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ASU talk explores democracy in an age of religious and ethnic nationalism

ASU's Cronkite school and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict will explore religion, nationalism and democracy in upcoming lecture


John Carlson, Daniel Burke and Kristin Gilger speak during an event in the First Amendment Forum at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Arizona, on Oct. 29, 2018.

Movements aimed at preserving a national or religious identity are seeing a resurgence in democracies around the world, yet young scholars and journalists are still finding some difficulty in approaching these subjects in their work. 

In response to this problem and the changing media landscape, the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and ASU's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict teamed up to bring a talk to ASU's Tempe campus about how religious and nationalist movements are impacting democratic institutions.

The lecture, titled Religion, Nationalism and the Future of Democracy, is part of an ongoing series of talks and workshops funded by a grant from the Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism and International Affairs. The project, called Religion, Journalism and Democracy: Strengthening Vital Institutions of Civil Society, has facilitated similar talks featuring journalists such as Daniel Burke, the religion editor for CNN.

The event will be held at Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus at 7 p.m. on March 27. 

Peter Beinart, an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and contributing editor at The Atlantic, will speak at the event later this month. Kristin Gilger, the senior associate dean of the Cronkite school, and John Carlson, interim director of the ASU Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict will speak alongside him.

Gilger said the panelists will discuss how religion is covered as a whole by the media by considering questions like “Are we doing people a disservice in the way that we cover (religion)?" and "Are there other stories that should be told?”

Beinart, who is also a political commentator for CNN, said the panelists are going to touch on the way that politics and national identities are changing in Eastern Europe and in countries like the U.S. and Israel. 

“Politics is changing in a lot of these countries as a result of stronger nationalist (and) anti-immigrant forces to try and promote the idea of a return to traditional heritage values of some of these countries,” he said.                

Carolyn Forbes, the coordinator for the Religion, Journalism and Democracy project and the assistant director of the ASU Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, said exploring the ideas of nationalism and anti-immigrant forces are vitally important because of how they can affect the equality of our democracy.

“Once you begin to have a particular religion fusing with a national identity, or a particular ethnicity fusing with a national identity or particular racial groups fusing with a national identity, how can you have democracy?” Forbes said. “How can all citizens be equal in that case?"

She said a major reason that the two programs wanted to start the project was because of the way that various fields, such as science and the research behind climate change, have been recently "under attack."

“What's motivated our particular project … has been this concern about the assaults on the free press, but also the assaults on academia and the kinds of expertise that a university generates,” she said. 

Forbes said this problem haunts not just the U.S., but most of the world.

“Journalists around the world are under attack,” she said. “There's a movement around the world to attack the free press, to attack working journalists, to attack people who are really trying to bring some light and bring some truth and write about what's actually happening.”

Beinart said attendees of this month's lecture will gain a new perspective on many of the issues being discussed.

“I think (attendees can get) some historical perspective on how some of these other issues have emerged in different countries,” he said. “(And be able to recognize) the fragility of multi-cultural politics and multi-cultural identity in countries where they might have felt this idea of democracy is pretty well-rooted.”

Gilger said that the lecture is open to anyone who consumes media or takes interest in democracy or how religion is portrayed and covered. 

"I would expect that this would appeal to a number of people who are just members of the public, but also any student of journalism, media, democracy, religion or international issues, because we'll be touching on how this plays out in other countries around the world," she said.

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