Archive for the ‘religion and spirituality’ Category

Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion

September 20, 2012 Comments off

Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

A rising tide of restrictions on religion spread across the world between mid-2009 and mid-2010, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Restrictions on religion rose in each of the five major regions of the world – including in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions where overall restrictions previously had been declining.

The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010. Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier.

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity

August 9, 2012 Comments off

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity

Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are united in their belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad and are bound together by such religious practices as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and almsgiving to assist people in need. But they have widely differing views about many other aspects of their faith, including how important religion is to their lives, who counts as a Muslim and what practices are acceptable in Islam, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Survey | Few Americans Use Social Media to Connect With Their Faith Communities

August 7, 2012 Comments off

Survey | Few Americans Use Social Media to Connect With Their Faith Communities

Source: Public Religion Research Institute

Overall, Americans report limited use of technology for religious purposes, both inside and outside of worship services.

  • Nearly half (45%) of Americans report using Facebook at least a few times a week, but few Americans incorporate technology into their practice of worship. Among Americans who attend religious services at least a few times a year, roughly 1-in-10 (11%) report posting status updates on their Facebook page or other social networking site about being in church. Ten percent of Americans report that they have used a cell phone to take pictures or record video during worship, and 7% say they have sent or read email during services.
  • Outside of religious services, most Americans are not relying on technology to connect to religious leaders and institutions or to generally practice their faith. Thirteen percent of Americans say they have downloaded a podcast of a sermon or listened to a sermon online. Fewer than 1-in-10 Americans report following a religious or spiritual leader on Twitter or Facebook (5%) or joining a religious or spiritual group on Facebook (6%).

International Religious Freedom Report for 2011

July 30, 2012 Comments off

International Religious Freedom Report for 2011

Source: U.S. Department of State

To think, believe, or doubt. To speak or pray; to gather or stand apart. Such are the movements of the mind and heart, infinitives that take us beyond the finite. Freedom of religion, like all freedoms of thought and expression, are inherent. Our beliefs help define who we are and serve as a foundation for what we contribute to our societies. However, as the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report documents, too many people live under governments that abuse or restrict freedom of religion. People awaken, work, suffer, celebrate, raise children, and mourn unable to follow the dictates of their faith or conscience. Yet, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments have committed to respect freedom of religion. As President Barack Obama said, they ought to "bear witness and speak out" when violations of religious freedom occur.

With these reports, we bear witness and speak out. We speak against authoritarian governments that repressed forms of expression, including religious freedom. Governments restricted religious freedom in a variety of ways, including registration laws that favored state-sanctioned groups, blasphemy laws, and treatment of religious groups as security threats. The report focuses special attention on key trends such as the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities, who tended to suffer the most in 2011; the effects of conflict on religious freedom; and the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Impacted groups, to name just a few, included Baha’is and Sufis in Iran; Christians in Egypt; Ahmadis in Indonesia and Pakistan; Muslims in a range of countries, including in Europe; Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Uighur Muslims in China; and Jews in many parts of the world.

Religious Attendance of Child Welfare-Involved Caregivers and Youth

July 14, 2012 Comments off

Religious Attendance of Child Welfare-Involved Caregivers and Youth (PDF)
Source: Children and Family Research Center

Research has shown that both caregivers’ and children’s attendance at religious services are associated with improved outcomes for disadvantaged youth, 1 but few studies have examined the role of religion in child welfare populations and no studies have presented national data on religious participation of children involved in child welfare. Religious practice could be an important factor in helping children cope with the trauma, loss, and anxiety associated with child maltreatment, and religious communities often provide material and social support for caregivers and youth. On the other hand, some religious beliefs may negatively affect youth’s well-being (for example a gay youth placed in a conservative Christian foster home). Furthermore, religious dissimilarity in families has been connected to negative outcomes for youth in the general population 2 and foster youth may have religious backgrounds that differ from their foster families. While other aspects of foster home placement such as caregiver race and proximity to the home of origin have been given ample attention, religious attendance among foster youth and their foster care providers remains unexplored. This brief examines religious attendance 3 among youth and caregivers involved in the child welfare system and the relationship between caregiver attendance and youth attendance.

