Religion, politics and culture

Stories from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

KPCC has partnered with a class of the Knight Program on Media and Religion, headed by Diane Winston at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, to showcase work by students covering issues of religion, politics and culture in Southern California.

Whether the issue is the clergy sex abuse, the churches' role in disaster relief or the fate of the Tea Party, developments locally as well as worldwide underscore religion's role in public life. Americans who assumed society was becoming more and more secular have been surprised by religions’ rising visibility and — despite the uptick in "nones’" (the religiously unaffiliated) — the ongoing presence of spirituality, belief in God and daily prayer.

Few newsrooms today can afford a full-time religion reporter, yet covering courts, education, entertainment, police and politics often requires an understanding of religious traditions and the role of belief in daily life. Annenberg's graduate course trains students interested in covering the intersection of religion, politics and culture. Each year, the class focuses on a world religion, reporting first in Los Angeles and then oversea during a 10-day field trip.

In 2010 and 2011 , students reported on Jews and Muslims in SoCal, Israel and Palestine. In 2012, they covered Hindus and Muslims locally and in Delhi, India, and last year the class wrote about Roman Catholics at home and in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This spring, students will report and write on Southern California's Indian community and travel to Pune and Mumbai in March, where they will cover religion, economics and politics.

The class is taught by Diane Winston , a former reporter who, after 10 years of daily journalism, earned a Ph.D. in American religious history. Winston has authored several books on religion and media, and her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post, among other places.


Indian Catholics balance tradition and modernity

A high-ranking bishop in the Syro-Malabar Church — which follows an East Syrian rite of Catholicism — Mar Bosco Puthur arrived in San Fernando this winter bringing prayers for the sick, the poor, the young men and the virgins. And Justin Bieber.

SoCal nun is only woman to head a Hindu sect

Sudha Ma begins with a very slow, soft Sanskrit chant. The community closes its eyes to receive it. Then she begins an extemporaneous sermon about each member’s individual responsibility to seek holiness. She speaks not just here, but on a global stage: She’s the only woman in the world at the head of a Hindu sect. How did this come to pass? “I just wanted to join a meditation group,” Sudha Ma said.

SoCal man builds business selling Indian idols

Kyle Tortora hung up his business suit and left his burgeoning Manhattan career at the age of 26. He needed an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. India stood out as his next best option: He wanted to reconnect with his spirituality — something he had put on hold for success.

Cricket brings diverse ethnic and faith groups together in LA

At Woodley Park in Van Nuys, Calif., spring training is in full swing for Southern California’s cricket players. Makeshift batting cages are up and wickets are scattered in the grass. They play for one of Southern California’s oldest cricket clubs, as well as its most ethnically diverse.

Vedic astrology takes root in Los Angeles

Vedic astrology, also known as Jyotish, has been part of Indian culture for thousands of years, but its followers have grown in the last few decades. As Western interest in zodiac astrology increased, so did interest in other types of astrology and fortune telling.

Hindu-Americans aren’t writing off Sanskrit just yet

On a Wednesday night, Arshya Gurbani reaches into a white cabinet and wakes a couple Hindu gods from their slumber. She carefully lays out statues of Ganesh and Shiva on a table in preparation for aarti, a worship ritual that reminds Hindus to stay humble and give thanks for good fortune.

Bollywood dance comes to Los Angeles

On Sunday morning a little before 11 a.m., the tiny front office at NDM Bollywood Dance Studios in Artesia, Calif., was packed with women waiting for the biweekly “Bollywood Cardio” class to start.

Indian-Americans surge in Calif. politics, but not LA

When Ali Sajjad Taj won a seat on the Artesia city council last November, he became one of the few Pakistani-Americans elected to political office in California. Even a small victory, like winning a city council seat in a town of 16,000 people, is a very big deal.

Mixed-faith Hindu weddings are on the rise

The incense was there. So was the tikka powder and the ceremonial grains of rice. So were the turbans, the saris, and the kurta pajamas. The wedding had all of the makings of a Hindu shaadi, but in one major way, it was far from traditional.

LA Muslims see hope for interfaith relations in the new Catholic Pope Francis

Many in Los Angeles' Muslim community view Francis' actions as a catalyst for bolstered relations — relations they hope will continue with a renewal of the Catholic-Muslim forum, a three-day interreligious summit that first took place in 2008. The first-ever conference opened "a new chapter in the long history" of dialogue between the two faiths.

Celebrating Lent: Why non-religious millennials are choosing to sacrifice

Many non-Catholic and non-religious milliennials are now observing Lent — the traditional season of sacrifice in many Christian denominations, leading up to Easter — as a way to give up something inhibiting their greater good.

How accused molester Benjamin Hawkes helped save the LA Archdiocese from bankruptcy

The newly released cache of over 12,000 Los Angeles Archdiocese documents sheds new light on sexual-abuse allegations against deceased Monsignor Benjamin Hawkes – the financial wizard for the diocese between 1967 and 1985 under Cardinals McIntyre and Manning.

Can the Catholic church attract new adherents with the Internet?

Eighth-grader Aidan O'Sullivan respected everything he learned about religion during his first six years at St. Martin of Tours Catholic school in Brentwood. But during the past two years, he's discovered more and more videos and blogs critical of Catholicism. Late last year, he decided to end his Catholic education.

American tourists in Ireland not surprised by Latin American pick for pope

As the tourist season in Ireland swells around St. Patrick's Day, news of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s papal appointment was met with excitement and celebration, but not surprise.

On Guard: Abuse scandal changes how Catholic Church screens, preps future priests

When the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese released thousands of pages of personnel files last month in connection with the priest sex-abuse scandal, St. John's Seminary in Camarillo was already prepped and praying.

Meet the millennial women who have chosen life as Catholic nuns

When Graciela Ramos turned 33 years old, she realized that married life was not for her. Although her mother wanted grandchildren, she came to understand that she wanted to serve an even bigger family.

Catholic attendees at Anaheim convention reflect on the church's challenges, future

As cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church began to congregate this weekend at the Vatican for the papal conclave, tens of thousands of Catholics convened their own assembly at the Anaheim Convention Center on Saturday.

Cardinal Mahony leaves to vote for pope despite plea from LA Catholic organization

Hours before Cardinal Roger Mahony was scheduled to fly to Rome for the papal conclave, a Catholic organization delivered a petition Saturday to the church where he lives, urging the former archbishop to relinquish his role in selecting the next pope.

The next pope: LA Catholics don't care what country he comes from, as long as he's good

The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has led to media speculation that the next pope might hail from outside of Europe. But parishioners in Los Angeles said that the pope's country of origin doesn't matter to them.

Church turns to social media, performing arts to recruit new priests

Father Robert Victoria is the writer of the musical "Fides Ecclesiae" ("Faith of the Church"), which debuted at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood on Feb. 10. Victoria hopes that telling the stories of two young saints might invoke a holy calling for others.

Betting on the next pope: Oddsmakers pick the top 6 prospects for the next pontiff

Ireland's largest bookmaker, Paddy Power, has calculated the odds that the next pope will be non-European. The company has named what it says are the top most likely choices for a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who steps down at the end of the month.

The next pope: Southern California seminarians to pray for 24 hours in support

In anticipation of the papal conclave assembling to elect a new pope next month, St. John's seminary in Camarillo, Calif., is planning to pray all-night once Roman Catholic Church's 117 cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel.