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.

A long-standing principle of U.S. politics, that voters prefer candidates with strong faith beliefs, has been called into question in the 2016 presidential campaign. Recent opinion surveys suggest that voters don't see either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders as very religious, but that perception does not seem to be damaging their political prospects.

Two trends are evident from new surveys by the Pew Research Center and the Public Religion Research Institute:

  • Voters are themselves generally less religious than they used to be.

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.

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Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, decided to wear a headscarf during the Advent season as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. In doing so, Hawkins quoted Pope Francis, saying that Christians and Muslims "worship the same God."

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.

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.

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.

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 the Atlantic "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith."

Religion is apparently weakening in America. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God, pray daily and attend church regularly is declining.

Among the findings:

  • The share of Americans who say they are "absolutely certain" that God exists has dropped 8 percentage points, from 71 percent to 63 percent, since 2007, when the last comparable study was made.

During the past half-century, 59 million immigrants have moved to the United States, making it the No. 1 immigrant destination on the planet.

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Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a new immigration law that would change the face of the nation. But that dramatic impact, ironically, was in good part the result of a major miscalculation by those who actually wanted to limit the bill's effect.

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Latino Catholics now have a saint of their own thanks to Pope Francis. Junipero Serra was a missionary who brought Christianity to the native populations in what is now California.

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Pope Francis arrives in Washington, D.C., this afternoon for his first trip to the U.S. Here's a look at some of the key moments to watch during the leader of the Roman Catholic Church's six-day visit.

Tuesday: The President Greets The Pope

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Pope Francis will be headed to Cuba for three days next week, before his eventual trip to the U.S. The visit comes at a time of change for the island nation, and the pope is expected to play a leadership role there.

Yet it's not the first the first time a pope has paid a visit to Cuba. In 1998, Pope John Paul II arrived in Cuba — and it was clear from the start that the visit had a specific purpose.

Nearly a century ago, immigrants from Germany and Ireland founded St. Helena Church in a working-class neighborhood in north Philadelphia.

Immigrants, and their children, still fill the pews at St. Helena's — but the vast majority of them are now from Vietnam, Latin America, the Philippines and Africa. Weekly masses are conducted in Spanish and Vietnamese as well as English. The senior priest, the Rev. Joseph Trinh, is himself a Vietnamese refugee. One of his associate priests is from Haiti, and another is from Ecuador.

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