Conversation Series

The Ansari Institute presents "Engaged: Religion and the Common Good," a series of online conversations on questions relating to the human condition and to global affairs. The series covers a variety of topics, from poverty and peace to climate change and good governance as well as tradition and technology. Our conversations engage local and global partners, including students, educators, and journalists. For suggestions on topics and themes, please email us at ansari@nd.edu.

Religious Conflict and Religious Freedom

Alexander Hsu, adjunct assistant teaching professor with the Ansari Institute, speaks with Jason Klocek, Global Religion Research Initiative postdoctoral research fellow for the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society and a senior researcher at the United States Institute of Peace.

Together, they discuss how Klocek became interested in studying religion and conflict, and they explore the idea of religious freedom—a contentious topic for scholars of religion. They also talk about Klocek’s work on “Closing the Gap” and other projects at USIP, as well as his experience teaching the “Holy Cross-roads” course on global religion and politics for the Ansari Institute.

Remembering Hiroshima: Religion and Responsibility

Alexander Hsu, adjunct assistant teaching professor with the Ansari Institute, speaks with Yuki Miyamoto, an associate professor at DePaul University who specializes in religion and nuclear ethics, about the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Together, they discuss narratives of Hiroshima, and how the bombing is remembered. Their conversation touches on Miyamoto's personal history growing up in Hiroshima; teaching John Hersey's book Hiroshima in the United States; Miyamoto’s 2011 book Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: Commemoration, Religion, and Responsibility after Hiroshima; and ethical lessons conceptions of agency and responsibility from a Japanese Buddhist school called True Pure Land Buddhism. They also explore Miyamoto’s new book, Naze genbaku ga aku dewanainoka: Amerika no kakuishiki (Why the atomic bomb was not evil: the nuclear discourse in the United States).

The Mocking of Modernity and the Search for Meaning

Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute, talks with Christian Smith, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame.

Together, in a discussion recorded during the first week of classes, they discuss Smith’s contribution to “The Great Reopening Debate,” published in the Chronicle of Higher Education in summer 2020.

In his piece, Smith noted that COVID-19 makes a mockery of modernity and its emphasis on freedom and control, and reflected on the meaning he saw in teaching amid the challenges posed by a pandemic. “If I fall ill or even die in the course of teaching my fantastic students, it will have been for something I most love and value in life,” he wrote.

Their conversation also explores meaning and narrative, navigating pluralism, and the homogeneity of worldviews in higher education, as well as critical realism, which is Smith’s major contribution to the philosophy of social science.

Religion: A Double-Edged Sword

Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute, speaks with Azza Karam, secretary general of Religions for Peace and a member of the Ansari Institute’s advisory board.

Together, they discuss how religion can be both helpful and detrimental for peacebuilding and human rights, and the need for a radically inclusive approach. They also reflect on how a global pandemic can provide an opportunity for better collaboration among NGOs from different faith traditions.

Readings related to this discussion

Faith and Flourishing in a Pandemic

Asmaa El Messnaoui, program manager for the Ansari Institute, talks with two members of the Keough School's Master of Global Affairs program: Seiko Kanda, a 2020 graduate and John Bosco Lugonja, a member of the Class of 2021. Together, they discuss how religion helps create meaning during a global pandemic and how faith communities are adapting to the new reality. They also explore a holistic vision of integral human development and the need to confront racism.

Race, Religion, and Reparative Justice: Black Lives Matter and International Human Rights

Alex Hsu, a postdoctoral research associate with the Ansari Institute, talks with Diane Desierto, associate professor of human rights law and global affairs at the Keough School of Global Affairs, about the call for racial justice and how it intersects with international human rights law. Their conversation follows the recent announcement of a UN investigation into systemic racism and discrimination against people of African descent.

Together, they explore the importance of religious discourse in human rights discussions and stress the need for greater understanding and empathy.

An American Imam on Overcoming Racism, Militarism, and Unbridled Capitalism

Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute, speaks with Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder and senior faculty member of Zaytuna College. Together, they discuss the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, reflecting on the need to address systemic racism and militarism, as well as economic inequality.

Dialogue: The Shape of Religious Engagement

Alex Hsu, a postdoctoral research associate with the Ansari Institute, discusses interfaith dialogue with Charly Pine, a fellow at Notre Dame’s Inspired Leadership Initiative, and Charles Powell, adjunct professor of Christian-Muslim Dialogue at Holy Cross College. Together, they explore engaging with religious others, peacemaking, and integrating faith and reason.

Faith, Adversity, and Providing Opportunities for Troubled Youth

Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute, talks with representatives of Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center, which provides growth and development opportunities for troubled youth. Joining him are Darrell R. Gordon, Wernle’s president and CEO; Faris Ghani, Wernle’s philanthropy officer; and Rev. Clifford Nunn, Wernle’s manager of special events and campus chaplain. Together, they discuss how adversity presents opportunities for change, and how faith can lead people and organizations to make a difference.

(To learn more about Wernle Youth & Family Treatment Center, please visit its website and Facebook page.)

Religion, Dialogue, and Peacebuilding

In this wide-ranging conversation, Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute, talks with Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and the chair of the Ansari Institute’s advisory board.

Together, they discuss how McAleese, drawing on her faith, committed herself to promoting reconciliation and building bridges across religious and political divides. Their conversation also explores the role of leadership and language in peacebuilding, the importance of incorporating religion in public discourse to promote the common good, and the value of both introspection and engaging with others within one’s own religious tradition.

From Pastor to Peacebuilder

Alex Hsu, a postdoctoral research associate with the Ansari Institute, talk with Charles Powell, adjunct professor of Christian-Muslim Dialogue at Holy Cross College, who share lessons from his career as a Southern Baptist pastor, including his work to promote narrative empathy and combat Islamophobia.

From Missionary to Peacemaker

Alex Hsu, a postdoctoral research associate with the Ansari Institute, talks with Charly Pine, a fellow at Notre Dame’s Inspired Leadership Initiative who recounts his 25-year personal journey from missionary to peacemaker while living in China.

A Church Serves Its City

Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute, speaks with Carl Hetler, pastor of Broadway Christian Parish in South Bend, about his church’s important work to serve the greater South Bend community. Together, they explore the church's practice of "radical hospitality" and how it has adapted to serve its community online in the wake of COVID-19