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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Orientation Letter - Fulbright June 2003

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

June 2003

Dear Participants of the Church, State and Society Seminar,

We are greatly looking forward to your participation in our seminar "Religion in Contemporary America: Church, State and Society" to be held at Boston College from June 2-July 1, 2003. With this letter we hope to answer some of the initial questions you may have about your stay, to help you prepare in advance both for the practical details of your visit, and to describe the intellectual content of the seminar in which you will be participating. Details of the program will be updated regularly on this website.

You should be sure to check this website prior to your departure for the latest updates to your arrival information.

The Church, State and Society seminar is organized through the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. This Center is devoted to nurturing interdisciplinary conversations on issues related to religion and American public life. Although located at a Catholic University, the Center does not play an advocacy role promoting one religious perspective over another; rather we try to bring people together to discuss issues related to religion and American society. This makes us an ideal site for the current seminar in which we hope to bring a greater understanding of American religion and its institutions to members of a larger international community, as well as to listen to the perspectives that you will bring to us from your home institutions and communities that will help foster a greater understanding between both of our worlds.

  The Academic Directors of the program are Professor Alan Wolfe, Professor Patricia Chang, and Professor Qamar ul Huda of Boston College. Professor Wolfe is a political scientist and well known public intellectual in America who has written extensively on private and public morality, politics, and religion. Professor Chang is a sociologist of religion specializing in research on women clergy and religious organizations. Professor Huda is a theologian who teaches comparative theology, and writes on Islamic intellectual history focusing on Islamic mystical treatises and commentaries on the Qur’an.
Objectives and Requirements of the Institute:
As you have read in the materials surrounding your application and acceptance to this program, the Church, State and Society seminar is designed to give its participants a greater understanding of the diverse nature of American religion, and how its institutions intersect with American culture, politics and democracy. The seminar is organized around the following four themes: The diversity of American religion, the relationship between church and state, the relationships between religion and politics, and the relationship between religion and democracy. Within these themes we have invited a number of guest speakers and organized a number of thematic panels so that you will have access to a variety of people and perspectives during your visit.

Perhaps one of the most confusing, yet fundamental concepts to understand about the American religious situation is that, as a society, we believe that religion and the state should be separate. This means that we believe the state should not be involved in supporting either legally or financially, the activities of any organized religion. At the same time, Americans are also highly spiritual and frequently make references to “God” and “Country” in their political speeches and in speaking of themselves as a nation. For most of history, these two stances have existed in easy parallel. On the one hand we have a secular civil religion in which references to a non-denominationally specific God are frequently used to justify and legitimate political action. On the other hand we try to avoid providing any formal support for, or restriction on, any religious practice, and explicit religious motivations for public behaviors tend to be viewed with suspicion and distrust. This is one of the many confusing paradoxes that we will confront during your visit at Boston College, and one that will undoubtedly lead to many interesting conversations. We welcome you, and look forward to your visit with us.

Preliminary Schedule of Activities:
We will be posting a preliminary schedule for the program on this website, along with some readings which we advise you to read before your arrival. We are still in the process of confirming some of the speakers so the schedule is likely to change as the date of the program approaches, but this will give you some idea of what to expect.
Fellow Participants:
Your fellow participants in this seminar are listed in this website under "Fulbright Participants". We hope that we can all learn as much from one another as from the planned program. We encourage you to contact one another before the program to introduce yourself, and have also started a listserv to facilitate group communication. Responding to the listserv will distribute your message to the entire group so if you wish to communicate privately, do not send e-mails to the listserv (

Participant-lead Discussion Groups:

As part of the program we would like to facilitate a series of afternoon discussion sessions lead by small groups of the participating scholars with members of the American public. After you arrive we would like you to propose a series of discussion topics that would be appropriate for a small group discussion with a group of American citizens. These should be thought of as discussions rather than lectures, with a set of questions appropriate for discussion prepared before hand by the discussion leaders. These sessions will then be advertised to the Boston College community, various American Muslim groups, churches, etc and people who wish to join the discussion will be invited to participate. This should be thought of as an opportunity to open conversations with people in the American community about topics that would benefit from greater understanding and communication. The focus should be on dialogue, not monologue.

The Questionnaire:
In order to accommodate any special dietary, health or religious needs please take time to answer the questions listed in the attached questionnaire. The questionnaire is designed to make your stay with us more comfortable and to address any special needs you may have during your visit. Please email your responses to the questionnaire or use the on-line form.

We also request that you provide a short one page biography and personal essay that we can share with guest speakers and your fellow seminar participants on our website. Can you please e-mail your short biographical essay as soon as possible to

Orientation Handbook:
You will also find an orientation handbook on this website as a reference that we hope will help familiarize you to the Boston College Campus and the Boston area. Please keep this and all other pre-departure materials with you when you arrive in Boston. A map of the campus is available on the Boisi Center website under the heading Contact Us.

Airport Arrival:
You should be arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport on June 2, 2002. Boston College staff members will be waiting for you in the arrivals area outside the Customs gate. They will be wearing Boston College t-shirts or jackets and holding a sign with the name of the program on it.

