Matters of faith

Spiritual views: faculty vs. students

Where does spirituality fit into a college experience? The latest findings from a continuing national study of spirituality in US higher education, released Tuesday, reveal that faculty views on the subject diverge some from student perspectives.

While 81 percent of faculty consider themselves spiritual persons (and 64 percent call themselves "religious"), only 30 percent agree that "colleges should be concerned with facilitating students' spiritual development." Nearly half of college freshmen in an earlier survey called it "essential" or "very important" for colleges to encourage their personal expression of spirituality.

Some 60 percent of faculty did say "developing moral character" and "enhancing student self-understanding" were essential or very important goals. Views vary by academic field, with the most faculty support for facilitating spiritual development coming from the health sciences and humanities, and the least from biological, physical, and social sciences.

The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA is conducting the multiyear study, and surveyed more than 40,000 faculty at 421 colleges and universities.

Vatican makes appeal to Muslims

After sympathizing with Muslim outrage over the Danish caricatures of Muhammad, the Vatican is now seeking greater reciprocity from Muslim countries in the treatment of religious minorities. In a meeting with the new Moroccan ambassador last week, Pope Benedict XVI said peace could only be assured by "respect for the religious convictions and practices of others, in a reciprocal way in all societies," Reuters reports.

In setting the theme of reciprocity, other Vatican diplomats highlighted the severe restrictions placed on Christians in some Muslim countries.

At the same time, the church hopes to open the door for joint historical discussions. According to Religion News Service, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, soon to be the pope's ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League, is urging that Muslim and Vatican scholars study the Christian crusades and the Muslim conquest of medieval Europe in an effort "to heal long-festering wounds."

Religious leaders to meet in Spain

More than 150 influential Jewish and Muslim religious leaders will meet March 19-22 in Seville, Spain, for the Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace.

The dialogue aims to build trust among the leaders as a basis for using their influence in conflict resolution and in developing joint projects. They also aim to challenge extremists who are misusing religion.

This month the imams and rabbis will discuss current tensions and issues and consider possible projects in the field of peace education.

At the first gathering a year ago, the congress set up the International Interreligious Monitoring Center to keep an eye on and respond to antireligious acts, and develop guidelines for countering prejudice and racism. The congress is run under the auspices of Hommes de Parole, a Paris-based foundation dedicated to conflict resolution and humanitarian efforts.

The fund flow to faith-based groups

President Bush's faith-based initiative to fund religious groups' involvement in social programs has boosted their role but not the level of resources, says a study by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, a nonpartisan research group.

The group reviewed some 28,000 social service grants made by nine federal agencies from 2002 to 2004, and found that faith-based organizations received about 17 percent of total funding. While their share of grants awarded rose from 11.6 percent in 2002 to 12.8 percent in 2004, the total amount of the grants dropped from $670 million to $626 million. (Total funds available from the programs during that period dropped by more than $230 million.) The White House disputes the findings and says it will release its own report this month.

The president's budget sends mixed messages for the coming fiscal year, the Roundtable says. The budget lists a $323 million increase for five new programs related to the faith-based initiative, but at the same time, proposes eliminating at least 18 others in which faith-based groups were encouraged to participate.

Rabbis to receive peace award

The 23rd Niwano Peace Prize will be awarded this year to Rabbis for Human Rights, of Israel, for promoting "human rights, justice, and compassion for all people in the region," says Ecumenical News International. The group has worked with Palestinians to help protect their property from expropriation or their homes from demolition.

The award of about $195,000 is given annually by the Japan-based Niwano Peace Foundation. It has been termed by some the Nobel Peace Prize for the faith-based community.

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