by Sharon Ely Pearson
Speaker, author and founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel continues to invite faith communities and individuals to join him on a journey toward interfaith cooperation. This is when religion is not a barrier, but a bridge. He is inspired to build this bridge by his faith as a Muslim, Indian heritage, and American citizenship. He invites us to examine our own faith as a starting point for joining others in transforming the world.
Following the bombings at the Boston Marathon, numerous articles have been written (again) about the association of terrorism with one’s ideology. On May 5, 2013, he wrote an opinion piece for Religion Dispatches in response to many such articles that have recently been published:
I was reminded of that story when I read Lucia Hulsether’s thoughtful critique here on RD of my recent Huffington Post article on the urgency of interfaith cooperation after the Boston bombings. As religious diversity continues to grow both in demographic fact and in salience in our public discourse, and as interfaith efforts expand, it is more important than ever to engage in a thoughtful exchange about the purpose of interfaith programs. I wish to use this space to advance my view of what interfaith cooperation is for. The ideas I present below have been developed in conversation with my colleagues at Interfaith Youth Core, the organization I founded and lead, and it guides the work we do with college campuses and students.
Let me begin by summarizing one of Hulsether’s main arguments. She maintains that mainstream interfaith projects reach a wider base by avoiding divisive political topics and glossing over issues of “justice” and “structural violence.” This is a problem because, to Hulsether, those are the issues that really matter. Hulsether names civil liberties, material conflicts, and American military campaigns abroad as some examples that fit her list of priorities. She writes, “Appeals to ‘interfaith’ often prioritize projects for recognition of such identities over attention to systemic forms of material and social inequality” and “interfaith programs always provide means to other ends.”
All in all, it is a well-articulated view of what might be called a progressive social justice understanding of interfaith work. What it comes down to is this: interfaith work is only meaningful when it mobilizes diverse religious/secular narratives and communities in support of progressive politics.
Embracing Interfaith Cooperation: Eboo Patel on Coming Together to Change the World is a 5-session DVD study for small adult and high school groups to explore both the challenge and necessity of interfaith cooperation. The voices of Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Muslim add to the conversation, allowing deeper insight into the beliefs and understandings of each faith tradition. Eboo shares:
In every era there are forces of prejudice in the United States. In every era across our history the forces of pluralism, the forces that say we will be a nation where people of different backgrounds live in equal dignity and mutual loyalty, have risen up and confronted and defeated the forces of prejudice.
When it comes to the way we are taught about religion in typical schools in the United States, it’s one of two things: (1) a narrative of freedom of religion based on constitutional values and guarantees which is supported by the American legal tradition; (2) a narrative of religion as conflict in which people will say that different religions have always fought and will always fight.
The single most important thing we can do is to say that the story of inevitable conflict between people of different religions is simply wrong. It’s not inevitable. There are just as many stories of interfaith cooperation as there are of interfaith conflict. We need to lift up those stories!