Living Questions | WYPR

Living Questions


Today, a conversation about the relationship between religion and environmentalism on another installment of Living Questions, a monthly series exploring faith in the public sphere. 

Some have decried President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord as a “dishonor” to God. To what extent does faith play a role in motivating environmental activists? What do religious scriptures and faith leaders say about the human responsibility to protect the earth?

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is a Baltimore-based rabbi, writer, and environmental advocate.  She is the director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center. She is also the founder of the Baltimore Orchard Project, a non-profit coalition of Baltimorians dedicated to growing the urban orchard and providing free healthy local fruit to people living in Baltimore’s food deserts.

Jodi Rose is the executive director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, a 5-year-old network of nearly 200 congregations working on the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake watershed.

Emmalee June Aman is a convert to Islam and the founder and lead advocate of Winds of Change Advocacy, a consulting business which advises environmental groups on effective ways to organize and mobilize. She also helps lead the Dayspring Permaculture Garden, a communal farming experiment underway on a private 200-acre environmental preserve and interfaith retreat in Germantown, MD.

Photo courtesy

Today it's another edition of our monthly series called Living Questions – a series produced in collaboration with the ICJS, the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies here in Baltimore – that explores the role of religion in the public sphere.  

On today’s program, we’re going to be looking at the impact of the 112-day-old Trump Administration on religious freedom and tolerance in the United States.  Much has been said and written about the polarization in American political dialogue since the November presidential election, but we’re going to focus on how Donald Trump’s election victory has affected the way diverse religious groups interact with the larger society, and how presidential actions may have improved or worsened the climate of religious freedom -- one of America’s bedrock values.

Joining Rob to examine these questions are three leaders in their respective faith communities: 

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, which describes itself as a non-profit “strategy center…advancing faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.”  He is also a contributing editor to Commonweal Magazine, and the author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church, published in 2015. His analysis has been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Commonweal, and the National Catholic Reporter.   John Gehring joins us from NPR studios in Washington.

Joining Rob in Studio A is Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg.  He has been the Rabbi at the Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill here in Baltimore since 2010. He is a fellow in the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and is a contributing author to Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation about Rabbinical Education.  He is a trustee of the ICJS.

Also in the studio is Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat.  A native of Syria who has lived in the United States for nearly 30 years, Imam Arafat serves as the President of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland, and is the president and founder of the Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation, a non-profit group that provides religious and cultural training, consultation and orientation services for foreign exchange students and for the staff of the State Department’s Youth Exchange Study Program.

Photos by Sigrid Estrada

In this week when Jews celebrate Passover and Christians celebrate Easter, it’s another installment of Living Questions, our monthly series in which we explore the role of religion in the public sphere.

Today: the thorny issue of anti-Judaism in some of the great works of Christian art, with two writers for whom the famed 18th-century German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, is a central focus.   

Lauren Belfer is a novelist.  Her latest book, And After the Fire, follows the journey of a Bach cantata as it changes hands over the course of two hundred years.

The music scholar Michael Marissen has written extensively about the religious and often anti-Jewish sentiments in the texts that Bach chooses to set to his glorious music.

His latest book is called Bach and God.   Marissen also explored this topic in a monograph he co-wrote in 2005 with Tom Hall and former ICJS executive director Christopher Leighton, called The Bach Passions in Our Time: Contending with the Legacy of Antisemitism.  

Confronting the legacy of anti-Semitism in the arts, on this edition of Living Questions, a collaborative production of WYPR and the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies (ICJS).

photo courtesy

This is another installment of Living Questions, a program produced in collaboration with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies that explores the role of religion in the public sphere.  On today’s edition, guest host Rob Sivak leads a discussion about "school choice" in Maryland.

Ever since the 2010 Republican wave gained control of the US House, Senate, and governor's mansions across the country, states have been introducing school voucher programs and voucher-like initiatives such as tax credits or education savings accounts.  This year, 31 states have passed or introduced bills to create or expand some private school-choice program.

Last year, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan proposed, and the Maryland legislature approved, a $5 million program for the Maryland State Department of Education called BOOST -- Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today -- that funds vouchers, or scholarships, for students who are eligible for the free or reduced–price lunch program to attend eligible nonpublic schools.  In other words, low-income families who qualify are given some of the public funds that the state normally sends to public school districts, and allowed to use that money to pay some or all of the tuition at a religious or non-religious private school of their choice.  The governor has proposed raising BOOST’s funding to $7 million in his new 2017/2018 budget, and wants to raise it to $10 million a year by 2020.

The school voucher program has passionate supporters and equally passionate detractors, who charge that the cost of the voucher program is draining badly needed funds away from the public schools, and essentially subsidizing families already attending private religious schools. Joining Rob in the studio to discuss the pros and cons of Maryland’s school voucher program are two people on opposite sides of the issue: 

Matt Gallagher is a Baltimore native, and the President and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation, a Baltimore-based community and enterprise development grant organization.  Last year, he was appointed by leaders of the Maryland legislature as chairman of the 7-member advisory board of BOOST, which runs the Maryland State Department of Education's school voucher program. 

Meredith Curtis Goode is Communications Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The non-profit legal watchdog group has opposed school vouchers. It’s called for the BOOST program to be terminated and its funds used to support the state’s public school system.

Creative Common

Today, another installment in our monthly series, Living Questions, in which we examine the role of religion in the public sphere.  We’re producing this series in partnership with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.

There’s been a sharp rise in anti-Muslim violence in the United States over the past two years, which coincides with the divisive presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump.  Negative perceptions of Muslims are nothing new.  Nearly half of all Americans believe Islam is a faith more likely than others to encourage terrorism.  