How Islamist Extremists Quote the Qur’an

July 11, 2012 Comments off

How Islamist Extremists Quote the Qur’an (PDF)

Source: Arizona State University Center for Strategic Communication

Islamist extremists make heavy use of the Qur’an (Islam’s most sacred text) in their strategic communication. This study analyzed the most frequently cited or quoted verses in the Center for Strategic Communication’s database of over 2,000 extremist texts. The texts date from the years 1998 to 2011, and originate primarily from the Middle East and North Africa. Taking this data as a starting point, we provide a qualitative analysis of the historical contexts and core narrative components of the cited passages.

The results confirm certain common assumptions about extremist readings of the Qur’an. There is a disproportionate use of surahs (chapters) from the later Medinan over the earlier Meccan period – only one of the top ten most frequently cited surahs of the Qur’an is Meccan. The Medinan surahs also fall within a certain historical window representing the onset and completion of military conflict between the earliest Muslims and the “pagan” clans of Mecca and their allies.

Other findings in the report raise questions about the veracity of claims often made by analysts. The most surprising is the near absence of the well-known “Verse of the Sword” (9:5) from the extremist texts. Widely regarded as the most militant or violent passage of the Qur’an, it is treated as a divine call for offensive warfare on a global scale. It is also regarded as a verse which supersedes over one hundred other verses of the Qur’an that counsel patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.

We conclude that verses extremists cite from the Qur’an do not suggest an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution. This shows close integration with the rhetorical vision of Islamist extremists.

Based on this analysis we recommend that the West abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination, focus on counteracting or addressing claims of victimage, emphasize alternative means of deliverance, and work to undermine the “champion” image sought by extremists.

Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains

July 11, 2012 Comments off

Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains (PDF)
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

“Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains” presents a rare window into religion behind bars. Although chaplains, like all observers, undoubtedly bring their own perspectives and predilections to bear, they also occupy a valuable vantage point as correctional workers who have regular, often positive interactions with inmates and take a strong interest in the role of religion in inmates’ lives.

The survey covers a lot of ground, asking chaplains to describe their daily role in the prisons and to rate their job satisfaction. In addition, we asked them to list the tasks on which they spend the most time and the tasks they consider most important – two lists that are not always the same. We sought their assessments of religious volunteers who come into the prisons to work with inmates, as well as their perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the correctional system, the quality and reach of rehabilitation programs and possible ways of cutting costs.

We also asked for their impressions about religious life in prisons, including the religious composition of the inmate population, the amount of proselytizing and conversion that take place, which religious groups seem to be growing or shrinking, and how much religious extremism they perceive in the prisons where they work. At several key points in the survey questionnaire – which was administered either electronically or, for those who preferred it, by paper – we gave the chaplains an opportunity to elaborate on their views and experiences in their own words.

Their answers suggest that religion in prisons may be quite different, in some ways, from religion in American society at large. For example, chaplains indicate that there is a visible presence in some prisons of small religious groups that many Americans may never have heard of, such as Asatru, Odinism and the Moorish Science Temple of America. (For brief definitions, see the Glossary on page 101.) A number of chaplains also think that some inmates claim to belong to particular religious groups solely to obtain privileges or benefits, such as kosher food. But, on the whole, chaplains had many positive things to say about the role of religion in rehabilitating inmates. Most are also very happy in their jobs. Though the picture that emerges is complicated and sometimes surprising, our hope is that the survey will contribute to a better understanding of the role that chaplains – and, more broadly, religion – play in the lives of inmates.

The Stained Glass Ceiling: Social Contact and Mitt Romney’s ‘‘Religion Problem’’

May 23, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Political Behavior

Why did Mitt Romney face antagonism toward his Mormon religion in the 2008 election? Using experiments conducted in the real time of the campaign, we test voters’ reactions to information about Romney’s religious background. We find that voters were concerned specifically with Romney’s religious affiliation, not simply with the fact that he is religious. Furthermore, concern over Romney’s Mormonism dwarfed concerns about the religious backgrounds of Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee. We find evidence for a curvilinear hypothesis linking social contact with Mormons and reaction to information about Romney’s Mormonism. Voters who have no personal exposure to Mormons are most likely to be persuaded by both negative and positive information about the Mormon faith, while voters who have sustained personal contact with Mormons are the least likely to be persuaded either way. Voters with moderate contact, however, react strongly to negative information about the religion but are not persuaded by countervailing positive information.

