Senior Journalists Seminar

Senior Journalists feeding ‘sacred’ cows in Mumbai, India.Launched in 2003, the Senior Journalists Seminar (SJS) is an immersive 21-day dialogue, study, and travel program intended to enhance media coverage and elevate the public debate regarding identity and religion’s role in and resulting impact on the public sphere, specifically as it concerns U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions.

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 journalists to engage their peers, experts, and the citizens of those countries visited on issues that are thematically relevant  including:  the cultural identity, treatment, and representation of religious groups, specifically Muslims; the religiosity, religious diversity, and religious freedom/rights; the A Senior Journalist tours the Gawad Kaling Housing Project, a faith-based community project in Manila, Philippines.political context, structures, and policy influencers that shape domestic and foreign policymaking; the  impact of religious and cultural identity on the national and political identity of citizens; and initiatives to reduce religious tensions and domestic extremism. Another key component of the Senior Journalists Seminar is the exploration of religious identity, experience, and diversity in the literary, visual, performing, and media arts of  those countries visited and the role of the arts in building bridges between and across communities. 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 region is also explored. A diverse mix of background sessions as well as interactive meetings with government officials, military and business leaders, academics, civil society activists, artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers, and others enables participating journalists to better understand the political, economic, educational, artistic, and cultural role religion plays in society and provides them with tools necessary to report on and analyze U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions. 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 Muslim majority regions 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, musicians, educators and students, and community activists.
  • Informed regional perspective of religion’s role in the public sphere and cultural identity 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 Muslim majority regions.
  • Enhanced media coverage and increased public awareness of religion, its role in the public sphere and U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions 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, 145 journalists from 15 countries have participated. For a complete list of our Senior Journalists Alumni, please click here.

2016 Senior Journalists Seminar

Dates:  August 17 - September 11, 2016

Study Destinations:  Washington, DC; Salt Lake City, UT; Honolulu, HI; Jakarta/Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Delhi, India

The 2016 Senior Journalists Seminar (2016SJS) will bring together 12-17 international journalists for an immersive 21-day dialogue, study, and travel program to Washington, DC; Salt Lake City, UT; Honolulu, HI; Jakarta/Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Delhi, India PLUS participation in the 2016 International Media Conference. The 2016SJS will begin 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 will examine the religious make-up, diversity of religious identity, and the prayer and attendance practices of the American public as well as cultural and religious identity in American art, pop culture, and new media. In Salt Lake City, journalists will experientially explore America’s multicultural and multi-religious society, the experiences of minority religious communities, initiatives bridging faith divides, and how cultural and religious identity, experience, and diversity is expressed in the literary, visual, performing, and media arts.  The Honolulu study tour will feature a public reception and participant presentations summarizing religion’s role in their home countries. Throughout the U.S. study tour, journalists will also consider the political, military, and cultural engagement of the U.S. with Muslim majority regions as well as counter-terrorism efforts and opportunties for cooperation. Travel to Jakarta/Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Delhi, India will contextualize and compare religion’s role in the public sphere across the Asia Pacific; provide first-hand exposure to and more nuanced understanding of the diversity of Muslim societies; and build the professional networks of participating journalists. Interactive experiences and meetings will be included in all three countries to deepen journalists’ understanding of Muslim cultures through the arts, culture, and new media. 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 Muslim majority regions will also be explored.

The Grand Imam of Istiqlal Mosque, Indonesia's national mosque, provides an overview of the grounds and congregants.The 2016 Senior Journalists Seminar will wrap at the East-West Center’s 5th International Media Conference where several hundred journalists will gather to discuss the increasing links between South and East Asia, and to share the latest information on the global news industry. In addition to distinguished keynote speakers and panels of working journalists, the conference will also include on-the-ground updates on news and media issues in the region, a wide range of practical skill-building workshops, and unique opportunities to network with hundreds of international media professionals. For more information, please visit

Funding:  The 2016 Senior Journalists Seminar is funded by the East-West Center, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and supports the participation of journalists from the United States and countries with substantial Muslim populations. Valued at approximately USD$10,515 per person.   

Congratulations to our 2016 Senior Journalists:

  • Lorraine Mahia ALI, Senior Culture Writer, The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • Hany DANIAL, Assistant Editor, Albwabh News, Cairo
  • Gonul GEZBUL, Senior News Correspondent, Turkish Radio and Television, Istanbul, Turkey 
  • Mohammad H. HAMID, News Editor, Utusan Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Tom HENEGHAN, Senior Correspondent & Religion Editor, Thomson Reuters, Paris, France/USA
  • Mohd Puad IBRAHIM, Digital Editor, Berita Harian, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd., Singapore
  • Jack JENKINS, Senior Religion Reporter, ThinkProgress, Washington, DC, USA
  • Chadia KHEDHIR, Editor-in-Chief, Tunisian Public Television, El Manar, Tunisia                                
  • Muhammad LILA, Special Correspondent, CNN, Toronto, Canada
  • Fernando Garcia (Jun) SEPE, Jr., Deputy Editor, Multimedia, ABS-CBN, Manila, Philippines      
  • Waseem Ahmed SHAH, Senior Staff Correspondent, Dawn Newspaper, Peshawar, Pakistan                 
  • Zaffar Iqbal SHEIKH, Bureau Chief, New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV), Srinagar, India                       
  • Yonat SHIMRON, Managing Editor, Religion News Service, Washington, DC, USA
  • Habib Khan TOTAKHIL, Reporter, Wall Street Journal, Kabul, Afghanistan 


2015 Senior Journalists Seminar

Dates:  August 19 – September 10, 2015

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

From top: 2015 Senior Journalists are shown Torah scrolls following Sabbath service; and visiting the U.S.  Pentagon in DC.

