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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Religion on Global Agendas and at Global Policy Tables

The seventh annual G20 Interfaith Forum met virtually last week (October 13-17) with a wide-ranging agenda that was permeated throughout by the impact of COVID-19. The agenda addressed health disparities and priorities, environmental issues, religious aspects of women’s roles, and governance, particularly their impact on vulnerable groups, including children and refugees. A central focus was religious engagement on global agendas, including how to achieve it. It was argued that the urgent challenges of testing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines cannot be met without concerted religious support. On that topic, a New England Journal of Medicine “Perspective” piece highlights the critical roles of trust and trustworthiness in relation to Black community engagement on vaccine issues and highlights faith roles.
The continued grip of COVID-19 emergencies frames underlying questions posed (including for our team): both how physical distancing and other restrictions affect research approaches, and new and old questions to pose. A fascinating Washington Post article compares medieval responses (including superstitions) to the plague to contemporary reactions. Questions are already on the table about lasting effects of the pandemic, in terms of religious practice as well as financial underpinnings. The Pew Research Center reports on a survey asking Americans fundamental questions about how they see the pandemic’s meaning for humanity. A lengthy Freedom House report examined, globally, the pandemic’s impact for democracy (though missing explicit focus on religious dimensions). An LSE study of civil society responses to COVID in Africa includes analysis of faith organizations and religious leaders; our team will be consulted as further research is conducted.
Resurgence of outbreaks and concerns about “coronavirus fatigue” are rising issues, with active resistance to health directives among New York’s Orthodox Jews (also) as an example. The large Mouride annual pilgrimage (the Magal) proceeded last week, a notable contrast to Senegal’s disciplined and successful approach to curtailing the spread of COVID-19. More positively, traditional practices appear to help in controlling virus spread in regions of Eastern Africa. And religious efforts to address trafficking, which is seeing a resurgence during the pandemic, include persistent work by Catholic religious sisters.
Tensions around boundaries of religious freedom in the time of COVID continue to crop up.  A fact sheet from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) frames the topic. The issue was also highlighted by the U.S. ambassador for religious freedom in a speech at the United Nations. New guidelines continue to emerge, notably an interreligious guide from KAICIID.
Burials of the dead during the pandemic continues to accentuate grieving and spark tensions, a topic that links religious practice and spiritual support directly to public health guidelines and the impact of lockdown measures.

Finally, some dramatic photographs highlight the diverse impact of COVID-19 on religious practice around the world.
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