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The Meaning of My Neighbor's Faith: Interreligious Reflections of Immigration

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Most readers of this text will be aware of what has become known in media, popular culture, and scholarship as “the global refugee crisis.” This phrase is shorthand for what has basically become a long-term humanitarian disaster in which 22.5 million people have been forcibly displaced as refugees from their homelands, the highest number recorded since the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees began keeping statistics of refugee movements. Furthermore, there are currently 2.8 million asylum seekers and 40.3 million people who are internally displaced within the borders of their state of origin.1 The majority of refugees are from Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan, but many come from elsewhere, fleeing violence and persecution either from their governments or from various gangs or paramilitary groups. Many find this crisis tragic, and some of us would say it is intolerable—but what is to be done? To address this question, religious people, leaders, thinkers, and organizations draw on the ethical thought and practice of their traditions, seeking to respond to the movement of people fleeing violence and oppression— and especially to the arrival of refugees in countries that are not always prepared to assist them. The theoretical and practical work of religious traditions will look different in different places, but there are certain basic questions that come up for anyone who seeks to do scholarly, advocacy, or charitable work that deals with the current crisis. It is crucial that those questions are named and understood, so that those who seek to stand with and assist refugees can articulate the value commitments that motivate their work and the facts about refugee movements, especially in light of much misunderstanding and a significant amount of vitriol directed at refugees. Scholars and activists alike should also recognize and examine the broad geopolitical conditions that have led to and shaped the crisis. With that in mind, the purpose of this chapter is to lay out and gain clarity on a

few basic questions that, I argue, the world’s religious traditions must address both compassionately and incisively in light of the global refugee crisis. These questions fall into five categories of concern. I describe both individual questions and the broader categories they fall into because when religious people seek solutions to the refugee crisis, especially when they disagree with or seek to educate their coreligionists or others, they ought to understand what category/ies of questions they are addressing and frame their contributions clearly. This helps to make clear their traditions’ teachings about issues having to do with refugees and allows them better to address concerns that either mischaracterize refugees and the refugee crisis or suggest that nothing can, or perhaps nothing should, be done. The categories are these: 1) a religious tradition’s teachings about hospitality, especially with interreligious or intercultural others, and its understanding of the meaning of “hospitality”; 2) the intersection of religious ethical thought with human rights considerations in light of refugee movements; 3) the need for a factual and nuanced understanding of practical concerns of economic life and security; 4) the nature of sovereignty and the contemporary global political order as a whole; and 5) the prevention of refugee movements before they happen. The first three sections of this chapter address questions in category 1; the fourth section, category 2; the fifth, category 3; the sixth and seventh, category 4; and the eighth, category 5. Traditions’ specific answers to the questions described below may differ, but one problem that arises in debates over how to respond to refugees is simply that different parties to the debates are often asking different questions, or are not clear as to which questions and concerns they are arguing about. This chapter aims to provide a framework for shaping our conversations so that, at the very least, we are all talking about the same thing. I anticipate that this chapter may be of use to scholars who are newly approaching the field of theological, philosophical, ethical, and religious thought about refugee issues; to students for whom these questions may help both to clarify the dialogue they hear in the media and in academic scholarship and to provide guidance on questions they might ask of themselves, their colleagues, and their teachers; and to members of diverse religious traditions who are concerned about the refugee crisis and believe their or other traditions may have something to say, but are not certain where to start.


That full acknowledgement is given to the publisher of the original publication of Chapter 15: The Global Refugee Crisis and Religious Ethics: Questions to Ask (pages 227-247) authored by Laura E. Alexander of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which appears in "The Meaning of My Neighbor's Faith: Interreligious Reflections of Immigration" edited by Alexander Y. Hwang and Laura E. Alexander, published December 2018 by Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, and reproduced by permission of Rowman & Littlefield The Meaning of My Neighbor’s Faith: Interreligious Reflections on Immigration - 9781978700697 (

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