Senior Journalists Seminar


Senior Journalists feeding ‘sacred’ cows in Mumbai, India.

Launched in 2003, the Senior Journalists Seminar (SJS) is an immersive 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, 184 journalists from 22 countries have participated. For a complete list of our Senior Journalists Alumni, please click here.


2019 Senior Journalists Seminar

Dates:  September 4 – 27, 2019

Study Destinations:  Washington, DC; Chicago, Illinois; Dhaka/Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; Istanbul, Turkey 

**Political and security conditions may necessitate replacing Turkey so please be flexible**

The 2019 Senior Journalists Seminar will bring together 10-14 multinational journalists for an immersive three week dialogue, study, and travel program to Washington, DC; Chicago, Illinois; Dhaka/Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh; and Istanbul, Turkey. The 2019SJS 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. The Washington, DC study tour will also feature participant presentations summarizing religion’s role in their home countries. In Chicago, 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. Throughout the U.S. study tour, journalists will consider the political, military, and cultural engagement of the U.S. with Muslim majority regions. Travel to Dhaka, Bangladesh and Istanbul, Turkey will contextualize and compare religion’s role in the public sphere across democratic nations; provide first-hand exposure to and more nuanced understanding of the diversity of Muslim societies; and build the professional networks of participating journalists. A day trip to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh will also enable journalists an opportunity to visit the world’s largest refugee settlement. Meetings with government officials and academics in all three countries will explore domestic and international counter-terrorism efforts and opportunities for cooperation. Interactive experiences will also be included 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 be explored.

As the Senior Journalists Seminar requires participating journalists to attend various religious services as respectful observers and includes both high level government meetings and tours of impoverished areas, it is important to note that the seminar is both mentally and physically very challenging.

Funding:  The 2019 Senior Journalists Seminar is funded by the East-West Center, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and supports the participation of 10-14 journalists from the United States and countries with substantial Muslim populations, as defined above. Valued at approximately USD$10,465 per person, funding includes:  

  • Roundtrip airfare to and from your 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 flash drive of program documents, speaker PowerPoint presentations and photos
All participants are responsible for the Senior Journalists Seminar fee of USD$800.00, visa fees, health insurance and airline baggage charges. EWC encourages additional participant cost-sharing of programmatic costs and considers cost-sharing in the selection of applicants.

Eligibility:  Media professionals from print, broadcast, online, and multi-media news organizations, including editors, reporters, columnists, editorial writers, producers, bloggers, videographers, and photo journalists with a minimum of ten years of experience are eligible to apply. The Senior Journalists Seminars will include a total of 10-14 journalists from the United States and countries with substantial Muslim populations. Journalists who cover foreign and diplomatic relations, security, military affairs, domestic politics and government, religion, human rights issues, culture, and the arts are eligible.

Journalists covering all relevant beats from the following countries are eligible to apply:  Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Burma, China, India, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, and the United States. In addition to the list of countries above, journalists who specifically cover art and/or culture, including race and/or minority issues, from the following countries are also eligible to apply:  Algeria, Belgium, Canada, Chad, Cyprus, England, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, and Yemen.

Successful candidates represent the diversity of religions (e.g. covered and non-covered Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, Christians, Hindus, and Jews)s, ethnicities, and regional differences within the United States, Africa, Europe, the Near and Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Preference is given to those journalists who offer compelling story ideas and clear dissemination strategies. Fluency in English is required.

Journalists are required to file at least one story or a series of blogs and/or tweets resulting from their participation in the seminar and must offer specific story ideas and a dissemination plan in their application.


2018 Senior Journalists Seminar

Dates:  September 3 – 27, 2018

Study Destinations:  Washington, DC; Detroit, MI; Honolulu, HI; Tunis, Tunisia

The 2018 Senior Journalists Seminar took place September 3 – 27, 2018 with travel to Washington, DC; Detroit, Michigan; Honolulu, Hawaii; Djerba/Tunis, Tunisia and included 13 journalists from 11 countries. Immersive study tour visits to two democracies – the United States and Tunisia – provided the participating journalists with much needed context and firsthand perspectives on the theme. This was achieved by engaging with 114 government and military officials, political candidates, academics, business owners, religious leaders, activists, journalists, and artists as well as visiting 16 non-profit projects, places of worship, museums, and cultural heritage sites during the course of the Seminar. 

Highlights of the 2018 U.S. study tour were largely consistent with previous years and reinforced the importance of certain foundational sessions and experiences. Religious observance and community discussions at the Masjid Muhammad, the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Temple, Life Bridge Church, and the Islamic Center of America, for instance, were again noted by participating journalists as highlights. For several of the 2018 journalists, these visits marked the first time they had ever stepped into a mosque, synagogue, or church. They “really got to the heart of SJS – learning about the diversity of religious experience and the role it plays in the lives of people across various countries/regions.” These visits also provided a better understanding of “the high level of religiosity in the U.S., and its impact on political and social issues.” While attending religious services and meeting with congregants revealed “the vast diversity of religious sects and traditions in the U.S.,” one journalist noted, “a high degree of racial and ethnic segregation seems to exist within that diversity and little is being done to foster inclusivity within each religious sect/tradition.” The journalists also appreciated a session with U.S. Pentagon Chaplain Jay S. John III in the Pentagon’s multi-use chapel, which offered them a look at how religious diversity is accommodated within the U.S. military. One journalist wrote, “I had absolutely no idea that the U.S. military employed chaplains, let alone Muslim chaplains, let alone hyper-intelligent, funny, and personable chaplains – and that’s just one example of how my own biases were tested.” Several journalists additionally noted a breakfast discussion with Sharon Groves of Auburn Theological Seminar; Palmer Shepherd of the Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity; Reverend Dwayne Johnson of Metropolitan Community Church; and Maliha Khan of Muslims for Progressive Values, regarding America’s evolving attitudes on LGBTQ rights and how these rights conflict, or not, with religious belief. The discussion “left a deep impression” and challenged them to push beyond stereotypes. One journalist wrote, “My main take-away is that no religion is monolithic. Within Islam, Christianity, and Judaism there are more progressive and more conservative elements. While I had always be aware of this, I didn’t have the firsthand experience to articulate or appreciate those differences.”