Highlights of the 2015SJS in the United States included religious observance and community discussions at the Masjid Muhammad, the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Temple, and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. For many, this was the first time they had ever stepped into a mosque, synagogue, and/or church. For others, attending religious services and meeting with congregants provided them with a better sense of their fellow countrymen. A panel discussion with Imam Daayiee Abdullah and Reverend Dwayne Johnson regarding America’s evolving attitudes on LGBT rights and how these rights conflict, or not, with religious belief further challenged the journalists to push beyond stereotypes and better comprehend the vast religious pluralism of the United States. A discussion with U.S. Pentagon Chaplain Colonel Kenneth Williams in the Pentagon’s multi-use chapel offered the journalists a concrete example of how religious diversity is accommodated and tolerance is promoted within the U.S. military, which includes 815,000 Protestants, 255,00 Catholics, 8,300 atheists, 5,300 Buddhists, 4,000 Jews, 3,500 Muslims, 77 Hindus, and 284,000 unaffiliated service men and women.

The Nashville program further emphasized the religious and cultural diversity of the United States via an interfaith and community dialogue, which explored how different religious communities communicate and what responsibility they do, or don’t, bear in preventing extremism in the U.S. The journalists also benefited from a panel discussion with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding its efforts to defend the U.S. against internal security threats and combat extremism through the Joint Terrorism Task Force and Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee, the latter of which seeks to demystify the FBI and engage the community in identifying radical youth. Finally, the journalists debated how religion is covered and framed by the U.S. media during a visit to The Tennessean.

2015 Senior Journalists from the U.S., Palestine, and Iraq discuss Islam in Malaysia with the Imam of Masjid Jamek.  

The 2015SJS also took the participating seventeen international journalists to Malaysia and provided ample opportunity to examine the role of religion in the public sphere. In particular, a session with the Selangor Syariah Court’s Chief Judge covered Malaysia’s dual court system as well as the implementation of sharia, to whom it applies, the enforcement mechanisms, and how those laws may or may not impinge on individual rights. The journalists asked the speaker several questions about the passing of ‘hudud ordinances’ in Kelantan and found the session useful in deciphering sharia law as well as in understanding the politicization of Islam’s moral code. The journalists also gained insight into the treatment of women and marginalized groups in Malaysia from a session with the Executive Director of Sisters in Islam, who spoke about the Sisters’ grassroots efforts to ‘promote the rights of women within the framework of Islam’ as well as its recent advocacy against introducing or passing hudud ordinances in other Malaysian states outside of Kelantan. Several of the journalists also highlighted a session with the Royal Malaysia Police Superintendent regarding the fragmentation of extremists groups, Malaysia’s anti-terrorism effort, and the successes and failures of those efforts. In addition, journalists noted the visit to a privately-run madrasah and discussion with school administrators regarding the curriculum, student composition, and educational background of the teachers as a “revealing” example of how religion is incorporated into Malaysia’s educational system. Finally, sessions with Christian leaders and other minority religious groups divided the journalists as to whether or not Malaysia is a deserved example of a religiously diverse and tolerant democracy.

From top: 2015 Senior Journalists in Pakistan visiting a madrassa; and touring the historic Lahore Fort.

The 2015 Senior Journalists further highlighted opportunities in Pakistan to attend religious services and meet with religious minority groups as “most useful.” In particular, a panel discussion with Pakistani Ahmadis at the Bait-ul-Noor compound provided an overview of Ahmadiyya, its place in Pakistani society as a minority and illegal sect, and the persecution and discrimination of its congregants by the Sunni majority. As Bait-ul-Noor was attacked by gunman five years ago, the Ahmadi community walled in the compound and built concrete bunkers for machine gun equipped guards. The journalists also attended Sunday mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral and met with Reverend Father Joseph Shehzad to discuss the history of the Catholic Church in Pakistan, the composition of its parishioners, and recent attacks on the cathedral and other Christian houses of worship. Concrete walls and guard posts have similarly been erected around the cathedral grounds to prevent future violent attacks. The juxtaposition of armed guards patrolling houses of worship was poignant to many of the journalists and sparked considerable discussion about the treatment of religious minorities throughout the world. An interactive roundtable with twenty college students provided the journalists with a sense of how the younger generation perceives Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. and other regional neighbors as well as the role of religion in the public sphere. Together these on-the-ground experiences in Pakistan provided the 2015 Senior Journalists with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Islam as it is practiced in the one of the world’s largest Muslim countries.

The 2015 Senior Journalists were:

  • 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

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