By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – Fillet of sole with tyrolienne sauce. Supreme of pheasant Veronique. Chocolate lotus blossoms. These are culinary creations that were served in the past to Indian prime ministers visiting the White House.
But on Monday, when India’s newest leader meets with President Barack Obama, his plate will be empty.
That’s because Narendra Modi will be in the middle of a strict fast for Navratri, Sanskrit for nine nights. It's a Hindu festival devoted to the manifestations of the goddess Shakti, a symbol of purity and power.
Navratri’s timing depends on the lunar calendar but usually is observed once in March-April to usher in summer and again in September-October, before winter. Modi intends to survive solely on “nimbu pani” or water with lemon for nine days. FULL POST
Opinion by Matthew Paul Turner, special to CNN
(CNN) – The majority of America’s churches teach that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. But considering our country’s near-400-year history, can we honestly say that our concepts and perceptions about God haven’t evolved?
Is our contemporary American God the same as in 1629, when the Puritans began organizing a mass exodus toward their “Promised Land”?
Is our modern God the same as in 1801, when Christians at a revival in Kentucky became so filled up with God’s spirit that they got down on all-fours and barked and howled like wild dogs?
More recently, is our God the same as in 2000, when born again George W. Bush won (sort of) the presidential election by rallying America’s then thriving evangelical electorate with a Jesus-tinged GOP rhetoric he called “compassionate conservatism”?
The truth is, no. God is likely not exactly the same as God was yesterday, not here in the United States, not among America’s faithful. Here, God changes.
Our making God into our own image isn’t a new trend. We’ve been changing God since Anglo Saxons first stepped foot onto these shores. Here are five examples.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) – The challenge was directed at the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But the impassioned message, laced with Islamic phrases, sought a much wider audience.
The statement came from Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the family of slain American journalist Steve Sotloff. Sotloff, who reported for Time and other publications, was beheaded in a video ISIS released on Tuesday.
Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, where he specializes in Arab and Islamic affairs. On behalf of Steven Sotloff's family, he had tried to secure the journalist's release.
On Wednesday, Barfi stood outside the Sotloff family's Miami home, with dozens of microphones and cameras thrust before him, and stepped into a fierce war of words between ISIS and the rest of the Muslim world.
"I am ready to debate you with calm preachings," Barfi told al-Baghdadi, directly addressing him in Arabic. "I have no sword in my hand and I am ready for your answer.”
Speaking briefly to CNN on Thursday, Barfi said he doesn't expect the reclusive ISIS leader to accept the invitation. But his challenge had other aims, the young scholar said.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog editor
(CNN) – We don’t know if James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by Islamic extremists, prayed in the hours and days before his death. We probably never will.
But Foley said faith sustained him during another ordeal in 2011, when he was held captive for 44 days by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
In a gut-wrenching article he wrote for Marquette University’s alumni magazine, Foley said he prayed while imprisoned that his family, many miles away, would somehow know that he was safe.
“Haven’t you felt my prayers?” Foley asked his mother, Diane, when he was finally allowed to call home.
Diane Foley told her son that his friends and family had been praying, too, holding vigils filled with former professors, priests and Marquette students. She echoed his question back: Have you felt ours?
He had, the journalist said. “Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat,” Foley wrote.
The 40-year-old Catholic, who reported for the GlobalPost among other publications, was abducted again in 2012, captured this time by the extremist group ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.
On Tuesday, ISIS released a video showing a Muslim militant clad in black beheading Foley, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling in the sand.
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) - To discover one’s self. To find enlightenment. To take a spiritual journey.
What does this language mean? Are these pursuits, these aspirations, really possible? And if they are, what do the results look like?
I can’t pretend to have the answers. What I do know is that I went to India this year on a journalism fellowship to write about religion and spirituality. I landed in a place called Rishikesh, a holy spot for Hindus and magnet for Westerners seeking inner peace.
For two weeks, I set judgment aside and dove in to see what this place was all about. What I found touched me more than I anticipated and left me feeling somewhat transformed. I chronicled all of this in "Indian Awakenings" last month.