The journalists also appreciated meetings at the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Pacific Command, which offered them “a firmer grasp of the complexity of U.S. interests in Asia as well as how the U.S. wields both soft and hard power. The perspective of the military establishment, in particular, was helpful in contextualizing U.S. activities throughout the Asia Pacific region." As 90 Muslim-American candidates ran for public office during the U.S. midterm elections, a discussion with two such candidates in Michigan – State Representative Abdullah Hammoud and State Senate candidate Abraham Aiyash – offered the journalists an opportunity to learn about critical economic and social issues facing Muslim Americans as well as the community’s recent capacity to bundle money and votes into political leverage. One journalist wrote, “The ‘Blue Muslim Wave’ discussion demonstrated the integration of Muslim people into American society and their participation in political discourse.” Thomas Kean wrote that the U.S. study tour “brought to life the American political system and the diversity of its people as well as the inequality and poverty, the wealth and opportunity, and the sheer will of people to succeed and make their country a better place. I also learned a great deal from my discussions with the seminar coordinators, as they provided practical expertise contextualizing what we had learned.”

Perhaps due to the 2018 Senior Journalists’ generally poor prior knowledge of Tunisia, the journalists found the Djerba and Tunis study tours especially valuable. In particular, an interactive roundtable discussion with media peers representing Television Tunisienne, La Presse, and Inkyfada provided the journalists with an overview of press freedoms and limitations in Tunisia as well as their thoughts on the structural, political, and social changes affected by the 2011 Jasmine Revolution and 2014 Constitution. The journalists also gained insight into the rights and protections guaranteed women via a session with Bochra Belhaj Hmida, President of the government’s newly created Committee on Personal Freedoms and Equality; and Monia Ben Jamia, Chair of the Association of Democratic Women of Tunisia, an advocacy group. Bochra emphasized that Tunisia’s secular and progressive policies have guaranteed women legal access to education and divorce (1956), to access birth control (1962) and to legalized abortions (1965, eight years before Roe vs Wade in the U.S.), while more recent policies have criminalized marital rape and domestic violence. Monia, however, stressed that despite the legal protections in place, societal change has occurred very slowly and cautioned that growing “Islamization” in Tunisia was likely to curb the expansion of women’s rights. Additionally, a visit to Ennakhla Madrasah offered first-hand insight into how religious schools have spread throughout Tunisia since a government ban was lifted in 2011 and also growing concerns about foreign funding and influence. One journalist wrote, “Meetings with the owner of the madrasah and the two women’s rights leaders were essential in gaining a more complete picture of the country and religion’s role.” Finally, a visit to El Ghriba Synagogue, the oldest in Tunisia and a holy pilgrimage site, offered a visually powerful representation of Tunisia’s Jewish heritage while informal discussions with the synagogue’s caretaker, Jewish shopkeepers, and youth apprentices allowed the journalists to learn about this minority community’s lived experience within a Muslim majority nation. One journalist wrote, “It was eye-opening to see an active Jewish community in Tunisia and speaking to the caretaker and other community members was a chance at journalism I deeply appreciated.” Together these on-the-ground experiences in Tunisia provided the 2018 Senior Journalists with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Islam as it is practiced in a Muslim-majority democracy.

The 2018 Senior Journalists were:

  • Mr. Shahidul Islam CHOWDHURY, Special Correspondent, New Age, Dhaka, Bangaladesh
  • Ms. Susanne FOWLER, Freelancer, The New York Times, London, Great Britain/USA
  • Mr. Ghaz GHAZALI, News Editor, The Borneo Post, Kuching, Malaysia
  • Ms. Shahad J. HASAN, Chief Editor and Reporter, Iraqi News Agency, Baghdad, Iraq  
  • Mr. Kim HJELMGAARD, European Correspondent, USA Today, London, Great Britain/USA
  • Ms. Naima Abdallah JOUINI, News Producer, Télévision Tunisienne, Tunis, Tunisia
  • Mr. Thomas KEAN, Editor-in-Chief, Frontier Myanmar, Yangon, Myanmar
  • Ms. Arfa KHANUM, Consulting Editor,, New Delh, India
  • Mr. Jeremy KOH, Editor, Channel News Asia, Singapore
  • Mr. Darshana Ashoka KUMARA, News Editor, Independent Television Network, Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Mr. Steven VINEY, Chief of Staff, Asia Pacific Newsroom, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Melbourne, Australia
  • Mr. D.J. YAP, Senior Reporter, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila, Philippines
  • Mr. Arshad Rasool ZARGAR, South Asia Producer, CBS News, New Delhi, India/USA


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


Contact Information

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