By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has tracked the world's worst abusers of religious rights.
As the most recent report notes, it has never lacked for material. Persecutions of people of faith are rising across the globe.
Among the most worrying trends, according to the State Department, are "authoritarian governments that restrict their citizens’ ability to practice their religion."
In typically bland bureaucratic language, the State Department calls these "countries of particular concern." But the designation can come with some teeth.
Sudan, for example, where a Christian woman was sentenced to death this week for leaving Islam, is ineligible for some types of foreign aid.
In addition to Sudan, here are the State Department's "countries of particular concern." You might call them "The Worst Places in the World to Be Religious."
Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama says that "around the world, freedom of religion is under threat."
And at the annual National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, the President also said he's looking forward to meeting Pope Francis.
"I'm especially looking forward to returning to the Vatican next month to meet his holiness, Pope Francis, whose message about caring for the least of these I hope all of us heed. Like (the Apostle) Matthew he has answered the call of Jesus, who said 'follow me' and he inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility and his mercy and his missionary impulses to serve the cause of social justice," Obama said.
The President touted the Pope's stance on inequality as he and congressional Democrats highlight the issue of income inequality. Obama met Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2009. That meeting, which took place at the Vatican, was Obama's only meeting with a Pope.
Much of Obama's remarks focused on threats to religious freedom abroad, from China to Egypt to Sudan and Burma.
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN) –China Daily, an English-language newspaper and a mouthpiece of the Chinese government, last week published an article called “Western Voices Question Tibetan Self-Immolation Acts.”
The first of the voices quoted was mine—for a Belief Blog piece I wrote last summer criticizing the Dalai Lama for averting his gaze from the spate of self-immolations protesting Chinese rule in Tibet. "If the Dalai Lama were to speak out unequivocally against these deaths, they would surely stop. So in a very real sense, their blood is on his hands," I wrote in a passage quoted in the Chinese Daily piece.
In my post, I wrote of an “epidemic of self-immolations,” noting that from mid-March to mid-July 2011 more than 40 Tibetans had set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Since then, the pace of these protests has accelerated. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, 94 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011, and the pace in November was nearly one a day.
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
When the Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in Saigon in 1963 to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem, the world took notice. Malcolm Browne’s photograph of the monk becoming a martyr won the Pulitzer Prize, and Diem's Roman Catholic regime fell before the year’s end.
Today, Tibet is witnessing an epidemic of self-immolations. In fact, since March 16, 2011, more than 40 Tibetans have followed Thich Quang Duc’s lead, setting themselves on fire to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Westerners react with revulsion to sati, the Hindu practice of widow-burning outlawed by the British in 1829, and of course to Islamist suicide bombers. The New Atheists are right to protest all this killing in the name of God (or the Buddha) – the way believers both prompt violence and justify it in the name of some higher good.
So where are the protests against these Tibetan protesters?
By Richard Allen Greene
LONDON (CNN) – The Dalai Lama refused to answer a question Monday about whether Tibetan monks should stop setting themselves on fire to protest China's occupation of Tibet.
"No answer," he said, saying it was a sensitive political question and that he had retired from politics.
He handed over political leadership of the Tibetan community to an elected prime minister last year.
Self-immolation is becoming an increasingly common form of protest for Tibetans who want genuine autonomy from China and accuse Beijing of repression.
More than 30 of them took place in the last year in China, Tibetan advocacy groups say.
The Dalai Lama was speaking in London, where he is accepting the Templeton Prize, an award worth £1.1 million ($1.74 million) which honors "outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality."
The Dalai Lama will give $1.5 million to the aid organization Save the Children, he said.
He is giving another $200,000 of the prize money to the Mind & Life Institute, and $75,000 to his own monastic community.
By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
New Delhi (CNN) - The Dalai Lama has formally relinquished his political and administrative powers, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The Tibetan spiritual leader approved amendments to the exiled constitution to enable him to devolve his political responsibilities into the community's elected leadership and judiciary, according to officials.
Lobsang Choedak, a spokesman for the exiled Tibetan government, said the changes were carried out during a three-day session of its parliament in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala, India. The Dalai Lama approved them Sunday.
Exiled Tibetan lawmakers are set to hold a historic debate on the Dalai Lama's offer to shed his political role, the speaker of their parliament said Monday.
The statement came after the speaker read to the legislators the spiritual leader's proposals to accord greater powers to their elected representatives.
"The essence of a democratic system is, in short, the assumption of political responsibility by elected leaders for the popular good. In order for our process of democratization to be complete, the time has come for me to devolve my formal authority to such an elected leadership," the Dalai Lama said in his message to Tibet's parliament-in-exile, which is meeting at Dharamsala, India.
The Dalai Lama announced Thursday his plan to retire as political head of the Tibetan exile movement, according to his website.
"Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power," the exiled spiritual leader said in a statement. "Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect."
The Dalai Lama remains the head of state for now, according to Tempa Tshering, his representative in India, and will remain the group's spiritual leader.
The Dalai Lama would like to retire.
"I'm also a human being. ... Retirement is also my right," the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet told CNN's Hala Gorani in Miami, Florida, this week.
Without saying exactly when, he said, "Sooner or later, I have to go. I'm over 75, so next 10 years, next 20 years, one day I will go."
The Dalai Lama also said he supports recent protests in Tibet, where students marched in opposition to government plans to teach university classes in Mandarin Chinese, instead of the traditional Tibetan language.
Read the full story
Editor's Note: Arri Eisen is a professor at Emory University.
By Arri Eisen, Special to CNN
The assignment we gave a group of three monks was to imagine a scenario and then describe how the different human organ systems might respond to that scenario. The scene is Dharamsala, India, where I and other Emory University scientists are teaching science to Tibetan monks and nuns and they're teaching Buddhism to us.
We've just spent a day teaching about the different organ systems for respiration, circulation, reproduction, etc.
Kalsang, one of 85 monks in the program, steps to the front of the class of 30 other monks and begins to describe the scenario his group came up with. It was this: they imagined they had just learned of Tibetan independence. How would the different organ systems respond to sheer happiness?
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.