Senior Journalists Seminar

Senior Journalists feeding ‘sacred’ cows in Mumbai, India.Launched in 2003, the Senior Journalists Seminar (SJS) is a 21-day professional dialogue, study, and travel program intended to enhance media coverage and elevate the public debate regarding religion and its role in the public sphere, specifically as it concerns U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Designed for senior print, radio, broadcast, and online journalists from the U.S. and countries with substantial Muslim populations, the seminar offers an opportunity for participating journalists to engage their peers, experts, and the public on issues relevant to U.S. relations with the Muslim world including:  religiosity, religious diversity and religious freedoms/rights in the United States and Asia; identity, treatment and representation of religious minority groups; the political, economic, educational, artistic, and cultural role religion plays in societies; initiatives to reduce religious tensions and domestic extremism; and the impact of the media’s coverage of religion on public perception and international relations.

A Senior Journalist tours the Gawad Kaling Housing Project, a faith-based community project in Manila, Philippines.The Senior Journalists Seminar emphasizes long-term knowledge acquisition regarding the religiosity, religious diversity and religious freedom/rights within the study tour countries as well as the political context, structures, and policy influencers of those countries. These background sessions provide the foundational knowledge from which journalists can better understand the political, economic, educational, artistic, and cultural role religion plays in society and provide the tools necessary to analyze U.S. relations with the Muslim world. In order to dispel negative stereotypes and increase understanding, SJS also maximizes interaction among participants and the local American and Asian communities to which they travel. SJS offers participating journalists an opportunity to speak with government officials, military and business leaders, academics, authors, artists, filmmakers, musicians, and their peers regarding the role of religion in government policy, finance, education, arts,  and culture. Through people-to-people interactions with religious leaders, educators, students, and community activists, journalists examine efforts to include religious minorities, reduce religious tensions, and combat violent domestic extremism. Journalists also attend dinner in a local family’s home; participate in various community receptions and public forums; and visit art and cultural museums as well as churches, temples, mosques, and other religious centers. Finally, the media’s role in choosing, framing, and disseminating stories with a religious element and its effective shaping of public perception and U.S. relations with the Muslim world is also explored. It is a signature program at the EWC due to its demonstrated outcomes and impact:

  • Nuanced understanding of religion’s role in the public sphere, specifically as it concerns U.S. relations with the Muslim world gained by participating journalists through discussions at the EWC and during study-tour meetings with government, military and business officials, religious leaders, academics, journalists, authors, artists, filmmakers, educators and students, and community activists.
  • Informed regional perspective of religion’s role in the public sphere as practiced in the countries represented by participating journalists through their engagement with one another throughout the 21-day seminar and beyond via social media.
  • Development of reliable professional and personal information networks upon which journalists may draw for future coverage and analysis of U.S. relations with the Muslim world.
  • Enhanced media coverage and increased public awareness of religion, its role in the public sphere and U.S. relations with the Muslim world through:
    • interactive dialogue between SJS participants and outreach to local communities via panel discussions, student forums, interviews with local media, observance of religious services and interaction with adherents, host family dinners, art and cultural activities, and public events;
    • tweets, blog postings and stories written, produced and edited by participating journalists;
    • greater depth and balance to future media coverage of stories with a religious element.

To date, 128 journalists from 12 countries have participated. For a complete list of our Senior Journalists Alumni, please click here.

