Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers issues of religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and social and cultural conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Gjelten's latest book is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, published in 2015. His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a regular panelist on the PBS program "Washington Week," and a member of the editorial board at World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

To Donald Trump, one of President Obama's major failings was his refusal to identify "radical Islam" specifically as America's top adversary. "Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country," Trump told a crowd in Ohio in August. "Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president." Obama, with the support of many counterterrorism experts, wanted to avoid any suggestion that the United States was...

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died at age 90, according to Cuban state media, confirms NPR. Castro, who took power in the Cuban Revolution in 1959, led his country for nearly 50 years. After undergoing intestinal surgery, Castro had ceded power in July 2006 to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday on Cuban state television. Under Fidel Castro's direction, Cuba became the one and only communist state in the Western Hemisphere. One of the most prominent...

Five centuries ago, Christians in Europe who hoped to go to heaven knew they might first have to spend a few thousand years in a fiery purgatory, where they would be purified of their outstanding sins. It was not a pleasant thought, but the Catholic Church offered some hope: A cash offering to the local priest could buy an "indulgence" certificate, entitling the believer to a shorter purgatory sentence. In practice, the money often went into the pockets of corrupt church officials and their...

For more than 30 years, conservative evangelical Christians have been tied to the Republican Party. While the pattern seems to be holding this year, with most conservative white Christians supporting Donald Trump, some evangelical leaders are now questioning the logic behind the political alliance. Prominent among them is Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant church group in the United States. In a...

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, but to Dan Meyer, a North Carolina businessman, that does not mean the Founding Fathers were not inspired by God. "Many documents demonstrate that they really received divine guidance in putting together that constitution," he says. "It's not the Bible. It is a man-made document. But most of the writers of that document acknowledged that God gave them guidance and wisdom in putting that document together." Meyer, 70, recently retired...

Fifteen years after the attacks of Sept. 11, Americans have grown aware not only of the danger of terrorism but also of the reality that their nation is far less white, Christian and European than it used to be. "Culturally, we're a country of Bollywood and bhangra and tai chi and yoga and salsa and burritos and halal and kosher," says Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard University and author of A New Religious America . Through her direction of the...

Hundreds of Catholics have been declared saints in recent decades, but few with the acclaim accorded Mother Teresa, set to be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, largely in recognition of her service to the poor in India. "When I was coming of age, she was the living saint," says the Most Rev. Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "If you were saying, 'Who is someone today that would really embody the Christian life?' you would turn to Mother Teresa of...

Churchgoing Americans say their preachers often speak out on hot social and political issues and occasionally back or oppose particular candidates in defiance of U.S. law prohibiting such endorsements. The findings from a new survey by the Pew Research Center suggest that the 1954 "Johnson Amendment" regulating political activity by churches and other charitable organizations has had limited impact in restricting such speech. The 2016 Republican platform calls for a repeal of the Johnson...

(Editor's note: Both major presidential candidates this year are Protestants. Both of their running mates were raised as Catholics. Beyond that, their faith profiles are very different. We dug into the faiths of the Republican candidates below and of the Democratic ticket here .) In his speech to the Republican convention, Donald Trump thanked "the evangelical and religious community" for supporting his candidacy, but then added, "I'm not sure I totally deserve it." Trump does not...

(Editor's note: Both major presidential candidates this year are Protestants. Both of their running mates were raised as Catholics. Beyond that, their faith profiles are very different. We dug into the faiths of the Democratic candidates below and of the Republican ticket here .) Tim Kaine, growing up in Kansas City, says his parents were such devoted Catholics that they did not let a Sunday go by without making sure their children attended church, even if it meant finding the one...

A newspaper correspondent observing Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration in March 1865 — delivered to a crowd "as far as the eye could reach" — noted that the president laid his right hand on a Bible and, facing Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Chase, swore to preserve, protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. "Then," the reporter noted , "solemnly repeating 'So help me God!' he bent forward and reverently kissed the Book." It was the first documented eyewitness account of a U.S....

The Jews who immigrated to America in the early 20th century brought with them their history as a persecuted people. Many were fleeing pogroms and anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, and those experiences bonded them to other groups that also faced discrimination. The Anti-Defamation League , founded in 1913, was established by Jewish leaders to stop "the defamation of the Jewish people" but also "to put an end forever to unfair and unjust discrimination against ... any sect or body of citizens."...

America's culture war, waged in recent years over gender roles, sexuality and the definition of marriage, is increasingly being fought inside evangelical Christian circles. On one side are the Christians determined to resist trends in secular society that appear to conflict with biblical teaching. On the other side are the evangelicals willing to live with those trends. For Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the key question is "whether...