If you do not see anyone immediately, please wait in the arrivals area until someone finds you. In case of an emergency please call Prof. Patricia Chang on her cell phone (617) 256-4364 or the Boisi Center at 617-552-1860.

Because we expect all the seminar participants to arrive that afternoon, there may be some delay in leaving the airport as we will wait to transport people arriving together back to Boston College. If you need to contact us by phone you may use a phone card, or dial “0” and tell the operator you wish to make a collect call, and give her our telephone number. Always include the area code (in this case 617) before providing the 7 digit number.

Airport security has been heightened since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Some foreign visitors should be expected to be fingerprinted and will be asked to provide information about their itinerary while in the United States. We will do everything possible to minimize inconveniences this may present for your travel both for your arrival and during the study tour but one should be prepared for delays. As an illustration of the kinds of delays and security measures you might expect, I made a short day trip to North Carolina in April and was required to stand in a cordoned off area where I was searched twice. I was asked to remove my shoes and they were examined for bombs. My handbag was taken and repeatedly searched until they discovered a small titanium disk in my contact lens case and my key chain, both of which had presented suspicious shapes to the x-ray machine. My husband, who is Danish, was similarly searched a month earlier on a trip to Bermuda. In my recent travel, I have found American airlines in the US to be more concerned with security measures than European airlines.

While Boston is generally a safe and friendly city, as in most urban areas, there are places to avoid when traveling alone or at night. Since public transportation stops around midnight you should make sure to return home before then or take a taxi after midnight. If you are a woman, you should not walk alone late at night, and avoid parks and quiet streets in neighborhoods with which you are unfamiliar. Be careful with bags and cameras, especially on crowded trains and buses, and generally stay aware of your surroundings. We will have a security orientation upon your arrival to inform you of what to do in case of an emergency and to answer any questions you might have.

As for fears of being attacked because you are Muslim, you need not be apprehensive about the possibility of being singled out or attacked. America is a country of immigrants, we have very diverse appearances and skin tones. Keep in mind that most reports of attacks on Muslims are sensationalized in the media precisely because they are extraordinary events. The Council of Islamic Relations, which monitors incidents of discrimination against Muslims, has reported that in 2001 there were 29 reports of verbal abuse and no reports of physical abuse against Muslims nationwide. None of these reports occurred in Massachusetts. Reports from various mosques confirm this.

During your stay in Boston you will be housed in campus dormitories at Edmund's Hall on a wing on the first floor. You will be housed in two bedroom suites. Each suite has two bedrooms (two participants will share a suite) and a shared bathroom, kitchen and common room. The kitchens are unfortunately not stocked with pots, pans or dishes but paper goods can be easily purchased for casual use.

Edmund's Hall, Boston College
Floor plan (Acrobat file) 
The suites are equipped with a refrigerator, stove, phone, bed linens and towels, and a plug for internet access (if you bring your own laptop). There is a linen and towel exchange once a week, but you will be responsible for your own housecleaning and laundry. There is a laundry room, weight room, and study lounge on the first floor as well.

One of the suites will be set exclusively aside for seminar participants to gather for group prayer and as a common area.

You will be expected to purchase phone cards from your stipend funds for any long distance telephone calls and use these to make calls from your rooms. Prayer rugs are not provided, so participants should bring their own.

The Boisi Center and your rooms are within easy walking of public transportation and limited shopping. A map of the campus can be viewed on the Boisi Center website under Contact Us.

During your visit to Washington DC you will be staying in housing on the campus of Catholic University. Participants will have private bedrooms in shared suites similar to those found at Boston College. Linens and a towel will be provided.

Participants should be aware that they will be staying in student housing, not luxury hotels. You will be expected to provide your own soap, shampoo, toiletries, alarm clocks, and necessary appliances. A television will be available in the common room. Travel, housing, and program materials are paid for by the program. You will also be provided a modest daily stipend of $50 per day to cover meals and other incidental expenses minus the cost of working meals provided by the Institute.

Campus dining facilities are within a close walk of Edmund's Hall and they have vegetarian and non pork options. You are expected to make your own provisions for meals that are not listed in the schedule. You may choose to eat from a variety of on-campus dining facilities, cook your own meals in your suites, order food to be delivered from restaurants, or go to one of the many restaurants in the area.

You will be responsible for all other personal expenses not listed in the program. Should you decide to bring your own money, we advise you to bring it in the form of travelers checks or a credit card (Visa, Mastercard and American Express are widely accepted in the United States).

Automated teller machines (ATMs) are also widely available on campus and throughout the United States and provide a means of withdrawing cash from your bank at home when you have the appropriate PIN access number (please verify this with your home bank before leaving).

Please also note that taxis and stores are often reluctant to accept large bills over $20.00.

Stipend checks will be distributed on Tuesday June 3. We will take you to a local bank to open an account so that you will be able to make ATM withdrawals at your convenience. The stipend amount is $50 per day for meals and incidentals minus costs of group meals organized by the Institute.
Most hotels, campus buildings, restaurants, and public buildings do not permit smoking although they may have designated smoking areas. Please respect these rules as they are taken very seriously.

