By Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma | Twenty-two years ago, when I first lived in Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu, I went to visit the home of a student at the college where I was teaching. Meenakshi Sundram lived on a narrow lane not far from the Meenakshi Temple in this venerable and beautiful South Indian city. His home was only a few rooms, but they filled with family, friends, and neighbors, all eager to greet the teacher from abroad who could somehow speak a little Tamil.
By Sumbul Ali-Karamali | In this age of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion movements, twenty years after the tragedy of 9/11, why is it still acceptable to denigrate Muslims and what they believe without any knowledge of what they believe? Why are Muslims judged on the basis of stereotypes and not on facts? And why are we as Americans so reflexively quick to believe the worst of Muslims, given half an opportunity to do so?
This year’s theme for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service. Beacon Press views their writers as leaders, charting the way to a better future with uncovered histories, cultural commentary, and more. Which is why, as AAPI Heritage Month wraps up, we’re putting the spotlight on the work of our Asian American writers. The following list of recommended reads—by no means exhaustive—honors their work and contributions to our society and American history at large.
By Marilyn Sewell | At last, it’s over! I mean the last four years of suffering from an abusive relationship—with our former president. Why am I not alive with energy, ready to get back to my writing? Wanting to Zoom with friends? Pushing ever harder with my climate activism? I find that I’m simply exhausted, needing to recover.
By Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock | No one in American history has addressed more eloquently or advanced more effectively the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality than the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With his voice, he discredited the fallacious doctrine of white supremacy; and through his activism, he changed America, liberating the sons and daughters of “former slaves” and “former slave owners” for the possibility of what he called “the beloved community.” Dr. King bequeathed to all of us a gift of love.
Senator Kamala Harris’s win in the 2020 presidential election is an intersectional triumph. As she expressed in her acceptance speech, she will be the first woman, first Black American, and first South Asian American to serve as vice president. She also brings interfaith cred to the Oval Office, the likes of which we last saw when Obama was commander in chief. Her success means so much to so many people, and we are anxious to see how she and President-elect Joe Biden plan to undo the damage of the reality-TV administration. Here is what some of our authors had to say.
By Susan Katz Miller | With Kamala Harris as our new Vice President elect, interfaith families reach a new level of prominence in America. Harris is not only the first woman and the first Black person to be Vice President; she will also be the first interfaith kid and the first person in an interfaith marriage. Harris epitomizes Generation Interfaith: she represents a religious trifecta with a Christian parent, a Hindu parent, and a Jewish husband.
A Q&A with Rachel S. Mikva | Teaching and speaking in religious communities, I kept bumping into two assumptions. In progressive spaces, people often imagined that they had already reformed their traditions enough so their religious ideas were never dangerous. In more traditional spaces, people often worried that asking critical questions would weaken faith, when in fact it strengthens faith. I wanted people to reexamine these assumptions, to see the deep roots of self-critical faith and to recognize that its work is never done.
A Q&A with Sumbul Ali-Karamali | I grew up Muslim and bicultural (Indian and American) in a time and place where I happened to be the only Muslim most of my acquaintances knew. So I got saddled with answering all their questions! Not only did I become good at answering questions about Islam in a way that those around me could understand and relate to (starting in elementary school!), but I also found I really loved coming up with answers that built bridges between my religious-cultural community and theirs. The questions I got were never addressed in the media and still aren’t.
By S. Brent Plate | “Let’s get in touch.” “I feel like I’m losing touch with you.” “That was a touching tribute.” The English language is littered with metaphors of touch that tend to revolve around connection between people. Such word use creates an almost psychic understanding that communication, even when conducted over Wi-Fi and satellite transmissions, can still allow us, as the old AT&T commercial had it, to “reach out and touch someone.”
Once upon a Gilded Age, Americans once treated Islam and Muslims with both fascination and respect. Hard to believe in our post-9/11 timeline, but it’s true. Swept by romanticized images of Muslims found in most popular entertainment at the time and Arabian Nights, thousands of Americans were enthralled by the Islamic Orient. Some, in fact, saw Islam as a global antiracist movement uniquely suited to people of African descent living in an era of European imperialism, Jim Crow segregation, and officially sanctioned racism. Some, like enigmatic circus performer John Walter Brister.
