project as a prime opportunity to continue that work. Through my work over the next couple of years I aim to continue to shine light on how religion and spirituality function in the lives of exemplars and their communities in a diverse array of places and from multiple points of view.
If we want to understand our world and how the complexities of the human condition inform behavior in changing contexts, we must pay attention to the role of religious traditions and spiritual practices. Not only will this allow us to better appreciate the human condition and apperceive its highest shared values, but it might improve the possibility of addressing some of humanity’s most urgent shared challenges.
Although the foundations of modern religion are shifting and spirituality as we have long known it is undergoing daily transformations, neither shows any signs of going away. Religion and spirituality will remain tenaciously important and will continue to impact human societies for the foreseeable future, playing a role in addressing the world’s most intractable problems — both for good and for ill.
For these reasons and more, I am beyond thrilled to be a journalist-fellow with the Spiritual Exemplars Project and look forward to the stories, reports, and scholarly work that comes out of our work together over the next two-and-a-half years.
Be on the lookout for stories from the project on this website. If you have not already, be sure to sign up for my e-mail list so you can stay up-to-date with all the latest religion and culture news!