Monday August 20, 2018

Bible Reading Marathon concludes at USA Capitol

"The percentage of Americans who say they believe in God has dropped a little"

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Holy Bible, Wikimedia Commons
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Hundreds of Christians gathered recently in front of the United States Capitol building on a cold and rainy day.

They began a public reading of their holy book, the Bible.

They kept reading for 90 hours.

The event is called the U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon. It marks the National Day of Prayer and has been taking place for 27 years.

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Holy Bible, Wikimedia Commons

Pastor Jeffrey Light of NOVUM Baptist Church in Reva, Virginia spoke to VOA about the event. He said its goal is to show the importance of religion in American life.

“It’s foundational for who we are as human beings to know our purpose, and our purpose comes from our creator,” Light said.

Few know the part of religion in America better than Alan Cooperman. He leads study of the subject for the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Related article: Is Christianity under threat in Middle East?

The center did two major studies on religion in the U.S. in 2007 and 2014. The research found that the American public is growing less religious.

“The percentage of Americans who say they believe in God has dropped a little,” Cooperman told VOA. He explained that the percentage of Americans who say they pray daily has dropped, along with the percentage who say they go to religious services at least once a month.

Cooperman said the share of Americans who do not identify with any religion has been rising very quickly.

In his words, “It’s gone from 7 percent in 2000, 16 percent in 2007, to 23 percent overall today.”

Cooperman believes the drop in religious involvement reflects a generational change. Young Americans are growing into adulthood with looser ties to religion. The children of today are also less involved in religious activities than the children of past generations.

Religion and politics

But lawmakers and government officials are more likely to be religious than the general public. Organized faith appears to still play an important part in U.S. politics.

More than 90 percent of the United States Congress is Christian compared to 70 percent of the general public. At a recent Senate discussion, members of Congress talked about how they balance faith and politics.

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Mike Fitzpatrick at Prayer Breakfast, Wikipedia Commons

Senator James Lankford is a Republican from Oklahoma. He told VOA that faith is “the lens” he looks through.

He added, “If it’s a faith, it affects everything.”

Many religions are represented in Congress. Along with Christian legislators are Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. There are also some atheist lawmakers.

‘Overwhelmingly religious’

For Cooperman, even the increasing number non-religious Americans may not be enough to change the role of faith in American life and politics.

“…the American public remains overwhelmingly religious,” he said. In his words, It’s a very religious country. Three-quarters of Americans, about 77 percent of the population, still identify with a religious group.

Pastor Jeffrey Light agrees. He said the role of religion will continue to play an important part in this year’s presidential election.

“For me and those that are seekers of the word of God,” he said, “we will certainly seek a leader who honors God.” (VOA)

 

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Students Get Amazon Alexa – Electronic Voice-Controlled Assistants in University Campus Housing

It is a good idea for students to get as much experience as possible with the voice assistants to improve their development skills and prepare for future jobs.

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The Alexa Echo Dot devices include the official Saint Louis University logo and are equipped with specific skills to provide information on local events and campus life. VOA
The Alexa Echo Dot devices include the official Saint Louis University logo and are equipped with specific skills to provide information on local events and campus life. VOA

One American university is putting Amazon-electronic voice-controlled assistants in every student housing room on campus.

Saint Louis University recently announced it will equip every student living space with Amazon’s Alexa system. The school in St. Louis, Missouri, will place about 2,300 Echo Dot “smart” devices in all student dorms and other university housing.

Officials said the university will be the first in the world to put the devices in every student living space. The devices and the Alexa service are being provided at no costs to students.

The Amazon Echo is a speaker with the ability to listen and “talk” to users and can perform some operations. The Alexa assistant competes with similar systems made by Google and Apple.

Devices linked to the systems have become increasingly popular in homes in recent years. They can be used for things like looking up information, playing music, ordering food or buying things on the internet. The devices can also complete actions in the home. These include turning lights on and off, and controlling systems for heating and cooling and security.

Amazon calls these different tasks Alexa can perform “skills.”

Amazon said in a website post that Saint Louis University chose the Alexa system after carrying out a test program. The program involved the Echo Dot and a device from a competing company. It said the students had a better reaction to the Alexa system.

The Echo Dots will include a special skill developed especially for Saint Louis University. It will provide information and answer questions about local school activities and campus life.

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In this March 2, 2016, file photo, David Limp, Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices, pushes down on an Echo Dot in San Francisco. VOA

Next year, the university plans to add more personalized skills, such as providing information about classes and grades.

The university said it did not increase student tuition to pay for the project. Instead, officials said, it was financed through the school’s general fund, as well as partnerships with Amazon and n-Powered. The company, based in Los Angeles, California, helped develop the parts of the system that are related to Saint Louis University.

David Hakanson is Saint Louis University’s vice president and chief information officer. In announcing the project, he said it will fit well with students who are “highly driven to achieve success in and out of the classroom.”

He added: “Every minute we can save our students from having to search for the information they need online is another minute that they can spend focused on what matters most: their education.”

While the devices are being placed in every university housing space, students do not have to use them. For those wishing not to take part, the school suggests students just remove the devices from their rooms and put them away in a safe place.

Other universities have also experimented with voice-controlled assistants in student living areas.

A year ago, Arizona State University announced a program that provided Echo Dot devices to a special housing area for engineering students. In the program, all engineering students moving into the special housing community were given the choice of receiving an Echo Dot if they wanted one.

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Bhavik Patel, a mechanical engineering senior and peer mentor at Arizona State’s community housing center Tooker House, demonstrates use of an Amazon Echo Dot while working on formulas. VOA

As is the case at Saint Louis University, Arizona State students are able to use the system to get the latest information on university programs and events. However, the Arizona students also have the chance to sign up for classes that teach subjects related specifically to creating new uses for Alexa devices.

Octavio Heredia is a director with Arizona State’s Fulton Schools of Engineering. He said he thinks it is a good idea for students to get as much experience as possible with the voice assistants to improve their development skills and prepare for future jobs.

Also Read: Google Releases ‘Go Edition of Android 9 Pie’

“Once they are familiar with the devices, they are going to want to further develop their own skills and begin integrating that technology – the hardware and the skills – into other projects,” he said. (VOA)