Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011.

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ISIS, ISIL, Daesh — Explaining the Many Names for Terrorists

Image via Public domain / Wikipedia / RNS

Q: Al-Qaida is al-Qaida. Hamas is Hamas. But the Islamic State can be “ISIS,” “ISIL,” and “Daesh.” Why so many names?

A: Put the group’s Arabic name into the translation machine, and you get different renderings in English.

The first part of the original name — Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham — is straightforward: “Islamic State in Iraq.” But you’ve got some room for disagreement on “Sham,” which can be “Syria” or “Greater Syria” or “the Levant.” Go with “Syria” and the acronym becomes “ISIS.” If you choose “Levant,” your acronym is “ISIL.”

You could also say the “Islamic State,” the name the group now prefers. But many call that wrongheaded or offensive or both. It is not a state. And there is nothing Islamic about it, said Imam Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America.

“It’s misusing the name of Islam in such an ugly way,” he said.

Republicans Predict Iran Deal Will Gain Them Jewish Votes in 2016

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The head of a national Republican Jewish activist group predicted on Nov. 10 that dissatisfaction with the Iran nuclear deal will increase the GOP's share of the Jewish vote in 2016. His Democratic counterpart argued that Jewish Americans, who overwhelmingly vote for his party, are divided over the deal and prioritize other issues.

The debate took place at one of the largest annual gatherings of Jewish activists in the world — the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America — just hours before an address to the group by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I say it with a broken heart and a lot of sadness,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks on what he alleged is flagging Democratic support for Israel in recent years.

Nonreligious Voters Present a Puzzle for Political Parties

Image via Brian Snyder / REUTERS / RNS

Political candidates are facing a new reality: Within the Democratic coalition, there are more religiously unaffiliated voters than belong to any single religious group.

This is a significant change in American politics, where nonbelief has long been a liability.

Survey data show that Americans with no religious affiliation are a growing share of both major political parties. But the trend is particularly strong within the Democratic coalition, where the unaffiliated now represent 28 percent of those voters, according to a new Pew Research study.

Pew Study: More Americans Reject Religion, But Believers Firm in Faith

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Americans as a whole are growing less religious, but those who still consider themselves to belong to a religion are, on average, just as committed to their faiths as they were in the past — in certain respects even more so.

The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, released Nov. 3 by the Pew Research Center, also shows that nearly all major religious groups have become more accepting of homosexuality since the first landscape study in 2007.

The new study may provide some solace to those who bemoan the undeniable rise in America of the “nones” — people who claim no religious affiliation.

“People who say they have a religion — which is still the vast majority of the population — show no discernible dip in levels of observance,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Confronts the Roots of Violence

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Image via Blake-Ezra Photography / RNS

Religious zealots fill newspapers and screens with bloody images of bombings and beheadings. They kidnap children and make them into soldiers. They pray before they rape women.

But “not in God’s name,” says Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, who just published a book by that title.

“The greatest threat to freedom in the post-modern world is radical, politicized religion,” Sacks writes. Religion News Service asked Sacks how people can kill in the name of God, and how religion can counter religious extremists.

Earliest Draft of the King James Bible Discovered by New Jersey Professor

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For some months after he returned from England last year, a Montclair State University professor did not realize what a treasure he had found in a rare books library at Cambridge University.

While abroad, Jeffrey A. Miller, an assistant professor of English at the New Jersey school, had acquainted himself with some of the 70 pages of a notebook that had belonged to Samuel Ward, a 17th century biblical scholar. But it wasn’t until Miller returned home, and made a more thorough study of photographs he had taken of its pages, that he understood how stunning a discovery he had made.

The notebook held draft portions of the most enduring English translation of the Bible: the King James Version, which was published in 1611 and named for the newly ascended King James I.

“I am not even sure I believed it initially,” said Miller, describing the moment when he figured out he had seen draft pages from the most widely read work in all of English, including Shakespeare.

At 9/11 Site, Pope Prays with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Hindus

REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, far right, speaks as Pope Francis stands with Jewish and Muslim leaders as he visits the museum to the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, on September 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Pope Francis embraced survivors of 9/11 in the footprints of the Twin Towers, then prayed for peace at an interfaith service beside the last column of steel salvaged from the fallen skyscrapers.

Arriving straight from his speech to the United Nations on Sept. 25, Francis met with 10 families from the 9/11 community — people who survived the destruction, rescued others from the inferno, or lost loved ones in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, executed by religious zealots.

5 Faith Facts About Bernie Sanders: Unabashedly Irreligious

Image via Reuters/Joshua Roberts/RNS

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-identified socialist who’s perhaps the most left-leaning member of Congress, is expected to announce this week that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders, 73, was born to Jewish parents and identifies as Jewish — though culturally, not religiously. Most political observers call him a super long shot for the nomination, but he will appeal to Democratic voters who admire his constant exhortations against the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.


1. He is the anti-Bible thumper.

Sanders is the presidential contender most willing to dissociate himself from religion. Though he identifies as Jewish and by Jewish law is Jewish, he has freely acknowledged that he is not a religious person. He scored a solid zero from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition in its most recent scorecard and a 100 from the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Why Stay? A New Book Looks at Feminists Who Refuse to Give Up on Faith

Christy Collins / RNS

Book cover via  Christy Collins / RNS

Why stay when a woman can’t be ordained as a priest? When Jewish men in their daily prayers thank God they were not born a woman? When a woman with uncovered hair is considered a bad Muslim?

Many in this diverse group of essayists — including Mormons, immigrants, rabbis, ministers, lawyers, and nurses — confess to having seriously considered chucking faith, or at least their own religious tradition. Some of them actually did leave, only to return.

Gay Marriage Is the Law of the Land: Two Couples, Two Views

vetre /

Wedding rings on wooded background. Photo via vetre /

In the days before the Supreme Court made it possible for gay couples to marry everywhere in the U.S., we asked two couples of faith — one Jewish who live in a state that forbids gay marriage, and one Christian and opposed to gay marriage — what the decision would mean to them.