As Americans, we have long associated religious extremism with Islamic terrorism…..groups of people who have harmed the Islamic faith. Ignoring perhaps, forgetting or simply choosing to ignore that any religion is prone to extremism. This is also linked to ethno-centric extremism as many cultures tie this also to a religion. In the US, this has become known most recently as Christian Nationalism, but we see it among countries that have either long been democratic civil societies or emerging civil societies who want to embrace the type of freedoms found in a democracy. Yet their roots may still be tightly connected to a national identity that has long embraced a religion and perhaps even a superiority, seeing themselves over other ‘lesser’ nations. Hungary rebukes Muslims as refugees as they see this influx of immigrants tainting their Christian heritage; India’s newest leadership rebukes Muslim’s for much the same reason; and Israel, under its current leadership, is expressing no desire to let the nation of Palestine also share the state they long lived on, a land laid claim by all three Abrahamic religions. The extremism is becoming increasingly linked to violence as well as the election of authoritarian rulers whose very actions violate the core values of a civil society; the freedoms of speech, religion, press, gathering and protest. When these violations occur at the highest levels of government through either legislation or policy, in time violations against others – and outright violence – will occur among citizens against one another, and especially against those perceived to be outsiders.
This urgent matter will be the topic for our October program – 12 October at 7 PM – and our first hybrid program since we all went virtual with COVID. It will be held at the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, 110 West 42nd Street, on the corner of 42nd the Michigan and across the street from Newfield’s Art Museum. We are excited about our panelists:
Andrew Whitehead is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives (theARDA.com) at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI.
Whitehead is one of the foremost scholars of Christian nationalism in the United States. He is the lead author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2020)—along with Samuel Perry—which won the 2021 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. His next book, American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church, will appear August 15, 2023 from Brazos Press.
Whitehead is a sought-after speaker and has shared his work with diverse audiences: academic and public, religious and secular. Whitehead’s research on Christian nationalism has been featured across several national outlets including The New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, CNN Today, The Economist, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian. He has been interviewed on NBC News, National Public Radio, and the BBC, among others, and is routinely contacted for perspective on religion and politics from national and international news media. He has also written for The Washington Post, Time, NBC News, and the Religion News Service, among other outlets.
In 2019, his co-authored article “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election” (Sociology of Religion, 2018) won the Distinguished Article Award for both the Association for the Sociology of Religion and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Whitehead serves as co-Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives (theARDA.com). The ARDA is the world’s largest online religion data archive and is currently funded through generous support from the Lilly Endowment and the John Templeton Foundation. Whitehead serves on the Board of Directors of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI.org) and the Religion Research Association.
Robert Saler serves as Associate Dean for Evaluation and Assessment, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, Executive Director of Center for Pastoral Excellence and the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) in Indianapolis. As part of that call, for the past eight years he has directed the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, which are administered by the seminary on behalf of the Endowment. Prior to coming to CTS he was pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Gary, IN and also taught at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (from which he received his Ph.D. in 2011). His first book, Between Magisterium and Marketplace, deals with issues of ecclesiology and theological creativity, while his second book (Theologia Crucis) examines how the theology of the cross impacts global theological literature. He is also the author of All These Things Into Position: What Theology can Learn from Radiohead, Planning Sabbaticals: A Guide for Congregations and Their Pastors, and Sounding the Sacred: Arvo Part and Spirituality (co-edited with Peter Bouteneff and Jeffers Engelhardt). His courses at CTS are generally open to the public so that masters-level students can have the experience of studying alongside members of area congregations; the pedagogical challenges and opportunities in this are very gratifying.
Having been a Lutheran pastor for a decade, he has recently been received into the Eastern Orthodox Church, and serves as the chair of the ecumenical section of the International Orthodox Theological Association as well as editor of the IOTA Forum for that organization. He is currently a fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis, and as part of that work he is engaged in a three-pronged project related to American Eastern Orthodoxy and internet culture: an exploration of anti-modernist rhetoric and consumerism in American orthodoxy, a more sociological analysis of Orthodox anti-modernism and white supremacy movements online, and an evaluations methodology project on how online religious subcultures impact parish ministry in American Eastern Orthodoxy. He is also writing a book on Luther in dialogue with Orthodox theology.
His other major passions involve evaluation methodologies and assessment methods for religious institutions, as well as live music and trail running. He, his spouse, and their five children reside in Indianapolis, IN.
Charlie Wiles, moderator, holds a degree in Political Science from Indiana University and spent several years working for the Indiana State Legislature. He operated a general contracting business renovating older homes, served as a combat medic in the US Army Reserves, and is the founding director of Peace Learning Center. In 2011, Charlie became the founding director of Center for Interfaith Cooperation (CIC). Headquartered in the Indiana Interchurch Center, CIC strives to build dynamic, authentic relationships between and among central Indiana’s diverse religious communities. Charlie is a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, he serves on the Chaplaincy Advisory Board at St. Vincent Hospital and works with several community organizations including Veterans for Peace, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and OBAT Helpers, supporting marginalized communities in Bangladesh. Happily married to Sachiko Utsumi Wiles since 1995, they live near Broad Ripple in Indianapolis, Indiana with their three daughters Lena, Aya, and Mia Utsumi Wiles.