Intro to Interfaith Pt. 1: Defining Interfaith

Intro to Interfaith Pt. 1: Defining Interfaith

When I explained to my parents’ friends that I had attended an interfaith conference a fews years ago, I received the following response: So did they try to convert you?

I was caught off guard; I didn’t know what to say. I knew that conversion was not a part of interfaith dialogue, but then again, I had spent several months working at an interfaith non-profit organization. Later on I would realize that I can’t expect people unfamiliar with the interfaith movement to fully understand its complexities. To anyone who has never heard of the term interfaith before, it may sound like an opportunity to convert or even some strange combination of all religions.

The goal of this piece is to give you a basic understanding of the meaning of interfaith and is the first in the Intro to Interfaith series. Subsequent pieces in the series will go deeper into the history of the interfaith movement and the issues that interfaith activists are addressing today.

Defining Interfaith

The term interfaith refers to situations in which a religiously diverse group of people comes together to interact and their faith identities are involved. (1) When people of different faiths come together for constructive purposes, they often engage in dialogue or cooperation.

Interfaith Dialogue

Interfaith dialogue occurs when people of different faiths come together in positive and constructive conversation to both better understand the religious beliefs and identities of others. (2) Dialogue is not used as a means of trying to push your own beliefs on others. Rather, it is an opportunity to respectfully explain your beliefs and to facilitate mutual understanding. 

Successful interfaith dialogue is dependent on respect for identity. (3) That means respecting that others have the right to form their own religious identities and express them. (4) Although many religious traditions have common values that they hold sacred, they go about expressing and achieving them in different ways. This means that disagreements between individuals are inevitable. And disagreements are okay — the goal of interfaith dialogue is not to create a melting pot of religious beliefs that all participants must ascribe to. 

So what does this leave us with? The end result is a safe space where people can learn and build mutually beneficial relationships with people of other faiths without needing to hide their religious identity or being forced to believe in things they do not. (5)

Dialogue occurs on local, national and international levels. A Jewish father and a Muslim father who met at a protest at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport decided to get their families together for a shabbat dinner. (6) The annual G20 Interfaith Summit brings together scholars and political and religious leaders to engage in dialogue with the goal of fostering peaceful economic development. (7) Both are examples of interfaith dialogue.

Interfaith Cooperation

Interfaith cooperation goes one step further than dialogue and engages people of various faiths in taking action for the common good. (8) Inspired by shared values that hold importance across religious and cultural traditions, such as justice and compassion, people of different faith traditions organize and take action to address social issues that affect us all. Furthermore, shared experiences of service together build strong platforms for tackling even more tricky or difficult topics in future dialogue. (9)

 
 Fourth-graders in Northwest Suburban Chicago work together to create bookmarks to donate.  (Heidi Stevens / Chicago Tribune)

Fourth-graders in Northwest Suburban Chicago work together to create bookmarks to donate. (Heidi Stevens / Chicago Tribune)

 

Like dialogue, cooperation occurs on many different levels and scales. A group of Jewish, Muslim and Christian fourth graders met at a Muslim education center to talk about their faith traditions and decorate book marks for Little Free Library, (10) a non-profit that facilitates free book exchanges. (11) The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in Vienna organized a conference for religious and political leaders that culminated in the creation of an Action Plan with specific guidelines for religious leaders to follow to prevent the occurrence of mass atrocities and genocide in their countries. (12) Both are examples of interfaith cooperation.

Who Participates?

The interfaith movement is a movement of inclusivity. Adherents of the world's major religions including, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Zoroastrians as well as indigenous religions all have a place in the interfaith movement. 

More recently, there has been discussion in the interfaith community about including people who do not practice religion in a common or conventional way or who are not religious at all. Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit that trains college students in interfaith leadership, gives a practical argument for including agnostics, humanists and atheists in the movement, claiming that building bridges between religious and non-religious communities is a crucial part of creating an understanding and compassionate society. (13) 

Review

Here are the most the important points to take away from this piece:

  • When people of different faiths come together for constructive purposes, they often engage in dialogue or cooperation
  • Interfaith dialogue creates a safe space where people can learn and build mutually beneficial relationships with people of other faiths
  • Interfaith cooperation goes one step further than dialogue and engages people of various faiths in taking action for the common good
  • Interfaith dialogue and cooperation happen at local, national and international levels
  • Both religious and non-religious people can participate in the interfaith movement

Learn More

Check out the rest of the articles in the Intro to Interfaith series:

And here are some excellent resources to learn more about the interfaith movement:

  • Interfaith Youth Core - A non-profit that trains college students in interfaith leadership
  • The Interfaith Observer - A free monthly digital journal created to explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement as a whole
  • The Pluralism ProjectA two decade-long research project that engages students in studying the new religious diversity in the United States

Sources Cited

  1. Patel, Eboo. Interfaith Leadership: A Primer. Beacon Press, 2016
  2. "Academy For Cultural Diplomacy". 2017. Culturaldiplomacy.Org. http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/academy/index.php?en_historical-examples.
  3. "Interfaith Cooperation 101". 2017. https://www.ifyc.org/sites/default/files/Interfaith%20Cooperation%20101.pdf.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ortiz Healy, Vikki. 2017. "The Story Behind The Viral Photo Of Muslim And Jewish Children Protesting At O'hare". Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-jewish-muslim-fathers-viral-photo-met-20170131-story.html.
  7. "G20 Interfaith Summit 2017 | G20 Interfaith Summit". 2017. G20interfaith.Org. https://www.g20interfaith.org/.
  8. "Interfaith Cooperation 101". 2017.
  9. Stevens, Heidi. 2017. "Interfaith 4Th-Graders Bond Through Poetry, Art And Steph Curry". Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/stevens/ct-muslim-jewish-christian-kids-balancing-0201-20170201-column.html.
  10. "About Little Free Library | Little Free Library". 2017. Littlefreelibrary.Org. https://littlefreelibrary.org/about/.
  11. "Role Of Religious Leaders In Preventing Incitement That Could Lead To Atrocity Crimes (Partnership With UN Genocide)". 2017. KAICIID. http://www.kaiciid.org/what-we-do/role-religious-leaders-preventing-incitement-could-lead-atrocity-crimes-partnership-un
  12. "Interfaith Cooperation 101". 2017.

Author's Note: I borrowed heavily from a free PDF download publication from Interfaith Youth Core called “Interfaith Cooperation 101.” It is wonderfully succinct and is based off of great scholarly literature. I have tried to cite it as best I can.