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Reporting and analysis of the religious forces that drive and influence global news. 

Saudi reformers challenge Islamic movement linked to extremism

Part One: The kingdom's official version of Islam, Wahhabism, has dampened Saudi creativity and impeded government modernization programs. But reform is in the air.
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Saudi boys walk past luxury Mercedes cars displayed at the 2013 International Luxury Motor Show in the capital Riyadh on October 29, 2013. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: Saudi Arabia’s religious landscape has sometimes appeared as a monochromatic terrain of pious Muslims following an intolerant, puritanical version of Islam. If that picture was ever accurate, it is certainly not today.

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Vatican at war with nuns over evolutionary thinking

Part Two: Pope Francis's remarks have often sounded compatible with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's concept of 'conscious evolution.' So why are American nuns in trouble for supporting it?
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Nuns kneel in prayer at the end of Easter Mass service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on April 20, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Andrew Burton/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In GlobalPost’s 2013 series “A New Inquisition,” religion writer Jason Berry went deep behind the daily headlines on the Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the 1500-member council representing the majority of America’s 57,000 nuns.

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Vatican continues attack on American nuns as Pope Francis stands by

Part One: Religious sisters still under pressure despite soothing language from the pope.
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Pope Francis gives a speech during a meeting with prelates, nuns and seminarists at the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, in east Jerusalem, on May 26, 2014. Pope Francis called for people of all faiths to have access to often hotly-contested sacred sites in Jerusalem, on the final day of his whirlwind Middle East trip. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In GlobalPost’s 2013 series “A New Inquisition,” religion writer Jason Berry went deep behind the daily headlines on the Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the 1500-member council representing the majority of America’s 57,000 nuns.

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American Sikhs remember mass violence in India, 30 years later

Thousands of Sikhs died in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. Some in the Sikh diaspora want the pogroms officially recognized as genocide.
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An Indian Sikh devotee takes a dip at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on May 23, 2014, on the occasion of the 535th birth anniversary of Guru Amardas, the third master of the Sikhs. It's the same temple that was attacked by Indian troops in 1984. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

Simran Jeet Singh was born in Texas in the summer of 1984. He doesn’t remember that year, of course, but like many young Sikh Americans, he’s grown up hearing about it: The Indian government feared Sikh secession. At the order of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, military troops marched on Sikhism’s holiest temple. Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Anti-Sikh violence erupted throughout India.

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Saudi Arabia is cracking down on atheism to suppress dissent

Commentary: Law seeks to rein in terrorists as well as send a message to the country’s few atheists.
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Muslim pilgrims pray to God after they threw pebbles at pillars during the 2nd day of "Jamarat" ritual, the stoning of Satan, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, on October 16, 2013. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Since Syria’s conflict began in 2011, a stream of jihadists militants has travelled from Saudi Arabia to join rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al Assad. Although travelling fighters are a Saudi tradition going back to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Saudi government worries that this time they may return home and take up arms against the monarchy.

So it was perhaps no surprise when the government this year criminalized the act of fighting in foreign conflicts, and named as “terrorist” several groups with which the Saudi jihadists identify: Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various factions of Al Qaeda.

What was surprising was the inclusion of another group on the “terrorist” list: Saudi atheists.

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Election success means a third of the EU Parliament will represent anti-EU parties

The perils of globalization are fueling the agendas of right-wing parties, some of whom thrive on hate speech, and other foes of the European Union.
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French far-right party National Front (FN) president Marine Le Pen smiles during a press conference at the party's headquarters on May 27, 2014 in Nanterre, outside Paris. France suffered what has been called a "political earthquake" on May 25 as the National Front topped the polls in European elections with an unprecedented haul of one in every four votes cast. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — Predictable? Yes. An “earthquake?” Maybe.

The European Parliament election results saw unprecedented success for “anti-” parties of the left and, overwhelmingly, of the right.

Anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim. Anti-immigrant (in some cases, the same thing as being anti-Muslim). Xenophobic.

For weeks, Europe's main parties have been bracing for bad results. They got them. One third of the parliament is now made up of anti-EU parties — enough to make life difficult if not to force the EU into fundamental change.

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What Pope Francis saw in Bethlehem

Analysis: Israeli walls, Jewish settlers and Hamas all pose threats to Palestinian Christians, driving increased migration.
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Palestinian spray graffiti on an Israeli army watchtower which makes up a section of the controversial Israeli separation barrier on May 24, 2014 in the West Bank's Biblical town of Bethlehem, where Pope Francis will celebrate a Sunday Mass. (Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

When Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem to preside over a Sunday Mass in Manger Square, he followed in the footsteps of religious pilgrims through the centuries who’ve sought to physically and spiritually connect with the place where tradition holds that Jesus was born and where the Christian faith began.

But the Palestinian Christians who are not tourists or pilgrims but actually live in Bethlehem and Jerusalem as well as villages throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza are a small and steadily diminishing minority.

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India needs zero discrimination in schools to lift up marginalized children

Commentary: Teacher training and tough discipline can help overcome bias against poor pupils.
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An Indian school child looks at a display exhibited at a science fair at a government primary school in Hyderabad on March 24, 2014. The science exhibition has been organized for the first time at primary school-level to encourage the development of talent and activities. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — India’s six-week-long election, in which about 537 million out of 814 million eligible voters went to the polls, is finally over with the election of a new government led by Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

While the hopes of all voters are for a future of opportunity and progress, the politicians all too often campaigned along retrograde lines, perpetuating divides on the basis of caste, religion, or ethnicity. Overcoming those enduring obstacles to social development is particularly important for the millions of children from poor and marginalized communities—Muslims, tribal groups, and Dalits—who are being denied a basic education.

India produces well-trained professionals who excel in the world economy; so much so that in the United States, there is a growing concern that the US education system is unable to keep up with India and China. Yet, India’s public education system, especially at the elementary levels, is excluding children because of bias.

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Rise of Hungary's right-wing Jobbik party bodes poorly for Jews and Roma

Part One: Exploring Jobbik's appeal as far-right parties across Europe head strongly into this week's EU Parliamentary elections.
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A participant holds a picture with the text "No vote for hatred" as Hungarian and foreign anti-fascist activists march at the Freedom Bridge of Budapest on April 3, 2014 during their peace march to demonstrate against the far-right policy in Hungary. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: As Europeans go to the polls to elect a parliament, the most identifiable trend is the remorseless rise of xenophobic political parties. But they are not the crude neo-Nazi operations of yore. Their origins may be based in anti-Semitic feelings that never completely died out after World War Two, but now the messaging is more sophisticated. Michael Goldfarb reports from Hungary in this two-part series.

BUDAPEST, Hungary — What does anti-Semitism look like, feel like and sound like in modern Europe today?

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Hungary's Jobbik: part Occupy Wall Street, part Tea Party, part KKK

Part Two: Using a selective version of history and appealing to 'gut feelings' is proving effective for Jobbik, one of several far-right parties surging in Europe.
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The commander-in-chief of the New Hungarian Guard, Istvan Meszaros, nominated as candidate for nationalist Jobbik party for the Hungarian National Assembly, answers a journalist's question during an interview in Baja, southern Hungary on March 24, 2014. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: As Europeans go to the polls to elect a parliament, the most identifiable trend is the remorseless rise of xenophobic political parties. But they are not the crude neo-Nazi operations of yore. Their origins may be based in anti-Semitic feelings that never completely died out after World War Two, but now the messaging has become more sophisticated. Michael Goldfarb reports from Hungary in this two-part series.

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