It is customary to leave 15% of the total amount of the bill as a tip when eating in restaurants. This does not apply to take out restaurants.

Electrical Appliances:
The United States relies on alternating current, 60 cycles, 110 volts. Hairdryers and clothes irons are not provided. If you bring electrical equipment such as a hairdryer, shaver, iron or computer with you, be sure it is compatible or bring an adaptor.

The weather in June in New England ranges between 24 and 13 (celsius), Washington DC is likely to be hot and humid with rainstorms. It is advised that you bring a portable umbrella and be prepared for the occasional rainshower. The weather can change dramatically within a few hours so travelers should come prepared for warm weather, chilly evenings, and sudden rains!

University settings tend to be very causal. Dress comfortably and be sure to bring comfortable shoes for walking. We also advise bringing some “business” clothes for more formal occasions and for attending some church services where one may be expected to dress more formally. There are self-operated laundry facilities.

A van and driver will be available for group field trips but much of our travel will make use of public transportation in Boston and Washington DC. You will be given a monthly pass which will allow you to travel freely in both cities. You will be provided with an orientation to the public transportation system after your arrival. Some information is also in your Orientation Handbook.

Library and Computers:
You will have access to the library and computer facilities of Boston College after you receive your photo identification card. Over one hundred computers are available in the main library for internet access, and a limited number of computers will be available at the Boisi Center. The library is open from early morning until late at night and is a short walk from your rooms.

Health Care:
In order to take full advantage of your stay in the U.S. you should be in excellent health. If you are using any medication on a regular basis we recommend that you check with your doctor prior to your arrival in the US and bring all necessary medications that you will need while you are in the US with you in your carry on luggage. If you use contact lenses or glasses, please make sure to bring an extra pair.

All participants will receive a Department of State medical insurance policy providing coverage of up to $50,000. However, the insurance only covers problems that develop during the time you are in the U.S. on the Program, such as accidents, appendicitis, etc.  It does not cover doctor's visits or treatment for pre-existing conditions, such as heart conditions, diabetes or other on-going health issues/concerns. In addition, each grantee must pay the first $25.00 for treatment of each incident.

Participants have the option of purchasing additional health insurance when they arrive. It is also advisable for participants to bring evidence of their own health insurance with them if it includes coverage in the U.S. If you plan to stay in the US longer than the term of the seminar you may extend your health care coverage at your own expense.
Cultural Remarks:

Some people believe that because they are Muslim, Americans will attack them on the streets. This is not the case. There have been very few reports of anti-Muslim attacks in the United States, and they are considered very exceptional. Furthermore, almost all Americans are immigrants from another country and so you will find that many look exactly like you.

Another issue that has been raised when we have hosted Muslim scholars in the past is the role of women in America. There is a norm of gender equality in the United States and many Americans will take this for granted. Male and female participants will be lodged in different suites but on the same floor. Women and men will not share bathrooms. If you do not feel comfortable shaking hands with women that you encounter simply placing your hands behind your back will probably be enough to avoid shaking hands with women you meet, who may naturally offer their hand as a typical gesture of greeting and welcome. American men and women dress according to choice and weather, and do not typically cover their arms, legs or head, particularly in warm weather.

While Boston has a variety of mosques, none are within walking distance. We have set aside a room for prayer at the Boisi Center and in your dorm where you can gather for group prayer, and we will schedule events so that you will be able to pray between the times of prayer, if not exactly at the appropriate time. We have also determined the correct direction of Mecca in these places given the longitude, latitudes of our location and the dates of your visit. In this country, Muslims find a quiet place at the appropriate time to perform their prayers because mosques are relatively fewer and far between than what you may be accustomed to. You should bring your own prayer rugs.

We have found that the definition of halal differs widely among Muslims. We have crafted our questionnaire to discern these differences among you and we encourage you to fill this out. We have also prepared a list of local restaurants and dining options so that you can find something appropriate to eat. Please let us know once you arrive if we can help you find things that fit your dietary requirements. There is a wide variety of foods available in the supermarkets, and many specialty foods available if you know where to find them.

Contact information in the United States:

Mail can be addressed to you at the following address:

c/o The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life
Boston College
24 Quincy Road
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
Phone: (617) 552-1861
Fax: (617) 552-1863

Emergency contact numbers:

Professor Chang

Professor Wolfe

Professor Huda

Departure Date:
Return to your home country is scheduled for July 1, 2003 from Washington DC. If any of you are planning to stay longer than this date, you should arrange this with the US Consul or Embassy that is arranging your travel for the seminar.

Personal Travel
The State Department discourages personal travel or visits from friends and family during the seminar. The intent of the program is to bring you to the United States to participate in the seminar. Travel before or after the seminar dates can be arranged on your own, but the staff of the Boisi Center will not be responsible for making outside travel arrangements and will not change the program to accommodate personal travel.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us. Our Center’s number is 617-552-1860.

With warm regards,

Professor Alan Wolfe
Professor Patricia Chang
Professor Qamar-ul Huda