Full Paper (PDF)

Hat tip:  PW

Keeping the Faith: African American Faith Leaders’ Perspectives and Recommendations for Reducing Racial Disparities in HIV/AIDS Infection

May 19, 2012 Comments off

Keeping the Faith: African American Faith Leaders’ Perspectives and Recommendations for Reducing Racial Disparities in HIV/AIDS Infection
Source: PLoS ONE

In Philadelphia, 66% of new HIV infections are among African Americans and 2% of African Americans are living with HIV. The city of Philadelphia has among the largest numbers of faith institutions of any city in the country. Although faith-based institutions play an important role in the African American community, their response to the AIDS epidemic has historically been lacking. We convened 38 of Philadelphia’s most influential African American faith leaders for in-depth interviews and focus groups examining the role of faith-based institutions in HIV prevention. Participants were asked to comment on barriers to engaging faith-based leaders in HIV prevention and were asked to provide normative recommendations for how African American faith institutions can enhance HIV/AIDS prevention and reduce racial disparities in HIV infection. Many faith leaders cited lack of knowledge about Philadelphia’s racial disparities in HIV infection as a common reason for not previously engaging in HIV programs; others noted their congregations’ existing HIV prevention and outreach programs and shared lessons learned. Barriers to engaging the faith community in HIV prevention included: concerns about tacitly endorsing extramarital sex by promoting condom use, lack of educational information appropriate for a faith-based audience, and fear of losing congregants and revenue as a result of discussing human sexuality and HIV/AIDS from the pulpit. However, many leaders expressed a moral imperative to respond to the AIDS epidemic, and believed clergy should play a greater role in HIV prevention. Many participants noted that controversy surrounding homosexuality has historically divided the faith community and prohibited an appropriate response to the epidemic; many expressed interest in balancing traditional theology with practical public health approaches to HIV prevention. Leaders suggested the faith community should: promote HIV testing, including during or after worship services and in clinical settings; integrate HIV/AIDS topics into health messaging and sermons; couch HIV/AIDS in social justice, human rights and public health language rather than in sexual risk behavior terms; embrace diverse approaches to HIV prevention in their houses of worship; conduct community outreach and host educational sessions for youth; and collaborate on a citywide, interfaith HIV testing and prevention campaign to combat stigma and raise awareness about the African American epidemic. Many African American faith-based leaders are poised to address racial disparities in HIV infection. HIV prevention campaigns should integrate leaders’ recommendations for tailoring HIV prevention for a faith-based audience.

See: Clergy Can Fight HIV On Faith-Friendly Terms (Science Daily)

Reasons to Ban? The Anti-Burqa Movement in Western Europe

May 16, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

During the 2000s, the dress of Muslim women in Muslim-minority countries in Europe and elsewhere became increasingly a matter for debate and, in several instances, the subject of legislation. In France, a ban on the wearing of the headscarf in places of education (2004) was followed in 2010 by the law criminalizing the wearing of the face-veil (usually but inaccurately referred to as the ‘burqa’) in public space. Other countries have enacted similar legislation. Muslim women’s dress has historically been a controversial matter in Muslim-majority countries, too, most recently in North Africa following the Arab Spring, but the present paper concentrates on the movement against face-veiling in Western Europe, documenting what has been happening and analysing the arguments proposed to justify criminalizing this type of garment. In doing so, the paper explores the implications for our understanding of contemporary (ethnically and religiously) diverse societies and their governance. Is anti-veiling legislation a protest against what is interpreted as an Islamic practice unacceptable in liberal democracies, a sign of a wider discomfort with non-European otherness, or an expression of an underlying racism articulated in cultural terms? Whatever the reason, is criminalization an appropriate response? An Appendix notes some topics for further research.

