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Lecture series on religion slated

The dynamics or religion and its role in contemporary political and social life will be explored in an MIT lecture series beginning April 14, 2005.

The series, "Religion in the 21st Century: Understanding the Dynamics and Impact of Change," will offer four sessions of lectures and discussions on how the shifts between and within religions are affecting how many of us work, vote, use technology and even live or die.

Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Philip S. Khoury said, "The series couldn't be more timely, and the featured speakers are well-known authorities on the impact of religion and culture on politics, society, gender and the media, domestically and globally."

"Religion in the 21st Century" opens on April 14 with "Women's Rights and Islam," a talk by Lama Abu-Odeh, associate professor of law at Georgetown University. Abu-Odeh has taught courses in criminal law, comparative family law and Islamic law. She has written widely on feminism and Islam and is the author of a forthcoming publication, "Modernizing Muslim Family Law: The Case of Egypt."

The MIT Program in Human Rights and Justice sponsored the talk by Abu-Odeh.

"Around the world, there are now two competing forces for social change: one emanating from within religion and another emanating from within secular and liberal ideals. Both promise utopias but often deliver nightmares. The real issue is this: Are there elements within both forces who could somehow come together and collaborate toward a more human and just world order? Are the two worldviews so incompatible? This seminar series will shed some light on this question, which is crucial for the future of human rights," said Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Ford International Associate Professor of Law and Development and Director, MIT Program on Human Rights and Justice.

On April 21, R. Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University, will discuss "The Rise of Fundamentalism in the 20th Century."

Appleby, a professor of history, is the editor of "Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East" (1997) and co-editor of the five-volume "The Fundamentalism Project" (1992-1995).

Mark Juergensmeyer, director of Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, will analyze "The Meaning of Religious Terrorism" on April 28.

Juergensmeyer's most recent book, "Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence," is based on interviews with violent religious activists around the world, including individuals convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, leaders of Hamas and abortion clinic bombers in the United States.

On May 5, Gustav Neibuhr, associate professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University, will deliver a talk, "Religion and the Media in the U.S."

Neibuhr worked as a religion reporter at The New York Times and, prior to that, at the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. He also does occasional commentaries on religion for the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered."

The "Religion in the 21st Century" series was organized by the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT with co-sponsorship by the Program in Human Rights and Justice at MIT, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and the Office of the Dean for Student Life.

All four "Religion in the 21st Century" sessions will be held at 7 p.m. in Building W11. The events are free, and registration is required. For more information or to register, please contact Patricia Weinmann at 617-733-9515 or by email,

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 13, 2005 (download PDF).

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