Interfaith Dialogue Effective Reflection for a Religiously Diverse World
Service & Religion “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not or a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” Barack Obama • More Americans volunteer through a faith-based organization than any other type of organization and over 86% of religious congregations across faith traditions report they are involved in some community development work. • Congregation-based volunteers have an astounding retention rate of 71% of volunteering from one year to the next. • Tremendous silos exist. Houses of worship in the same neighborhood often don’t partner. Only 15% of secular mission organizations reporting partnering with a faith-based group. The statistics above have been gathered from the 2010 Volunteering in America Report.
Religion in the World • One day in Religion News Service: “Convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner, the Utah man who wanted to die by firing squad -- in part to meet the "blood atonement" for sins that's part of Mormon -- was shot and killed last night. President Obama's nominee for Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is raising some eyebrows. Amma, the Indian guru widely known as the "Hugging Saint," is in LA and spreading the love. Over in Brooklyn, there's a battle of the bands brewing between outdoor summer concerts and a Jewish synagogue; NYC law prohibits loud noise within 500 feet of a house of worship, and the synagogue that's 300 feet away holds services until 10 p.m. every night. Up in White Plains, Jews won a court battle to build a "Shabbos House" that allows them to stay near a hospital and not violate Sabbath rules against driving to visit sick relatives. A teacher at a Florida Christian school says she was canned when she became pregnant before her wedding. The coach of a woman's softball team in Memphis says she was kicked off the team of a prominent Baptist church because she's a lesbian. A new poll of 22 countries finds President Obama's popularity slipping abroad, including in predominantly Muslim nations (blame his handling of Israel-Palestine, researchers said). Cuban Catholic leaders want Pope Benedict XVIto visit in 2012. The Washington Times reports from the Dalai Lama's Indian exile: what happens after he dies? A South African man was apparently beaten to death by family members for wanting to watch the World Cup instead of a religious program. Abortion is straining the delicate alliance between secular and faith-based development groups. Louisiana lawmakers are asking state residents to stop and pray on Sunday for relief from the BP oil spill.”
Young People & Religion • Eight students in ten attended religious services during the past year and similar numbers discussed religion with both friends and family. • Almost eight students in ten believe in God, with more than half perceiving God as “love” or as the “creator,” and about half experiencing God as a “protector.” • Students get a great deal of comfort from their spiritual/religious beliefs, with more than two-thirds reporting that they derive strength, support, and guidance from such beliefs. • Religious institutions are the most popular places through which Millennials volunteer. • The Millenials are the most religiously diverse generation America has ever seen. The statistics above were gathered from the Spirituality in Higher Education survey, Volunteering in America survey.
Young People & Service • Last year, 27% of college students, 26% of teenagers, and 22% of all Millenials volunteered. • In 2009, 10.8 million Millennials dedicated 1.1 billion hours of service to communities across the country. • According to a 2004 study, an estimate 4.7 million K-12 students in the US are engaged in service-learning. • Campus Compact reports that 31% of college students on its 1,190 campuses performed 282 million hours of service. This is increasingly in the form of service-learning.
We live in the most religiously diverse nation in the world, with young people seeking understanding and an ability to serve. How are we equipping them to explore this diversity and work together?
Interfaith Dialogue Facilitation Creating the Space • Setting Safe Space • Appropriate Logistics and Curriculum Holding the Space • Listen • Go back to stories or tell them yourself • Find shared elements • Identify pluralism when you see it
Additional Tips for Interfaith Groups • Food: Will you be having food at your event? Think and ask about different dietary guidelines you need to consider for different faiths (Kosher, Halal, Vegan). • Gender: Are you having both genders work on a project together? Consider the implications of appropriate gender interactions in different religions. • Cleanliness: Consider purity concerns for any service project. What kind of service are you doing; are you asking participants to expose themselves to ritually impure substances? • Prayer: What are the prayer needs of the diverse faith communities who will be attending, will you need to set aside time or space for regular prayers? • Do some research to gain basic religious literacy – beliefnet.com, reliigoustolerance.org, and other resources can assist you. • DON’T BE AFRAID TO SHOW IGNORANCE • Model vulnerability regarding revealing religious and spiritual concerns and background • Particularly in initial dialogues, have a text or object to center the conversation around
Additional Resources Patel, Eboo. Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007. Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--and Doesn't. New York: Harper Collins, 2007. Patel, Eboo, et. al. "Storytelling as a Key Methodology for Interfaith Youth Work." In Interfaith Dialogue at the Grassroots, edited by Rebecca Katz Mays, 35-46. Philadelphia: Ecumenical Press, 2008. Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith Leader's Toolkit. Chicago: Interfaith Youth Core, 2009. Interfaith Youth Core and Search Institute. Inspired to Serve: An Online Toolkit for Youth-Led Interfaith Action. N.d. www.inspiredtoserve.org (accessed February 10, 2010).