WNYC Presents Micropolis on Religion

WNYC presents
Special 6-day series on Religion & Culture in New York
with WNYC News Reporter Arun Venugopal

 Includes interviews with comedian AASIF MANDVI,
director JENNIE LIVINGSTON and other New Yorkers

 Monday, December 15 to Saturday, December 20
on WNYC 93.9 FM, AM 820 and www.wnyc.org/micropolis


(New York, NY—December 15, 2014) From the 85-foot-tall Christmas tree gracing Rockefeller Center, to the cookies blessed by Hindu deity Krishna sold in local coffee shops, to the pamphlets handed out by Scientologists in subway stations, religion suffuses public life in New York.

Beginning today, MICROPOLIS, WNYC’s ongoing examination of race, gender and urban identity, presents a special series on religion in New York. Hosted by award-winning WNYC news reporter Arun Venugopal, the series will take a look at the reemergence of the Hare Krishna community in New York, how non-Christians feel about the Christmas season, the debate around identity within American Muslim community, and how one young, homeless gay teen found himself through his faith. The series also includes a profile of a religious huckster whose pulpit is Union Square and a young woman with Down syndrome who took her place in her Indian community through classical dance.

“If you roam around the five boroughs, you realize it’s teeming with religiosity – people adhering to ancient forms of worship, others frantically inventing new faiths where none had existed before,” said Arun. “It’s within these spaces that many of the recurring themes of Micropolis have played out – issues of race, sexuality and pure urban theater, the ways in which we come together and how we set ourselves apart.”

The first four episodes are available starting today at www.wnyc.org/micropolis. Stories will also air each day during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820. Schedule and descriptions are below.

Follow the conversation at @arunNYC.



Monday, December 15

The Hare Krishnas Are BacK, Thanks to Occupy Wall Street

The Hare Krishnas were once seen as aggressive, in-your-face zealots. But after practically vanishing from the streets of New York, they returned as chant leaders during Occupy Wall Street. And the Hare Krishnas chanting today at Union Square or in Jackson Heights are a kinder, gentler version who support themselves through high-end cookies sold in local coffee shops.  Arun Venugopal drops in on the ashram in Brooklyn and speaks to Krishnas who remember the bad old days.

Tuesday, December 16

War on Christmas? Not in New York City

The “War on Christmas” has become a perennial rallying cry on Fox News and conservative talk radio. But in multicultural New York City, even non-Christians get a kick out of the holiday spirit and/or respect the religious component.  Arun talks to Aasif Mandvi, actor, playwright, and correspondent for the The Daily Show and Andrew Ross Sorkin, reporter for The New York Times; on why, contrary to staging a war on Christmas, they are engaging with Christmas in their own way. Arun also discovers that in the Orthodox Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn, some people don’t even know it’s Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 17

PR Expert To Muslims: ‘Face your Haters’

Western Muslims have been grappling with how to differentiate themselves from ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.  Two vastly different-in-tone hashtags have emerged: the earnest #NotInMyName and the highly snarky #MuslimApologies. A veteran PR pro who was active in the drive to welcome gays and lesbians into the Presbyterian Church discusses the pros and cons of each—and advises that earnest is probably best.

Thursday, December 18

Religious Huckster OR HUMANITARIAN?

America has a long history of religious hucksterism — people have tried to use God to sell everything from widgets to wars. But in a cynical city like New York, how could that tactic possibly work? Arun profiles one man, “Hector the Inventor,” who is determined to use God to make him rich and eliminate poverty.

Friday, December 19

Rejected by Religion, Saved by God

When Kedar Powell came out as gay, his religious father gave him $25 in change in a jar and sent him away from his home in Florida. When Kedar arrived in New York with no money or support, he lived on the streets, surviving through sex work. But where others might have lost their way, Kedar has a deep faith which has sustained (and perhaps saved) him. Arun profiles the young man who was cast from his family because of religion, but whose relationship with God has helped him find himself and a new community. Arun also speaks with the director of the acclaimed documentary “Paris is Burning,” Jennie Livingston, about the communities that homeless LGBT youth continue to form through voguing and other forms of expression.

Saturday, December 20

A Girl with Down Syndrome CONNECTS WITH HER Community THROUGH DANCE

Hema Ramaswamy, a resident of Middletown, New Jersey, has Down syndrome, but that didn’t stop her from rigorously studying Indian classical dance and mythology for years, and giving a grueling solo performance before hundreds of friends and family members. This loving portrait of Hema affirms the power of religious and cultural communities and the ability of art to shape a young woman’s identity.


Arun Venugopal is an award-winning reporter and the creator of MICROPOLIS, WNYC’s series examining race, gender, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005. He has appeared on PBS Newshour, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, On the Media and Studio 360, and has been published in The Wall Street Journal and Salon. His commentary on Indian-American issues has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Post and the Associated Press. He lives with his family in Queens.

New York Public Radio is New York’s premier public radio franchise, comprising WNYC, WQXR, The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, and New Jersey Public Radio as well as www.wnyc.org, www.wqxr.org, www.thegreenespace.org and www.njpublicradio.org. As America's most listened-to AM/FM news and talk public radio stations, WNYC extends New York City's cultural riches to the entire country on-air and online, and presents the best national offerings from networks NPR, Public Radio International, American Public Media, and the British Broadcasting Company. WQXR is New York City's sole 24-hour classical music station, presenting new and landmark classical recordings as well as live concerts from the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and Carnegie Hall, among other New York City venues, immersing listeners in the city's rich musical life.  In addition to its audio content, WNYC and WQXR produce content for live, radio and web audiences from The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, the station's street-level multipurpose, multiplatform broadcast studio and performance space.  New Jersey Public Radio extends WNYC’s reach and service more deeply into New Jersey.  For more information about New York Public Radio, visit www.nypublicradio.org.