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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Tensions Around Reopenings and Cancellations of Festivals; Revival of Gleaning

In Nepal, a country with a vibrant mix of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and culture, many faith leaders have criticized the government for scaling down festivals and rituals in the name of public health. The leaders fear that “divine anger” could lead to more destruction. However, Satya Mohan Joshi, a 101-year-old Nepali cultural icon and scholar, insists that people should move with the times and follow scientific guidelines rather than become preoccupied with festivals. Joshi also mentioned that in the past pandemics were viewed as a curse from the gods and that now people worry that by not performing festivals and rituals gods could become angry and further punish the country. Joshi says, "In the name of conducting festivals and organizing feasts, we cannot take risks that may cause the spread of coronavirus in Kathmandu. That would shatter our economy and health service. We should keep ourselves safe by following the guidance issued globally by the medical community." 
As the United States begins to loosen restrictions on religious gatherings, news sources have been reporting on various COVID outbreaks tied to church gatherings. In North Carolina, a Pentecostal church was ordered to close for two weeks after 121 cases and 3 deaths were confirmed as stemming from the church. The church leadership allegedly refused to comply with mask orders, social distancing, or contact tracing. Last week, in California, three cases were linked to a church in Los Angeles that also defied a mask order. Nationwide, many churches have resisted state orders and some have sued, claiming that the banning of religions gatherings violates their First Amendment rights. In opposition, an opinion piece published by Christianity Today insists that the term “religious persecution” in the context of American churches being ordered to close is a misused term. The author goes on to argue that churches are being instructed to close only for temporary health reasons, which should be followed for the sake of public health.
Food insecurity brought on by the pandemic has led to a revival of gleaning, a term used for collecting leftover food from a farmer’s harvest to give to those in need. Gleaning is familiar to Christians and Jews as it is mentioned in scripture as a divinely commanded way of feeding the poor and the stranger. Various houses of worship and local charities, with the help of volunteers, collect gleaned food to distribute. However, due to the pandemic, there has been a drop in volunteers. A Muslim gleaning volunteer in California said it best: “Charity and service to the poor is the foundation of all of our faiths. We do it in different ways, (but) it’s the same commandment to help people of our community.” In the Philippines, the social media hashtag #ChurchInAction captures religious and spiritual interventions across the country and showcases the efforts of the Philippine Church.

A recent policy brief titled "Religious Leaders’ Perspectives on Corona" came out in October detailing online survey results from faith leaders mostly hailing from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Faith leaders responded that their communities were suffering primarily due to the economic challenges caused by government restrictions to curb the spread. Around 90% of European faith respondents said the government handled the pandemic well, compared to 50% in the Middle East and Africa. Key takeaways from the brief were that government and development actors should be aware of the willingness of faith leaders to use their influence to reinforce public health measures and that data suggests the majority of leaders promote prevention measures. The brief also recommended more research on context-specific coping strategies supported by various religious communities.
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