By Reza Aslan | At least once a month, my cousin Afshin drives a carload of British or German tourists from Iran’s sprawling capital, Tehran, to one of the country’s many tourist destinations—either the glorious, lyrical city of Shiraz, the ancient ruins of Persepolis, or the palatial gardens of Isfahan. Few people ask him, as I have done, for a ride to Qom, the religious capital of Iran. The very name of the city makes Afshin squirm. He suggests a trip to Mashad, instead.
By Peter Jan Honigsberg | When Brandon Neely sat down to interview with us in Houston, Texas, he brought his wife. She knew much of his story, but it seemed that he wanted her to hear him share his story with us. Maybe he would recall something new, something he had not told her before.
By Leah Vernon | The identity battle with my hijab continued well into adulthood. As I started to come to terms with it, that it was in fact my choice to wear it or not, others’ disdain for it mounted. I was hyperaware of my surroundings when I wore it, especially around white folks—they were the ones doing the most when it came to assaults and verbal attacks.
I have come today to issue both a caution and a call. And it is that you must graduate today, but get up, get together and get involved tomorrow.There are some that want to promote the lie that all is OK. But as Chancellor Jonathan Bennett, or Chance the Rapper, says, “Sometimes the truth don’t rhyme. Sometimes the lies get millions of views.”And, in this moment, you have to question the Trumpalistic slogans we hear about bull markets and booming economies. Yes, that’s the message from the White House and from Wall Street. We do live in a time when some people who put their names in gold plating on new buildings like to talk big talk. They collude with lies and obstruct the truth and say everything is fine when it is not.
By Rebecca Todd Peters | On Saturday, a close friend walked out of her local Catholic church with her family in protest of the priest’s blatantly propagandistic pro-life homily. Apparently, he was praising the story of Abby Johnson’s conversion from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life activist and the new film Unplanned, which tells her story. The film, released by a company that focuses on producing “Christian films,” received a nationwide release, was in fourth place after its first weekend in box offices, and has gone on to gross almost $18 million since opening day.
By Adele Barker | I still crush garlic with the back of a wooden spoon. And once a month, I look up at the moon and say to myself, “it’s a poya,” the Sinhalese word for ‘full moon.’ I carry the island inside me, though it has been years since we lived there. I haven’t been back to Sri Lanka since 2012 and am struggling as many are to explain the Easter Sunday horror in churches and hotels where people were celebrating the holidays.
By Michael Coogan | Throughout history, many groups have thought of themselves as divinely chosen, exhibiting what has been called a “holy nationalism.” For the ancient Egyptians, the divine gift of the annual inundation of the Nile was proof they had been specially chosen; the Egyptians’ neighbors, whom they called “the vile Asiatics,” had clearly not been chosen, because their equivalent of the dependable Nile was unpredictable rain. Roman poets such as Virgil and Ovid celebrated the divine plan that had brought Aeneas from the burning ruins of Troy to Italy, from where eventually the emperor Augustus would rule the Mediterranean world. But one ancient people’s claim of divine chosenness has profoundly affected religious and political self-identification for thousands of years, especially in the West: the biblical view that God, the only God, has a favorite people, the Israelites.
A Q&A with Susan Katz Miller | Since the publication of “Being Both,” I have been traveling the country, speaking about interfaith families in churches and synagogues, universities and national conferences. And a steady stream of interfaith couples and families, from all over the world, started to contact me to ask for support. Often, they come to me because they do not have supportive clergy, or they cannot find counselors who have experience in interfaith issues. And they appreciate my perspective as both an adult interfaith child, and the parent of adult interfaith children. At some point I realized that I cannot coach everyone individually, but with the Journal, I can support families everywhere. And at exactly that moment, Skinner House actually came to me, looking for an author to write a book like this, because there is no other workbook for interfaith families out there.
The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis | The New Testament documents a moral movement of the poor and rejected. It portrays the survival struggles of the marginalized, the solidarity and mutuality among different communities, and the critique of a social, political, and economic system that oppresses the vast majority of people. Given his leadership in that movement, it is not surprising that the main theme of many of Jesus’s teachings and his ministry in general is bringing good news to the poor and marginalized, standing up for righteousness, and ending all forms of discrimination and oppression. Nor is it surprising that Jesus was recognized by Rome as a threat to the status quo and crucified, the punishment reserved for revolutionaries and those deemed insurrectionists.