Full Paper (PDF)

Buddhists and Hindus Are On the Rise Nationally, Baylor University Professor Says

May 9, 2012 Comments off

Buddhists and Hindus Are On the Rise Nationally, Baylor University Professor Says

Source: Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University

Hindu and Buddhist groups have grown steadily in the United States since changes in immigration laws in 1965 and 1992, with particularly high concentrations in Texas, California, the New York Metropolitan Area, Illinois and Georgia, according to a Baylor University professor who helped compile the newly released 2010 U.S. Religion Census.

The census, the most comprehensive statistical assessment of data from the 2,000-plus religious groups active in the United States, is made every 10 years by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The complete summary may be viewed at this link: .

Both Hindus and Buddhists have temples in most states, and “the groups now regularly voice their opinions on U.S. relations with predominantly Hindu and Buddhist countries,” Melton said. “Like the Muslim congregations, Hindus and Buddhists are found in every part of the country, but they are concentrated in the big cities and still have not begun to appear in the smaller cities and rural areas.”

Another significant finding was that all areas of American religion have grown, although specific groups — especially some of the larger Christian churches — have declined or stagnated.

Southern Baptists, whose ranks grew spectacularly for a generation as it became a national organization, decreased dramatically since the year 2000. United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran membership also decreased.

Both Muslims and Mormons (Latter-day Saints) showed dramatic increases in percentages, the former from both immigration and penetration of the African-American community, the latter from movement out of its base in the Mountain states to all parts of the country. Muslims are distinct as the majority are of Indo-Pakistani background, the second largest group being African-American, with Arab Americans a distinct minority. There are now some 6 million Mormons and 2.6 million Muslims in the country.

Other findings showed that traditional patterns continue. The Baptist Bible Belt remains across the South, the older Reformation Protestant churches are strongest across the Midwest, Latter-day Saints dominate in the Mountain West, and Roman Catholics dominate in the northeast and southwest, including the southern third of Texas.

Beliefs about God across Time and Countries

May 7, 2012 Comments off
Source:  University of Chicago (General Social Survey)
International surveys about the depth of people’s belief in God reveal vast differences among nations, ranging from 94 percent of people in the Philippines who said they always believed in God, compared to only 13 percent of people in the former East Germany. Yet the surveys found one constant—belief in God is higher among older people, regardless of where they live.
A new report on the international surveys, “Belief About God Across Time and Countries,” was issued by the General Social Survey of the social science research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. It is based on a comprehensive, international study of belief in God and includes information from the International Social Survey Program, a consortium of the world’s leading opinion survey organizations. Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey, wrote the report.
The data came from 30 countries in which surveys about belief in God have been taken, in some cases, since 1991. Researchers asked questions to determine people’s range of beliefs, from atheism to strong belief in God; their changing beliefs over their lifetime; and their attitude toward the notion that God is concerned with individuals.

Survey — A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values, and Politics among College-Age Millennials

April 23, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Public Religion Research Institute
Four years after younger voters headed to the polls in record numbers, helping to send then-Senator Barack Obama to the White House, a new national survey of more than 2,000 18-24 year old Millennials provides new insights about the challenges both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face in reaching the newest group of young American voters.
Conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, the new poll finds President Obama holds a 7-point lead over a generic Republican candidate, with nearly half (48 percent) of young Millennial voters saying they would prefer that Obama win the 2012 election, compared to 41 percent who say they would like to see a Republican win. However, only 34 percent of voters who would prefer a Republican candidate say Mitt Romney is their first choice to be the GOP nominee. Another challenge for both campaigns is that the PRRI/Berkley Center poll also finds that only 61 percent of college-age Millennials are currently registered to vote, and only 46 percent say they are absolutely certain they will vote in November.
“Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have their work cut out for them to reach college-age Millennial voters,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.  “Obama enjoys significant favorability and excitement advantages over Romney, but his support among younger voters today is substantially lower than among younger voters four years ago.  Romney’s largest challenge is that he inspires considerably less excitement than Obama or other Republican candidates.”
Among the issues Millennials believe are critically important, more than three-quarters (76 percent) cite jobs and unemployment, followed by the federal deficit (55 percent), and education (54 percent). Only 1-in-5 say social issues like abortion (22 percent) or same-sex marriage (22 percent) are critical.

Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

April 21, 2012 Comments off

Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (PDF)
Source: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Vatican)

The analysis of the General Assemblies, Presidential Addresses, and Occasional Papers reveals, therefore, a two-fold problem. The first consists in positive error (i.e. doctrinally problematic statements or formal refutation of Church teaching found in talks given at LCWR-sponsored conferences or General Assemblies). The second level of the problem concerns the silence and inaction of the LCWR in the face of such error, given its responsibility to support a vision of religious life in harmony with that of the Church and to promote a solid doctrinal basis for religious life. With this Assessment, the CDF intends to assist the LCWR in placing its activity into a wider context of religious life in the universal Church in order to foster a vision of consecrated life consistent with the Church’s teaching. In this wider context, the CDF notes the absence of initiatives by the LCWR aimed at promoting the reception of the Church’s teaching, especially on difficult issues such as Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis and Church teaching about homosexuality.

See also: LCWR Statement from Presidency on CDF Doctrinal Assessment

Faith on the Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants

April 11, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
About 3% of the world’s population has migrated across international borders. While that may seem like a small percentage, it represents a lot of people. If the world’s 214 million international migrants were counted as one nation, they would constitute the fifth most populous country on the globe, just behind Indonesia and ahead of Brazil.
Faith on the Move, a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, focuses on the religious affiliation of international migrants, examining patterns of migration among seven major groups: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, adherents of other religions and the religiously unaffiliated.

+ Full Report

Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State

April 6, 2012 Comments off

Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. StateSource: Gallup

Mississippi is the most religious U.S. state, and is one of eight states where Gallup classifies at least half of the residents as "very religious." At the other end of the spectrum, Vermont and New Hampshire are the least religious states, and are two of the five states — along with Maine, Massachusetts, and Alaska — where less than 30% of all residents are very religious.

Survey — Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012

April 5, 2012 Comments off

Survey — Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012
Source: Public Religion Research Institute
From press release:

Jewish values, particularly pursuing justice and a commitment to social equality, are important for informing political beliefs and behaviors, a new national survey of American Jews finds.

The new survey of 1,004 American Jews, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and released at a National Press Club briefing, is the most comprehensive, representative national study of its kind conducted by a non-Jewish research organization. The new survey takes a broad look at how Jewish values, experiences and identity are shaping political beliefs and behavior and influencing social action in the Jewish community and beyond.

More than eight-in-ten American Jews say that pursuing justice (84%) and caring for the widow and the orphan (80%) are somewhat or very important values that inform their political beliefs and activities. More than seven-in-ten say that tikkun olam (72%) and welcoming the stranger (72%) are important values. A majority (55%) say that seeing every person as made in the image of God is an important influence on their political beliefs and activities. Strong majorities of American Jews also cite the experience of the Holocaust, having opportunities for economic success in America, and the immigrant experience as important in shaping their political beliefs and activities.

When asked which qualities are most important to their Jewish identity, nearly half (46%) of American Jews cite a commitment to social equality, twice as many as cite support for Israel (20%) or religious observance (17%). About one-in-ten volunteered that a sense of cultural heritage and tradition (6%) or a general set of values (3%) are most important to their Jewish identity.

FOIA Documents Show FBI Using “Mosque Outreach” for Intelligence Gathering

March 30, 2012 Comments off

FOIA Documents Show FBI Using “Mosque Outreach” for Intelligence Gathering
Source: American Civil Liberties Union

For several years, the FBI’s San Francisco office conducted a “Mosque Outreach” program through which it collected and illegally stored intelligence about American Muslims’ First Amendment-protected beliefs and religious practices, according to government documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Northern California, Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

The San Francisco FBI’s own documents show that it recorded Muslim religious leaders’ and congregants’ identities, personal information and religious views and practices. The documents also show that the FBI labeled this information as “positive intelligence” and disseminated it to other government agencies, placing the people and organizations involved at risk of greater law enforcement scrutiny as potential national security threats. None of the documents indicate that the FBI told individuals interviewed that their information and views were being collected as intelligence and would be recorded and disseminated.

