The University of Iowa

Our View – Complicating clash narratives about religion

September 29th, 2010

This opinion piece is from the Iowa City Press-Citizen editorial board. 

It’s a rare opportunity to discuss the Muslim-Christian divide with someone who has spent seven years traveling across the 10th parallel — the latitude line 700 miles north of the equator. That’s the line that runs through African and Asian countries. And because the area is home for more than half of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims and more than 60 percent of the world’s 2 billion Christians, the 10th parallel also serves as a contested boundary line between the adherents of those two faiths.

Luckily Iowa City area residents will have opportunity for such discussion this afternoon. WorldCanvass Studio, a mobile version of the University of Iowa International Programs’ monthly radio and television program, will feature Eliza Griswold, author of “The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam,” at 5:30 p.m. today in the Iowa City United Church of Christ Congregational Church, 30 N. Clinton St.

Griswold’s long experience on the religious fault line of the 10th parallel has provided her with a unique perspective on how such clashes have played out in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. As Griswold describes her years of travel, she demonstrates that there are thousands of Islams just as there are thousands of Christianities. Her book illustrates how many of the most overlooked religious clashes are those within a religion rather than those between religions.

“The Tenth Parallel,” in fact, complicates any simplistic “clash narrative” when it comes to describing how Christianity and Islam interact anywhere. As an award-winning investigative journalist and poet, Griswold explains clearly and compellingly how these historic conflicts — although often described by religious differences — are also conflicts about land, water, oil and other natural resources.

“In Nigeria,” Griswold recently told National Public Radio, “Christians and Muslims meet basically where the end of dry land is in Africa and the beginning of sub-Saharan jungle, the Sahel. … And there, we have seen tens of thousands killed over the past decade in Nigeria in religious violence that has a lot to do with the weakness of the Nigerian state and its failure to deliver to the needs of its own people.”

After speaking with a wide cross-section of people, Griswold not only can trace how local/tribal issues are shaped by religious ideas, but she also explains how religious ideas are shaped in turn by geography and demographics.

“I’m not at all settled after reading the book,” said Joan Kjaer, who will be hosting today’s program. “But I come away from the book understanding that it’s an even more complicated world than I thought it was before.”

Co-sponsored by Prairie Lights Books and the University of Iowa International Programs, today’s hour-long program also will include comments from UI professor of anthropology Michael Chibnik and UI professor of history Jeff Cox, who is the author of “The British Missionary Enterprise since 1700″ (2008) and “Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818-1940″ (2002).

We encourage our readers to attend. For information, visit