Covering religion

Armando Garcia felt a connection with the Syrian refugees he interviewed during a trip to Italy this spring with the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life at Columbia University.

Garcia, 25, has lived virtually his entire life as an undocumented immigrant after he came to America from Mexico as a small child. “I could empathize with them and the feeling like you are not at home,” he said.

Throughout the last 20 years, the Scripps Howard Foundation has partnered with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to send more than 250 graduate students abroad to learn to cover complex religious topics. This year’s eight-day tour culminated with a visit to a Syrian refugee camp.

“I talked to one girl who talked about what it was like to watch one of her friends die in an airstrike,” Garcia said. “On the flight back, I was thinking about what I had just experienced. I asked myself, ‘The stories that I covered here, do they mean something? Will they change lives?’”

Garcia’s experience highlights the value of training journalists to report thoughtfully on religious matters. “The importance of religion has only increased over the years – the interest in it and in its role both in global conflict and in resolving global conflict,” said Dr. Ari Goldman, director of the Scripps Howard program.