Since then, I've had a different sort of awakening. FULL POST
(CNN) - For 1.6 billion people, the holiest month of the year began this past Saturday.
The exact starting date sometimes depends on the locale, but most Muslims across the globe will be fasting, praying and abstaining from sex and smoking during daylight hours. Many call it a time of spiritual purity and rededication to God.
Here's everything you need to know about the observance.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Hijri, or Islamic calendar. The word derives from the Arabic ramida or ar-ramad meaning a fierce, burning heat.
Opinion by Randal Maurice Jelks, special to CNN
(CNN) – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate from South Africa, called one of his books “God is Not a Christian.”
He might have added a subtitle, “God is not a man, either!”
One of the great problems in our world is patriarchy. The late James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, put best in song, “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”
Patriarchy assumes that men are made to lead and women are simply cooperative and reproductive subordinates.
These assumptions come to light in all kinds of ways, but especially through religion — the various faiths that treat women as though they are not equal to men.
We read it in the Quran and the Bible. We see it in iconic imagery, and religious taboos about sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality. And we see that around the world these days, from Salt Lake City to Sudan.
Men continue to dominate religious institutions, and use them to judge whether women can be in religious leadership or change faiths.
There is a direct link between Kate Kelly, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter day-Saints, who was excommunicated on charges of apostasy, and Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for her supposed apostasy.
And the link is deeper than the charge of abandoning one's faith.
Opinion by Frank Schaeffer, special to CNN
(CNN) - All the public debates between celebrity atheists and evangelical pastors are as meaningless as literary awards and Oscar night.
They are meaningless because participants lack the objectivity to admit that our beliefs have less to do with facts than with our personal needs and cultural backgrounds.
The words we use to label ourselves are just as empty.
What exactly is a “believer?” And for that matter what is an “atheist?” Who is the objective observer to define these terms?
Maybe we need a new category other than theism, atheism or agnosticism that takes paradox and unknowing into account.
Take me, I am an atheist who believes in God.
Let me explain.
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Contributing Editor
(CNN) - A new movie genre debuts at the box office this weekend: the Christian comedy.
"Moms’ Night Out" starring Patricia Heaton and Sean Astin is opening on more than 1,000 screens, and it aims to do something no other Christian major motion picture has endeavored to do: make you laugh. On purpose.
There has been no shortage of laughably bad Christian movies. "Left Behind," anyone?
From “The Passion of the Christ,” to “Fireproof,” to “Courageous,” the genre has historically leaned heavily on biblical epics and inspiration to stir the faithful, or evangelical fare designed convert the masses.
But "Moms’ Night Out" is entirely different, a PG-rated comedy about the hijinks of middle-class Christian families, ordinary folks living ordinary lives. Astin called the movie "ballsy" for focusing on this demographic.
Watch Laura Sobiech talk about faith, family and life after her son's death with CNN's Bill Weir at 9 p.m. ET on Friday.
Opinion by Laura Sobiech, special to CNN
(CNN) - The nurse told us the doctor wanted to speak with us immediately.
The phone rang and my husband picked it up. I pressed my ear against the handle, trying to hear as Rob listened.
“… tumor … it’s bad … hard year ahead,” was all I could hear the doctor say.
It was enough to know life had changed forever.
Zach, my 14-year-old son watched intently from where he sat across the room; he knew something was up.
“What do I tell him?” I wondered as I walked to him, my legs going weak as my mind processed the news.
I wanted so badly to protect him, but I couldn’t protect him from his own body. He needed the truth.
I sat in the chair next to him and said, “You have a tumor.”
Zach held my gaze for a moment then turned his head and closed his eyes as he processed the news.
My heart was breaking. In that moment he looked so small and vulnerable - not like the tall, confident teenager who ran down a basketball court with ease, but like the little boy who once cried through stitches the doctor’s office.
That little boy had quieted his crying, pinched his eyes shut and turned away from me when he realized I couldn’t save him.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.