Conversation Series

The Ansari Institute presents “Engaged: Religion and the Common Good,” a conversation series exploring questions relating to global affairs and the human condition. 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

Faith, Hope & Lament: Palestinian Christian Perspectives

Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, the pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, shares his personal story of faith, hope, and lament as a Palestinian Christian.

Isaac, who also serves as academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College and director of Christ at the Checkpoint, describes how he was traumatized as a child by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet amid adversity, he found strength in community, hope in the Gospel, and courage through love to speak truth to power.

Here, the pastor, author, and activist invites listeners to “step into the other side of the wall and listen to Palestinian stories and perspectives”—an act of radical empathy he believes can break down biases and barriers and create space for dialogue and understanding.

Christianity vs. Christianity: Religion in Putin's War

Ansari Institute faculty member Charles Powell talks with Yury P. Avvakumov, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, about religion and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Their wide-ranging discussion explores how Russian President Vladimir Putin has invoked religion to support his political aims, acting against basic Christian principles; the problematic role of Russian Orthodox Nationalism; and how a Russian victory in Ukraine would hurt religious freedom. They also explore Avvakumov's research on the history of Christianity, and his insights on opportunities for Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism.

ESG Investing: An Ethical Approach to Finance Can Help Us Build a Better World

ESG investing has become increasingly popular in recent years among socially conscious investors, including people of faith. Ansari Institute faculty member Charles Powell talks with Georges Enderle, John T. Ryan Jr. Professor Emeritus of International Business Ethics at the Mendoza College of Business and Concurrent Professor in the Keough School of Global Affairs, about ESG investing and the promise it holds for shaping a more equitable and sustainable future.

Religion, Ethnicity, and Nationalism: Reflections on the Myanmar Coup

Teaching professor Alexander Hsu talks with author, scholar, and activist David Moe about the coup in Myanmar, and the roles that religion, ethnicity, and nationalism have played in it.

They discuss how Buddhism has been invoked to both support violence and nationalism and to protest violent dictatorship and support democracy. Their conversation also explores public theology as a way to to engage the broader community in important conversations that stem from the academy.

Decolonizing Religion and Peacebuilding

Teaching professor Alexander Hsu talks with Garrett R. FitzGerald, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, about decoloniality and what it means for the study of religion and peacebuilding.

How might these fields move beyond a Eurocentric approach that excludes important narratives, and how can they promote a truly “pluriversal” dialogue that enables people from different traditions to collaborate on important issues?

Protecting Religious Freedom for All

Daniel Philpott, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and an Ansari Institute faculty fellow, talks with Asma Uddin, an author, lawyer, and scholar specializing in religious liberty issues.

Their conversation explores how the concept of religious freedom has become a partisan issue in the United States, the protections afforded by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the experience of American Muslims during the Trump administration. They also discuss how conservative Christians might find common cause with Muslims on religious freedom issues, as well as strategies for healing and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.

Screening Muslims: Working for Peace Through the Media

Ansari Institute Executive Director Mahan Mirza speaks with members of the Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) team about the organization's work to counter bigotry and create peace through the media.

They discuss UPF's films, which tell compelling stories as part of long-term educational campaigns aimed at increasing religious and cultural pluralism, especially among Muslims and other faiths. Their conversation also explores UPF's work in Hollywood, which includes consulting on popular series to develop more authentic Muslim characters and storylines.

Hindus for Human Rights

Teaching professor Alexander Hsu speaks with Nikhil Mandalaparthy, advocacy director for Hindus for Human Rights, a US-based advocacy organization that works for multi-religious pluralism in the United States, South Asia, and beyond.

Together, they discuss how Hindu concepts of shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and manavtha (human rights) can help promote an inclusive and egalitarian Hinduism—an alternative to Hindu nationalism.

They also explore how Hindus for Human Rights is supporting important relief work as India battles a deadly second wave of COVID-19.

On the Altar of Peace

To achieve sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, argues Dr. Yehezkel Landau, both sides must embrace a narrative empathy that allows them to see the humanity of the other. The ability to harbor a “dual narrative perspective,” Landau says, is the foundation upon which the temple of peace can faithfully be built. In this temple, both sides must back away from maximalist claims to beloved land—a painful but necessary sacrifice on the altar of peace.

Drawing on his article titled “Can Zionism Be Redeemed?” in Tikkun Magazine, Landau frames the current situation as an agonizing tragedy: The Israeli and Palestinian peoples have both suffered and committed oppression; both have been victims as well as victimizers. Yet the self-described “faithful realist” believes both peoples can work together for an inclusive and just future that offers freedom, equity, and security for everyone.

Join Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute, as he explores these topics with Landau, an interfaith educator, leadership trainer, author, and consultant (and dual Israeli-American citizen) who has been working to improve Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations and promote Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding for more than 40 years.

Buddhism and Life with Venerable Yifa

Alexander Hsu, adjunct assistant teaching professor with the Ansari Institute, speaks with Venerable Yifa, founder of the Woodenfish Foundation, about how Buddhism has shaped her life and what she continues to learn from it.

Together, they discuss Humanistic Buddhism, Buddhism's insights for a polarized electorate and its relationship to science, the power of interfaith dialogue, and much more

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