+ Full Document (PDF)

Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains

March 22, 2012 Comments off

Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

From the perspective of the nation’s professional prison chaplains, America’s state penitentiaries are a bustle of religious activity. More than seven-in-ten (73%) state prison chaplains say that efforts by inmates to proselytize or convert other inmates are either very common (31%) or somewhat common (43%). About three-quarters of the chaplains say that a lot (26%) or some (51%) religious switching occurs among inmates in the prisons where they work. Many chaplains report growth from religious switching in the numbers of Muslims and Protestant Christians, in particular.

Overwhelmingly, state prison chaplains consider religious counseling and other religion-based programming an important aspect of rehabilitating prisoners. Nearly three-quarters of the chaplains (73%), for example, say they consider access to religion-related programs in prison to be “absolutely critical” to successful rehabilitation of inmates. And 78% say they consider support from religious groups after inmates are released from prison to be absolutely critical to inmates’ successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society. Among chaplains working in prisons that have religion-related rehabilitation or re-entry programs, more than half (57%) say the quality of such programs has improved over the last three years and six-in-ten (61%) say participation in such programs has gone up.

At the same time, a sizable minority of chaplains say that religious extremism is either very common (12%) or somewhat common (29%) among inmates. Religious extremism is reported by the chaplains as especially common among Muslim inmates (including followers of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America) and, to a substantial but lesser degree, among followers of pagan or earth-based religions such as Odinism and various forms of Wicca. (See Glossary.) An overwhelming majority of chaplains, however, report that religious extremism seldom poses a threat to the security of the facility in which they work, with only 4% of chaplains saying religious extremism among inmates “almost always” poses a threat to prison security and an additional 19% saying it “sometimes” poses a threat.

CRS — Change in the Middle East: Implications for U.S. Policy

March 20, 2012 Comments off

Change in the Middle East: Implications for U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The political change and unrest that have swept through the Middle East and North Africa since early 2011 are likely to have profound consequences for the pursuit of long-standing U.S. policy goals in the region with regard to regional security, global energy supplies, U.S. military access, bilateral trade and investment, counter-proliferation, counterterrorism, and the promotion of human rights. The profound changes in the region may alter the framework in which these goals are pursued and challenge the basic assumptions that have long guided U.S. policy.

This report assesses some of the policy implications of recent and ongoing events in the region, provides an overview of U.S. responses to date, and explores select case studies to illustrate some key questions and dilemmas that Congress and the executive branch may face with regard to these issues and others in the future. Questions for possible congressional consideration raised in this report and in corresponding country reports include:

  • What overarching principles and interests should guide the U.S. response to change in the Middle East? With what relative importance and priority? Should U.S. responses be tailored to individual circumstances or guided by a unified set of principles, assumptions, and goals? How can U.S. interests in security, commerce, energy, good governance, and human rights best be reconciled?
  • What are the relative risks and rewards of immediately or directly acting to shape the course of unrest and transitions in the Arab world? What are the potential risks and rewards of a gradual response or of a “wait-and-see” approach? What are other regional and global actors doing or not doing to shape outcomes? Why or why not? At what risk or benefit to U.S. interests?
  • How have established patterns of interaction and existing policies in the Middle East served U.S. interests over time? How have they shaped the range of choices now available to U.S. decision makers, both from a regional perspective and in specific countries? In what ways, if any, should legislative precedent, bureaucratic infrastructure, and funding patterns be revisited? What are the relative roles and responsibilities of Congress and the executive branch in defining future policy?
  • How are U.S. interests and options affected by trends associated with the ongoing change in the Middle East, such as the democratic empowerment of Islamist parties, the weakening of state security authority, or the increased assertiveness of public opinion as an influence on regional policy makers? What new opportunities and risks might these trends entail?
  • How should U.S. policy responses to political change in the broader Middle East be informed by parallel and longer-standing concerns about the Iranian nuclear program, transnational terrorism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How should an understanding of the implications of Arab political change inform U.S. policy on other major policy questions?

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