These notions have been fueled by several high-profile terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States by self-proclaimed “jihadists,” but they’ve also been advanced by a well-organized chorus of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US that started long before President Donald Trump started campaigning on a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the United States.  One week after he assumed office last month, he issued a controversial executive order that attempted to halt immigration from 7 Muslim-majority countries, including an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.  That order has been stayed by a federal court.  

Last November, Mr. Trump’s former national security advisor. Michael Flynn, described “Islamism” as “a vicious cancer” in the bodies of every Muslim that he warned “must be excised.”

For many American Muslims, that kind of rhetoric has posed challenges to their basic safety. 

Next month, the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies will begin a series of lectures called Confronting Islamophobia

Today we’ve invited three Islamic scholars to Studio A to discuss their own experiences "confronting Islamophobia" and how evolving American perceptions of Islam have been influenced by the new political landscape in Washington:

Imam Tariq Najee-ullah is the Interim Resident Imam of Masjid Muhammad, a mosque in Washington, DC, and he’s the founder of DC Musliman, which uses interfaith activities to address social issues…

Kristin Garrity-Şekerci (sheh-CARE-jee) is a Research Fellow and program coordinator at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, a multiyear research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square. 

And Nazir Harb Michel is a senior research fellow with the Bridge Initiative.  He has worked with the Woodrow Wilson School training future policy makers and analysts to detect and counteract Islamophobia in legislation.

Image courtesy Victory Fellowship

It’s time for another installment in our monthly series, Living Questions, in which we examine the role of religion in the public sphere.  We’re producing this series in partnership with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.

Today, we’re actually going to be talking about the role of religion in a not-quite-so-public sphere.  Tom's guests are two Lutheran pastors who bring their ministries to Maryland prisons, and a religious scholar who’s taught classes on the Hebrew Bible for Maryland inmates.

The Rev. Gerry Rickel is the Pastor at St. Dysmas, a Lutheran community in the Maryland prison system.  The Rev. Susan Beck is the pastor at The Shepherd of the Glen Lutheran Church in Glenwood.  She works with Gerry Rickel in his prison ministry. And joining Tom on the line from public radio station WAMU in Washington is Dr. Jerome Copulsky. He is a Scholar-in-Residence teaching religion at American University’s Department of Philosophy and Religion, and has taught classes on the Hebrew Bible at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup.

Photo courtesy ICJS

Today, another installment in our monthly series, Living Questions, in which we examine the role of religion in the public sphere.  We’re producing this series in partnership with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.

Following the riots and uprising in April of 2015, the ICJS embarked on a two-part project they called Imagining Justice in Baltimore.  The first part consisted of three lectures delivered earlier this year by Religious scholars from outside Baltimore.  Dr. Robert Franklin, from Emory University in Atlanta offered the Christian perspective.  Dr. Marc Gopin of George Mason University offered the Jewish perspective, and Dr. Najeeba Syeed of the Claremont School of Theology in California considered the notion of justice from the Muslim perspective.


Today, in the November installment of our monthly series, Living Questions, a look at Native American spiritual practice and the sanctity of tribal land.  We’ll examine how tribal traditions have factored into the months-long conflict between the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota and Energy Transfer Partners, a Dallas-based company trying to complete the 1200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline at a Missouri river crossing near the tribe’s reservation.  The standoff at Standing Rock has become an historic gathering of Native Americans and other activists.  We’ll talk with Akim Reinhardt, a professor of American Indian history at Towson University,  Ann Duncan, associate professor of religion at Goucher College, and Richard Meyers, an Oglala Sioux and coordinator of the American Indian Studies program at South Dakota State University, who’s joined the Standing Rock protests.  Spiritual practice and the intersection of religious freedom, property rights, and the US Constitution -- and your calls -- in this edition of Midday's Living Questions.

Photos courtesy Lamptey, Calabria, Duffner

Today, another installment in our monthly series, Living Questions, in which we examine the role of religion in the public sphere.

Our focus today is on Islamophobia, particularly as it pertains to American Catholics.  Only 14% of Catholics have a favorable view of Muslims.  Are Catholics more pre-disposed to be Islamophobic than adherents to other faiths?   While the mass media often portray Muslims in a negative light, it appears that Catholic media do so even more frequently.  Is it a matter of bias, or bad reporting?  And what about the role of church leaders?  Pope Francis has garnered a reputation as one of the most open and inclusive pontiffs in history.  What is his message about Muslims, and is his flock getting it?

Those questions are at the core of a new report, Danger and Dialogue: American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam, published by Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative, a multi-year research and communication project that's based at the University's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.   Joining Tom in the studio to discuss the report's findings is author Jordan Denari Duffner, a research fellow at the Bridge Initiative. Also joining us by phone are Father Michael Calabria, a Franciscan friar and director of the Center for Arab & Islamic Studies at St. Bonaventure University in  upstate New York, and Dr. Jerusha Lamptey, Associate Professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Beth Am Synagogue/Memorial Episcopal Church

Time now for another installment in our monthly series, Living Questions, in which we examine the role of religion in the public sphere. We’re producing this series in partnership with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.

Tom's guests this afternoon are two young, dynamic clergy whose work in their congregations is informed by their commitment to social justice. They are not only spiritual leaders. They are also animating their largely white congregations around the issues that affect our majority African American city.

Daniel Cotzin Burg is the senior rabbi of Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill, just south of Druid Hill Park. The Rev. Grey Maggiano is the rector of Memorial Episcopal Church in the neighborhood that’s adjacent to Reservoir Hill to the south, Bolton Hill.