2015 Senior Journalists Seminar

Theme:  Bridging Gaps in U.S. Relations with the Muslim World

The 2015 Senior Journalists Seminar (2015SJS) brought together American, Asian, Middle and Near Eastern, North African, and Turkish (MENAT) journalists for a 21-day professional dialogue, study and travel program to Washington, DC; Nashville, Tennessee; Honolulu, Hawaii; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Lahore and Islamabad, Pakistan. The 2015SJS began in Washington, DC with an overview of the American political system, including the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, federalism, the separation of powers, and congressional influencers on foreign policymaking. Other foundational sessions examined the religious make-up, diversity of religious identity, and the prayer and attendance practices of the American public as well as religion in media, arts and culture. In Nashville, journalists experientially explored America’s multicultural and multi-religious society, the experiences of Muslim-American communities, initiatives bridging faith divides, and how art and pop culture inform audiences about religion. The Honolulu study tour featured a public reception at Shangri La and participant presentations summarizing religion’s role in their home countries. Throughout the U.S. study tour, journalists also considered U.S. political, military and cultural engagement with the Muslim world as well as counterterrorism efforts. Travel to Kuala Lumpur, Lahore and Islamabad contextualized and compared religion’s role in the public sphere across Asia; provided first-hand exposure to and more nuanced understanding of the diversity of Muslim societies; and built the professional networks of participating journalists.

New for the 2015SJS, experiences and meetings were included in all three countries to deepen journalists’ understanding of Muslim cultures through the arts, culture, and new media. The addition of arts and culture journalists from the United States and MENAT to the 2015SJS contributed a greater richness and diversity of perspective. Finally, the media’s role in choosing, framing, and disseminating stories with a religious element and its effective shaping of public perception and U.S. relations with the Muslim world was also explored. As the Senior Journalists Seminar required participating journalists to attend various religious services as respectful observers and included both high level government meetings and tours of impoverished areas, it is important to note that the seminar was both mentally and physically challenging.

Dates:  August 19 – September 10, 2015

Study Destinations:  Washington, DC; Nashville, Tennessee; Honolulu, Hawaii; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Lahore and Islamabad, Pakistan

Who Could Apply:  Media professionals from print, broadcast, and online news organizations, including reporters, writers, editors, producers, columnists, bloggers, and editorial writers with a minimum of ten years of experience were eligible to apply. The 2015 Senior Journalists Seminar included 17 journalists from the United States and countries with substantial Muslim populations, defined as: Algeria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste, Tunisia and Turkey. Successful candidates represent the diversity of religions (e.g. covered and non-covered Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Catholics and Christians), ethnicities, and regional differences within the United States, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle and Near East, North Africa, and Turkey. Preference was given to those journalists who offered compelling story ideas, clear dissemination strategies and who specialize in beats such as foreign relations, security, politics, and religion. The 2015 seminar also included five journalists from the United States and three from MENAT who cover arts and culture. Fluency in English was required.

The EWC required journalists to file at least one story or a series of blogs and/or tweets resulting from their participation in the seminar. Journalists also offered specific story ideas and how they would fulfill this requirement in their application.

Funding:  The 2015 Senior Journalists Seminar was funded by the East-West Center, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and supported the participation of 17 journalists from the United States and countries with substantial Muslim populations, as defined above. Valued at approximately USD$10,450 per person, funding included:   

  • Roundtrip airfare to and from their home country and throughout the study tour
  • Ground transportation and airport transfers
  • Lodging in each of the study tour destinations
  • Provided program meals and a modest per diem to cover meals not provided
  • Cultural activities and networking opportunities
  • Interpretation in-country, when necessary
  • Pro-rated speaker honorariums, cooperating organization costs and meeting rooms
  • Participant Resource Binder
  • Seminar DVD of program documents, speaker PowerPoint presentations and photos
All participants were responsible for the Senior Journalists Seminar fee of USD$800.00, visa fees, health insurance and airline baggage charges. EWC encouraged additional participant cost-sharing of programmatic costs and considered cost-sharing in the selection of applicants.

