1. Common Ground: Islam, Christianity, and Religious Pluralism

    The idea of Christian-Muslim common ground remains controversial. There are calls for harmony, but there are also unique truth claims that cannot be ignored. There are positive examples of interfaith action, but events show that religion can divide as well as unite. What is clear is that a powerful spirit of truth is a work in religious communities, offering guidance and meaning to millions of believers. If the power of God is guiding one community, is it guiding all communities? The approach we take to this question will have undeniably important consequences for the way Christians and Muslims live and act together. Scholars have a contribution to make here. By exploring the mechanics of faith traditions, by examining the way communities think about and respond to the spirit of God, by describing in detail the way believers live out of a God-consciousness on a daily basis, scholars can point to ways in which the hearts of believers are similarly moved. Common Ground: Islam, Christianity, and Religious Pluralism is one attempt to put the scholarly enterprise at the service of one of today’s more pressing issues, demonstrating that the highest standards of academia are essential part of the way religious communities fully appropriate the prompting of God’s spirit in their lives.

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  2. J Alexander Thier is Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the US Institute of Peace and chair of the Institute’s Afghanistan and Pakistan Working Groups. Thier leads USIP efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has lived and worked on and off since 1993. He is co-author and editor of, The Future of Afghanistan (USIP, 2009) and was a member of the Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by General James Jones and Ambassador Tom Pickering, and co-author of its final report. He is also a member of the Pakistan Policy Working Group and co-author of its 2008 report, The Next Chapter: The United States and Pakistan. Thier has been with USIP since 2005, when he joined as senior adviser in the Rule of Law Center of Innovation. He built up the Institute’s rule of law programming in Afghanistan, including its pioneering work on establishing relations between Afghanistan's state and non-state justice systems. Thier was also director of the project on Constitution Making, Peace-building, and National Reconciliation and expert group lead for the Genocide Prevention Task Force. Before joining USIP in 2005, Thier was the director of the Project on Failed States at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. From 2002 to 2004, Thier was legal adviser to Afghanistan’s Constitutional and Judicial Reform Commissions in Kabul, where he assisted in the development of a new constitution and judicial system. Thier has also worked as a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, a legal and constitutional expert to the British Department for International Development, and as an adviser to the Constitutional Commission of Southern Sudan. Thier worked as a U.N. and NGO official in Afghanistan during the civil war from 1993 to 1996, where he was the officer-in-charge of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan in Kabul. He also served as coordination officer for the U.N. Iraq Program in New York. An attorney, Thier was a Skadden fellow and a graduate fellow at the U.S. National Security Council’s Directorate for Near-East and South Asia. He received the Richard S. Goldsmith award for outstanding work on dispute resolution from Stanford University in 2000. Thier has appeared as an expert commentator on NPR, CBS and the BBC and has written in the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, among others. He has a B.A. from Brown University, a master’s in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

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  3. Eighty-fi ve percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2008, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.6 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. Prevalence rates of food insecurity and very low food security were up from 11.1 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, in 2007, and were the highest recorded since 1995, when the fi rst national food security survey was conducted. The typical food-secure household spent 31 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition. Fifty-fi ve percent of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs during the month prior to the 2008 survey. Download 2008 USDA Report on Household Food Security in the United States.

    Dr. Mark Nord is a sociologist at the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He leads the Agency's work on measuring and monitoring household food security and conducts research on measurement and determinants of food security. Previous work includes research on natural resources, rural poverty, and migration at ERS and at the Pennsylvania State University, management of relief and development programs of a non-government organization in Bangladesh, and bush flying in the jungles of Borneo. He received MS and Ph. D. degrees in rural sociology from the Pennsylvania State University.

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  4. Said Nursi is a remarkable Islamic thinker who lived from 1877 to 1960 in Turkey. He formulated an account of the faith that is deeply committed to education, dialogue, and non-violence. In this lecture, the Dean and Professor of Virginia Theological Seminary will argue that Christians need their own version of Said Nursi.

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  5. The desire for good governance is universal. Without it justice, equity, security and stability, along with the more concrete needs of sound healthcare, education and basic infrastructure, cannot be counted upon. Good governance itself cannot be sustained without accountability. In most places this is best achieved through some form of democracy. Many Muslim majority countries suffer from poor-governance and a deficit of democracy. In the west, and even within Muslim society, it is common to assume that this lack of democracy is a product of cultural factors associated with Islam. In much of the contemporary discourse about troubled parts of West Asia and the Middle East it is implicitly assumed, if not explicitly stated, that democracy will not take root because Islam and democracy are not compatible.
    Most indicators suggest that ordinary Muslims across the world don’t see there to be a clash between Islamic values and democratic practices. There remains, nevertheless, a strongly held conviction amongst some western and some Islamic intellectuals that the essential character of Islam is incompatible with modern, secular, democratic conceptions of the state. There are many lines of argument against this dismal view but perhaps the most substantial rebuff comes not from intellectuals but from ordinary voters and citizens within democratizing Muslim countries. Contrary to popular opinion democracy is being steadily consolidated in many countries around the world, including many Muslim countries. The most striking recent example of this is found in Indonesia.
    In the eleven years since Suharto was forced to resign Indonesia has made a remarkable transition from being a nation in crisis to becoming Southeast Asia’s only stable, healthy democracy. And in this process Islam has been a significant presence. The world’s largest Muslim country, despite misinformed views to the contrary, is as ‘Islamic’ as any other country in the Middle East or Asia. The leaders who succeeded Suharto, Habibie and Wahid, who might best be seen as transitional presidents were well-known for their earlier leadership of Islamic organizations. Although eccentric and unconventional they pushed through important reforms and raised expectations of what democratic government should look like in Indonesia, upholding secular principles whilst allowing competing religious claims to be marketed to voters. The three parliamentary elections held in 1999, 2004 and 2009 were remarkably peaceful and orderly, despite the challenges of reaching 170 million voters spread across an archipelagic developing nation wider than the United States. All of the large parties made reference to Islam in their campaigns, some Islamic parties appealed primarily to observant Muslims but campaigned on secular principles and some other Islamist parties campaigned for Islamic law and the (eventual) achieving of an Islamic state. The Islamist parties enjoyed their newfound freedoms but failed to live up to their aspirations of achieving broad support as it became clear that nine out of ten voters do not find radical Islamism attractive. In the July 2009 presidential elections the popular incumbent, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his new running mate, the pious but non-Islamist economist Dr Boediono, faced-down claims of ‘not being Islamic enough’ and cruised to victory in the first round of voting to achieve a mandate of 61% against two pairs of opponents whose popularist rhetoric was unable to overcome doubts about their reformist intent. With Yudhoyono tripling his parliamentary vote and the radical Islamist vote remaining static the new cabinet is likely to be even more decisive in the upholding secular democratic principles of Pancasila. At the same time Indonesia has successfully contained a major terrorist threat through open judicial processes, achieved economic growth rates in excess of six percent and steadily advanced a series of reforms supporting the health and education. Much more remains to be done but this is, by any measure, a successful Muslim democracy.

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