Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers issues of religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and social and cultural conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Gjelten's latest book is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, published in 2015. His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a regular panelist on the PBS program "Washington Week," and a member of the editorial board at World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

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Religion has played an outsized role in U.S. history and politics, but it's one that has often gone unrecognized in U.S. museums.

"As a focused subject area, it's been neglected," says Peter Manseau, a scholar and writer installed last year as the first full-time religion curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

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Immigration authorities have rounded up nearly 200 Iraqis in recent weeks, and the Trump administration is now under heavy pressure to hold off moves to deport them.

Many of those currently detained are from the minority Chaldean Christian community, which faces severe persecution in Iraq.

U.S. immigration authorities say the detained Iraqis have criminal records, but their families and supporters say many have already served time or paid their fines and that they would face persecution if sent back.

Saturday's nationwide "March Against Sharia," sponsored by a group known for aggressively criticizing Islam, has in recent days become a rallying cause for right-wing extremists, forcing march organizers to repudiate some of their own supporters and prompting concern about clashes with militant leftists.

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By heading straight to the homelands of Islam, Judaism and Christianity on his first presidential trip, Donald Trump took a major risk. The possibility of offending his hosts somewhere along the way with an ill-considered tweet or offhand remark loomed large. Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican are places where appearances matter and words must be chosen carefully.

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Now to the Vatican for our feature Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand some of the stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing a word or phrase connected with the story.

President Trump's choice to represent the United States at the Vatican, Callista Gingrich, has one especially prominent achievement as a Catholic: She is responsible for her husband, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, converting to Roman Catholicism in 2009.

"When Newt became a Catholic, it was one of the happiest moments of my life," she said in a 2012 interview with The New Yorker.

Donald Trump's first overseas trip as president begins Friday with a pilgrimage of sorts. With stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, Trump will be visiting the centers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the three major monotheistic religions.

But he's wading into deep waters with potential for missteps and disagreement. He'll meet with Muslim leaders despite declaring that "Islam hates us" during the campaign; he'll meet with Pope Francis, who advocates for countries to be welcoming to refugees.

Here is a proposition that may seem self-evident to many people: As societies become more modern, religion loses its grip. People separate their religion from their institutions and from parts of their lives.

Sociologists have a name for this idea. They call it the "secularization thesis." Now, research suggests the story is more complicated.

In 1822, Thomas Jefferson suggested an early version of it, predicting that Unitarianism "will, ere long, be the religion of the majority from north to south."

Like any good fifth-grade teacher, Mike Matthews wants to make his social studies unit on the American West as exciting as possible. So he's planning a special "Wild West" evening at the school with his students.

"We're going to have good ol' cowboy-fashion hot dogs and beans, Texas Toast and beef jerky," he says. Matthews will tell stories around a mock campfire, and for added authenticity, the fifth-graders will set up a saloon.

At a time of declining church attendance across America and growing disenchantment with traditional religion, a Catholic parish in Hyattsville, Md., thrives by embracing the very orthodoxy other congregations have abandoned.

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