Interfaith - five major themes
Q. What are five major themes in the interfaith movement?
A. Here are four responses to this question.
The first is from Paul Chaffee, founding Executive Director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, San Francisco:
1. In some sense the modern interfaith movement started in 1893 in Chicago at the first Parliament of the World's Religions, and large grassroots interfaith groups (such as Parliament and United Religions Initiative) have tended to be strongest in the United States. But the extraordinary growth of interfaith culture the world over suggests that the next generation of leadership and robust organizations will also be coming from places like India, the Philippines, the Middle East, and Ethiopia, to name just a few places where there is real ferment. Even in the US, most of the growth has been spontaneous and not the result one or two or more organizations reaching out to enroll members. We are on the lip of a tsunami that has changed religion in the world for ever.
2. High tech and the travel industry have meant that the followers of the world's religions live much more closely to each other than ever before. This proximity makes culture inherently multi-cultural and therefore multi-religious. In more and more countries, demography colors us interfaith whether we like it or not. Catching up with that reality, appreciating it, and finally taking advantage of it (for the sake of peace and mutual respect) will take years, but the possibility is a huge source of hope in our conflicted world.
3. Indigenous traditions (such as American Indians and Neopagans) have long been bullied by more established, organized religions, and that fact is finally being acknowledged. Only in the past 20 years have Earth-based religions been invited to the interfaith table. Because they tend to be courageous, they have come, and the results have been and continue to be remarkable and positive.
4. Reconciliation among the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) is being explored in dozens of programs across this country and the world. These are positive, imaginative, and growing - another source of great hope for everyone. It's 'the' big subject right now. That reconciliation will not be fully achieved, it seems to this observer, until the Abrahamic traditions address the rest of the human family, that is, the non-Abrahamic traditions.
5. Interspirituality has become an increasingly important theme in recent years. It is particularly popular among the religiously disenfranchised who distrust established religion but feel drawn to spirituality. But strong minorities within established religions have also become involved. Sharing spiritual practices is a controversial, difficult, and complex theme, distrusted by many interfaith groups who are happy to address particular issues (e.g., collaborating to address poverty) but not something a theologically resonant as our spiritual lives. My sense is that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg on this subject.
I'll stop because that is five. But certainly there are many, many other important themes, including the relationship between violence and religion, collaborating for the sake of social justice, the transformation of Christian ecumenical councils into interfaith councils, and the realignment/restructuring/reformation of dominant traditions in the face of our global multi-religious proximity.
The second is from Jim Kenney, Executive Director of IEP21, former Global Director of the Parliament of World Religions and Co-Editor of Interreligious Insight :
1. The nurturing of interreligious understanding (knowledge, awareness, and insight) as the key to the growth of mutual respect (rather than mere "tolerance").
2. The discovery of pathways to interreligious engagement, that is, authentic partnerships between and among religious communities, dedicated to addressing the most critical issues of our time.
3. The continuation and deepening of the decades-long quest for a global interreligious ethic, a statement of shared religious values in regard to peace and non-violent conflict resolution, social and economic justice and human rights, and ecological sustainability. This is often rendered simply as P, J, S (peace, justice, and sustainability).
4. The widespread rejection by religious communities, religious associations, and interreligious groups of all violence carried out "in the name of religion".
5. The encouragement of awareness of and commitment to the development of approaches to "globalization for the common good". This worldwide interreligious project is one of the most important of our age. Religious and interreligious participation is absolutely essential.
The third is from Mark Gifford, Assistant Chief Executive, Minorities of Europe
1. Promoting positive, cooperative, daily interactions between people of different faiths.
2. Creating cultures of peace, justice and healing across the world.
3. Ending religiously motivated violence
4. Identifying shared and similar values and beliefs between the religious and spiritual traditions of the world.
5. Identifying what is distinct about each tradition.
The fourth is from Fred Stella, Hatha Yoga instructor, president of Interfaith Dialogue Association and host of its weekly radio program, Common Threads :
1. Education. The interfaith movement 1st and foremost promotes educating about the various world religions. This is done through both scholars as well as adherents.
2. Dialogue. We seek to create a safe space of open, honest communication between those of different faiths, as well as those within the different movements of a particular religion
3. Social Solidarity. On those issues of social importance where agreement is met, we encourage the various traditions to unite; working towards a more just world.
4. Communal Worship. We recognize that there are opportunities for us all to gather for worship (national or world tragedies, secular holidays, etc.), where the most universal aspects of one's faith may be shared in an appropriate manner. We acknowledge that the personal theology of some does not permit involvement in this particular expression and fully respect it.
5. Friendship. For some, the ability to form deep personal bonds with those of differing religions have far greater impact than all the conferences, books or special programs that are offered in the interfaith movement. But often it is through such activities that provide the opportunity for such connections to be made.