Congratulations to our 2015 Senior Journalists:

  • Ms. Elena L. ABEN, Senior Reporter, Manila Bulletin, Manila, Philippines
  • Mr. Rana Tanveer ALI, Senior Reporter, The Express Tribune, Lahore, Pakistan
  • Mr. Abdelrauof ARNAOUT, Senior Political Reporter, Al-Ayyam Newspaper, Ramallah, Palestine
  • Mr. John HUDSON, Senior Reporter, Foreign Policy, Washington, DC, USA
  • Mr. Sameer Arshad KHATLANI, Chief Copy Editor, The Times of India, New Delhi, India
  • Ms. Kim LAWTON, Managing Editor/Correspondent, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Public Broadcasting System, Washington, DC, USA
  • Mr. Hayman H. MOHAMMED, Head of Digital Media, Rudaw Media Network, Erbil, Iraq
  • Mr. Muamar Orabi NAKHLA, General Director/Chief Editor, Wattan Media, Ramallah, Palestine
  • Ms. Ailing QIN, Senior Reporter, South Reviews Magazine, Guangzhou Daily News Group, Guangzhou, China
  • Ms. Mallika RAO, Staff Writer, The Huffington Post, New York City, New York, USA
  • Ms. Chaitali B. ROY, Special Correspondent, Arab Times Kuwait and Producer/Editor, Radio Kuwait, Safat, Kuwait/Indian
  • Ms. Ethar EL-KATATNEY, Senior Producer, AJ+, San Francisco, California, USA/Egyptian
  • Mr. Jawad SUKHANYAR, Reporter, The New York Times, Kabul Bureau, Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Ms. Aisha SULTAN, Editor and Columnist, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  • Ms. Seen Hau THAM, Head of Content, Kinitv, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Ms. Kimberly WINSTON, National Correspondent, Religion News Service, San Francisco, California, USA
  • Mr. Kourosh ZIABARI, Op-ed Writer, Tehran Times and Correspondent, Iran Review, Tehran, Iran
2014 Senior Journalists Seminar

Theme:  Bridging Gaps between the United States and the Muslim World

Study Destinations:  Washington, DC; Boston, Massachusetts; Honolulu, Hawaii; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Dates:  August 19 - September 10, 2014

The 2014 Senior Journalists in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the U.S. White House.

The 2014 Senior Journalists meet with Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb following the observance of Sabbath service, Bethesda, MD.Highlights of the 2014 Senior Journalists Seminar (2014SJS) in the United States included religious observance and community discussions at Masjid Muhammad (Nation of Islam), the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Temple (Reconstructionist Jews), Park Street Church (Evangelical Christian) and Wat Dhammavihara Temple (Buddhists). The journalists also benefited from an overview of the American political system that covered the impact of federalism; the separation of powers; and congressional influencers on foreign policymaking. A meeting with Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, and Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, both of Harvard University, explored the consequences of America’s multicultural and multi-religious society; the clash between exclusivist and pluralist visions of being American; the experiences of Muslim communities in the U.S; and examples of networks and initiatives bridging faith divides in the U.S. A visit to the Knowledge Academy, the first and only Islamic school in Massachusetts to offer an integrated Hifz program in their curriculum, further highlighted the religious and cultural diversity of the United States. Finally, the journalists also explored what it means to be an American Muslim and how pop culture informs audiences about religion in a panel session with Sahar Ullah, Founder of the Hijabi Monologues, and Habib Yazdi, Co-Founder of Sheikh and Bake Productions. 

Minister of Religious Affairs, Lukman Hakim Saefuddin provides an overview of Indonesia's political and religious diversity.The 2014SJS also took the participating journalists to Indonesia immediately following the historic election of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and featured several sessions on the 2005 Helsinki MoU ending armed hostilities between the Indonesian central government and Acehnese insurgents; the implementation of the MoU’s “self-government” provisions; and the MoU’s impact on the people of Aceh. The Indonesia program also provided an opportunity for the journalists to consider the implementation of Sharia law in Aceh, to whom it applies, the enforcement mechanisms, and how those laws may or may not impinge on individual rights. As Aceh is the only province in Indonesia explicitly authorized by national law to adopt laws derived from Islam, the journalists found panel discussions with representatives of the Islamic Sharia Agency and with women’s rights activists to be useful both as a means of deciphering sharia law itself as well as in understanding the politicization of Islam’s moral code. A session with LGBT activists was also highlighted as useful in providing an overview of LGBT rights in Indonesia and the role of religion in defining and limiting those rights. The journalists also met with the Grand Imam of Indonesia’s national mosque, Masjid Istiqal, which has a capacity of 120,000, making it the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. In addition, the journalists toured a privately-run pesantren and spoke with school administrators regarding the curriculum, class size and the education background of the teachers themselves. Finally, the journalists had a rare opportunity to meet with female fashion designer, Jenahara Nasution, to explore Indonesia’s fashion industry and whether Islamic fashion is, or is not, The 2014 Senior Journalists speak with residents of the Tanah Abang slum in Jakarta and tour their makeshift homes.integrated into the mainstream fashion industry. Together these on-the-ground experiences in Indonesia provided the 2014 Senior Journalists with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Islam as it is practiced in the world’s largest Muslim country.

