Sarah Azaransky is assistant professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York. She is the author of The Dream is Freedom: Pauli Murray and American Democratic Faith (2011) and is working on a book about the international roots of the civil rights movement.
The Ebola outbreak is centered in three West African countries where almost 4,500 people have died; 17 people have been treated for the disease in Europe and North America, most of whom are health and aid workers who contracted the disease in West Africa. Americans are vigorously debating whether to place a travel ban on anyone trying to enter the nation from affected regions. Advocates of interreligious engagement—through their willingness to move across dangerous boundaries—show us how exchange does not necessarily beget vulnerability; it can bolster our humanity.
The Harlem Ashram (1940-1948) was a grand experiment that didn't go very far. The interracial Christian commune at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street was modeled after ashrams, or Hindu religious centers, that Gandhi had established in India. Its founders were two white men, Ralph Templin and Jay Holmes Smith, who had been Methodist missionaries in India in the 1930s. There they became interested in Gandhi's synthesis of religion, politics, and nonviolent protest.
Templin and Smith were part of a cohort of American pacifists who saw Gandhi’s work as a potential model for political and religious activism in the United States.
When President Obama argued for U.S. strikes on Syria, he used a familiar trope:
When, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.
Yet his proposed Syria policy put him in new political territory: against the views of a majority of African Americans.
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