What Interfaith Cooperation is
& Why it is Important
We live in an increasingly diverse religious landscape (both nationally and internationally). This diversity often leads to conflict because of stereotypes, misunderstanding, negative assumptions, and outright fear of religious “Others.” Interfaith cooperation is about more than “tolerance” of religious difference. Instead, it is a call to action, entreating us to engage with others of differing faith traditions constructively—because rather than in-spite of, our beliefs.
During the American Civil Rights Movement, for example, Christian leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jewish leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel both drew inspiration from a Hindu concept of non-violent resistance that Mahatma Gandhi embodied and enacted decades before to overthrow British rule in India. Because of shared values like mercy, compassion, kindness, service, and hospitality, these leaders of very different traditions came together to fight racial injustice and inequality. Similarly, the legacy of our American story is one of Jews, Christians, Deists, and Atheists coming together in the name of religious freedom to create a new nation—on common ground with the common values of liberty and justice for all.
Interfaith cooperation is thus synonymous with what Interfaith leaders and advocates like Dr. Diana Eck (Founder and Director of Harvard University’s Religious Pluralism Project ) and Dr. Eboo Patel (Founder and Director of Interfaith Youth Core) describe as “religious pluralism.” It requires us to become aware of how religious beliefs, values, and practices contribute to a more just and civil society. To learn more about the importance of religious literacy and interfaith cooperation in today's world, visit the Religion Communicators Council.
American colleges and universitites are recognizing the immense value of providing students with the vision, appreciative knowledge, and skills to become interfaith leaders in the 21st century. According to Nancy Cable, President of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, this work is life-changing, both for our students and for the environment in which we find ourselves. Click here for some examples of articles outlining the urgency of preparing students for this work.
Interfaith cooperation is not the same as religious relativism and it doesn’t gloss over our religious differences. It does not mean abandoning our truth claims or giving up our faith-based allegiance to whatever doctrines or explanations about the world best guide us. It just requires that we open to the best of one another, that we acknowledge and respect our differences and our common humanity. So, when we’re engaging in interfaith dialogue, we don’t use this space to proselytize or to evangelize, even if that is an important part of our religious tradition. Instead, interfaith dialogue focuses our attention on the values that we share and how these compel us to act in service to a better world. While the focus of our work is on building capacity for positive interaction among people of differing religious world views, there is lots of great information about religious belief and practice that can help you increase your religious literacy. The Harvard Pluralism Project's Religions page is a great place to start your exploration! We also recommend the Wabash Center for a great compilation of religion references. For a really "quick" overview of religious diversity of belief and practice, many have found the Religion Facts Page useful as well (although we recommend caution interpreting any site that collapses entire religious traditions into a few bullet points).