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, 159 journalists from 18 countries have participated. For a complete list of our Senior Journalists Alumni, please click here.

2017 Senior Journalists Seminar

Dates:  September 6 - 29, 2017

Study Destinations:  Washington, DC; Minneapolis, MN; Manila/Cotabato City, Philippines; Rabat, Morocco

The 2017 Senior Journalists Seminar (2017SJS) will bring together 12-16 international journalists for an immersive 22-day dialogue, study, and travel program to Washington, DC; Minneapolis, MN; Manila/Cotabato City, Philippines; Rabat, Morocco. The 2017SJS 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 policy making. 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 Minneapolis, 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 Manila/Cotabato City, Philippines and Rabat, Morocco 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. 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 2017 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

Congratulations to our 2017 Senior Journalists: 

  • Ms. Saba ALI, Special Projects Editor, Newsday, Melville, New York, USA
  • Mr. Tarek BEN MAAOUI, Reporter, Télévision Tunisienne, Tunis, Tunisia
  • Ms. Arlene BURGOS, Head, Social Media and Mobile, ABS-CBN Corporation, Manila, Philippines
  • Mr. Steven JIANG, Beijing Senior Producer, CNN, Beijing/USA
  • Mr. Usman KANSONG, Editor-in-Chief, Media Indonesia Daily, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Mr. Mohd Shoeb KHAN, Principal Correspondent, The Times of India, Jaipur, India
  • Mr. Joseph NEFF, Staff Writer, The News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
  • Ms. Jane NORMAN, Political Reporter, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Canberra, Australia
  • Mr. Nurudeen OYEWOLE, Senior Reporter, Media Trust Ltd., Abuja, Nigeria
  • Mr. Shakir RESHAMWALA, Front Page and Executive Editor, Kuwait Times, Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Mr. Brian SAGAYAM, Executive Editor, Star Media Group, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Ms. Ilgin YORULMAZ, Freelancer, HuffPost and Reporter, Voices, Istanbul, Turkey


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

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 took place August 17 – September 11, 2016 with travel to Washington, DC; Washington, DC; Salt Lake City, UT; Honolulu, HI; Jakarta/Yogyakarta, Indonesia; and Delhi, India and included 14 journalists from 11 countries. Immersive study tour visits to the world’s three largest democracies – United States, Indonesia, and India – enabled participating journalists to meet with government and military officials, business leaders, academics, and their media peers regarding the political, economic, educational, ethnic, artistic, and cultural role religion plays in society. It was the Seminar’s various people-to-people interactions with religious leaders, educators, artists, students, and community activists, however, that truly contextualized the complex role religion plays in societies.

Highlights of the U.S. study tour included religious observance and community discussions at the Masjid Muhammad, the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Temple, and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. For many, these visits marked the first time they had ever stepped into a mosque, synagogue, and/or church and for others, attending these religious services and meeting with congregants provided them with a “better sense of their fellow countrymen, including Muslims.” Several journalists also noted that the breakfast discussion with John Gustav-Wrathall, President of Affirmation LGBT Mormons, Families, and Friends; Reverend Dwayne Johnson of Metropolitan Community Church; and Malcom Shanks, Steering Committee Member of the Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity, regarding America’s evolving attitudes on LGBT rights and how these rights conflict, or not, with religious belief challenged them to push beyond stereotypes and better grasp the vast religious pluralism of the United States. The journalists also appreciated meetings at the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Pentagon, which offered them “access to federal officials who offered invaluable insight into how government envisions its role in various regions, particularly in the Muslim world.” Similarly, the journalists benefited from a panel discussion with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Salt Lake City 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. A discussion with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders was, perhaps, the most well received session of the U.S. study tour. Elder Christofferson summarized the history of Mormonism as a religion, the persecution suffered by its early adherents, and the ongoing importance of protecting religious minority rights in the U.S.

Highlights of the Indonesia study tour included a session covering Indonesia’s dual court system and the implementation of shariah, to whom and how it is enforced, and whether those laws may or may not impinge on individual rights. Several of the journalists found the session useful in deciphering shariah law as well as how decentralization in Indonesia has contributed the politicization of Islam’s moral code. The journalists also gained insight into the treatment of women and other marginalized groups in Indonesia from a session with representatives of the SETARA Institute for Democracy and Peace, the Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women, Ardhanary Institute, and the Legal Aid Working Group. Each representative provided a brief overview of their organization’s efforts to end human rights violations, seek redress for past injustices, and engage policymakers and the public on issues pertaining to religious minorities, women, refugees, and the LBGT community. A visit to the Al Hidayah Mosque provided an overview of Ahmadiyah, its place in Indonesia as a minority and illegal sect, and further challenged the journalist’s preconceived notions regarding both Islam and Indonesia. Several of the journalists also highlighted sessions with the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict and the Chief of the Indonesian National Police regarding the fragmentation of extremist groups and the rise of Islamist civil society along with Indonesia’s counterterrorism and de-radicalization efforts and the effectiveness of those efforts. Finally, the 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 Indonesia’s educational system.

The 2016 Senior Journalists further highlighted opportunities in India to attend religious services, meet with congregants, and explore how religion impacts one’s daily life in India as “most useful.” In particular, a visit to Sree Vinayaka Mandir Marg was visually powerful and offered the journalists the opportunity to observe Ganesh Chaturthi and interact with those offering prayers. The journalists also visited Jama Masjid Delhi, one of the largest mosques in India. Moreover, a session with John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, explored how tolerant Indian society is of its religious pluralism and to what extent India’s faith groups engage one another. The journalists also highlighted a session with Breakthrough, a human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls socially and legally unacceptable, as “deeply valuable.” Finally, an interactive roundtable discussion with media peers representing The Times of India, The Wire, The Hindu, and Business Standard provided the journalists with an overview of press freedoms and limitations in India as well as how the country has changed or has not changed since the Modi administration took office in 2014, particularly in its treatment of religious minorities. Together these on-the-ground experiences in both Indonesia and India provided the 2016 Senior Journalists with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Islam as it is practiced in the world’s largest Muslim country and largest Muslim-minority country respectively.

The 2016 Senior Journalists were:

  • 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 

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