The 2014SJS provided participating journalists with deeper understanding, knowledge and insight into issues relevant to U.S. relations with the Muslim world. For some, the 2014SJS added needed context, accurate information and first-hand perspectives that will stay with them throughout their careers and will improve their reporting. One participating 2014 Senior Journalist wrote of her experience:

I have been able to engage in a meaningful and robust exchange with important figures and leaders representing the community and government in the U.S. I have become aware of the issues that American Muslims face and how they reconcile their American and Muslim identities. Related to this, I have better insight into how government policies may shape the identity of American Muslims and how this is expressed in the public space.

The Grand Imam of Istiqlal Mosque, Indonesia's national mosque, provides an overview of the grounds and congregants.For others, particularly the American journalists, it was a revelatory and life-changing experience. One American journalist wrote, “I believe the program opened my understanding of the Muslim world as a place much bigger than just the Middle East…[it] got me thinking about why the voice of extremism in the Middle East is the voice projected most by the Western media.” Another American journalist wrote:

One of the biggest take-aways for me is how this program shifted my impressions of the ‘Muslim world’ away from the Middle East toward a more realistic understanding of Asia’s role in the Muslim world. I’ve seen a new, different face of Islam than I had before…The program has caused me to reevaluate my knowledge of Islam.

The 2014 Senior Journalists were:

  • Mr. Khaldoun ABUKHATTAB, International News Editor, Alhayat Aljadida Newspaper, Albireh, Palestine
  • Mr. Zeyad Nihad AL ZUBAIDI, Senior Correspondent, Al Hurra Television, Baghdad, Iraq
  • Ms. Emillia AMIN, Senior Broadcast Journalist, Media Corp. Pte. Ltd., Singapore:
  • Ms. Emily BOBROW, U.S. Online Editor, The Economist, Washington, D.C., USA:
  • Mr. Saeed Kamali DEHGHAN, Foreign Reporter, The Guardian, London, England/Iran
  • Mr. Kevin ECKSTROM, Editor-in-Chief, Religion News Service, Washington, D.C., USA
  • Mr. Heru HENDRATMOKO, Editor-in-Chief, PortalKBR, Jakarta Timur, Indonesia
  • Mr. Vijay JOSHI, Assistant Asia Pacific Editor, Associated Press, Bangkok, Thailand/India
  • Mr. Jaweed KALEEM, Religion Reporter, The Huffington Post, New York City, NY, USA
  • Ms. Darshini KANDASAMY, Assistant News Editor, Malaysiakini, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Mr. Muhammad Yasir PIRZADA, Columnist/News Analyst, Daily Jang, Lahore, Pakistan
  • Ms. Ferdous SYEDA, Editor and Blog Facilitator, Somewhere In Blog, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • Mr. Guy TAYLOR, National Security Reporter, The Washington Times, Washington, DC, USA

 Slideshow from the 2014 Senior Journalists Seminar

For more information on East-West Center journalism fellowships and exchanges, see

Contact Information
Liz A. Dorn
Program Coordinator, Seminars
East-West Center
1601 East West Road
Honolulu, HI  96848  USA
Phone: (808) 944-7368
Fax: (808) 944-7600