The global refugee crisis, political strife and economic dislocation all contributed to a worldwide deterioration of religious freedom in 2015 and an increase in "societal intolerance," according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve," says Princeton professor Robert George, the USCIRF chairman. "At worst, they've spiraled downward." In its annual report , the commission...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Editor's note: Radovan Karadzic was one of the dominant figures of the Bosnian war, serving as president of the "Serb Republic" in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. The International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague on Thursday found him guilty of multiple crimes, including the slaughter of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. NPR's Tom Gjelten covered the war in Bosnia, and Karadzic, for years. Given all that has happened in the last 20 years,...

President Obama's speech to the Cuban people, delivered live from the Gran Teatro in Havana, presented both a risk and an opportunity. He did not want to suggest any endorsement of a system that for more than 50 years has been associated with the suppression of democratic freedoms and human rights. On the other hand, with Raul Castro listening intently from his front row seat in the balcony and Cubans across the island watching on their televisions, Obama was in a position to deliver a...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The religion of Islam was founded by Muhammad, the 7th century prophet whom Muslims call "the messenger of God." They don't consider him divine, but they follow his teachings closely. Good Muslims are taught to emulate the prophet in all matters, personal, spiritual and worldly. Perhaps no time in recent history has it been more important to do as the Prophet Muhammad did — and not as someone says he did. With terror groups like ISIS now invoking his name, many Muslim leaders say radicals who...

For Muslim-Americans, there was a world before Sept. 11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and one after. Now, their community faces the dual threats of extremism and growing atheism. Young Muslim-Americans are angry and frustrated, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. While bound by their religion and their community, they have opinions as diverse as their backgrounds. NPR's Tom Gjelten met a group of young American Muslims to discuss the challenges...

Antonin Scalia was just one of six Roman Catholic justices on the Supreme Court, but in his devotion to the faith he was second to none. Neighbors saw him and his wife, Maureen, worshipping frequently at St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls, Va., a church Scalia was said to favor because it was one of the few Catholic parishes in the Washington, D.C., area that still offered a Latin mass. Scalia received his secondary and undergraduate education at Jesuit institutions, and as a justice he...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Pope Francis is once again making history. He met in Havana today with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow was himself on an official visit to Cuba. Not since the establishment of the Russian church more than 400 years ago has a Russian patriarch met with the Pope. Afterward, the two men exchanged gifts and, with Cuban President Raul Castro standing off to one side,...

In 1054, Pope Leo IX excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople, an occasion that would go down in history as the beginning of the " Great Schism " between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. With the 1,000-year anniversary of the split just a few short decades away, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet Friday in Havana as they attempt to bury the hatchet. The tension between the churches of Rome and Moscow is part of the larger division...

The rise of ISIS and other Muslim extremist groups in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia has brought horrific persecution of non-Muslims — Christians, Jews and other religious minorities. Now, a group of Islamic scholars, Muslim leaders and government ministers from Muslim-majority countries has promised to work together to protect those minorities, saying Islam forbids religious persecution. More than 100 countries were represented at the gathering of Muslim leaders in Marrakech this...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Anglicans around the world are deeply divided over social issues, including homosexuality. Those differences now have them on the verge of a major global breakup. The Anglican Communion includes the U.S. Episcopal Church as well as churches throughout Africa and other parts of the global South. NPR's Tom Gjelten has the story. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Anglican church leaders from across the Communion are...

Christian conservatives who are battling for the right to promote their faith in public or official settings see themselves locked in an epic contest with a rival religion. But that rival isn't Islam. It's secularism. "Secularism and Christianity are distinct, immutable religions," writes David Lane , founder of the American Renewal Project , a group he organized to promote more political participation by conservative pastors. "Secularism advances the fundamental goodness of human nature,...

Terrorism and economic woes may be big concerns, but Republican candidate Ted Cruz sees another issue dominating the presidential race. "I'm convinced 2016 will be a religious liberty election," he said in a recent interview . Cruz says religious people, devout Christians in particular, are routinely marginalized and harassed for their beliefs, and that such treatment has gotten worse under the Obama administration. At a rally in South Carolina last month, Cruz invited four people he called ...

President Obama's request that American Muslims help "root out" and confront extremist ideology in their communities is getting mixed reactions. Muslim leaders say they want to help, but some are not happy that they are being singled out. "We would never ask any other faith community to stand up and condemn acts of violence committed by people within their groups," said Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who has worked extensively with the Black Lives Matter movement and other...

The Pilgrims are among the early heroes of American history, celebrated every Thanksgiving for their perseverance in the New World against great odds. To Christian conservatives, they are role models for another reason as well: They were deeply committed to their Christian faith and not afraid to say so. In the Mayflower Compact, the governing document signed shortly before the Pilgrims disembarked in Massachusetts' Provincetown Harbor, Pilgrim leaders said they undertook their voyage across...

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