What Is Interfaith Engagement?
Interfaith engagement involves connecting young people from diverse faith communities (Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and others) to develop mutual understanding and respect while also deepening their own religious identity and commitments. It . . .
- DOES go beyond tolerance toward mutual respect.
- Does NOT teach that all religions are essentially the same.
- DOES help young people learn to lead in a religiously diverse society.
- Does NOT dilute or destroy religious convictions.
- DOES invite young people to be honest and open about their own beliefs, questions, and religious identity.
- Does NOT provide an opportunity for religious groups to proselytize or impose their beliefs on others.
- DOES focus on shared values and commitments to the common good.
Interfaith work puts into practice the idea that shared values and asset building can unite people across faith and ideological lines in their commitment to young people. It has the potential to create a stronger sense of mutual trust, respect, and understanding among participants and within the wider community.
Benefits of Interfaith Engagement
- Cultivates in young people a deeper sense of their own religious identity while building relationships with people who are different.
- Equips young people with skills to navigate in a religiously and culturally diverse world.
- Helps young people become more articulate about their own worldviews, beliefs, and values.
- Develops a sense of mutual trust, respect, shared values, and understanding across religious traditions, thus reducing religiously motivated violence, stereotyping, bigotry, or hatred.
- Unites people across faith and ideological lines with a shared commitment to nurturing the lives of young people.
What Makes Interfaith Engagement Work?
- Young people from different religious backgrounds and no religious background come together to share stories from their own faith teachings and life experience, listen to the needs of their community, and serve to meet those needs.
- A focus on deeply held, widely-shared values is the starting point for dialogue.
- Regardless of the specific activity, cultivating healthy relationships is given a high priority.
- Participants create and agree to honor clear ground rules of mutual interest, understanding, and respect.
- Clear expectations create a safe setting for dialogue, growth, learning, and relationships.
- As trust, confidence, and patterns of constructive dialogue are established, areas of difference are explored with the deepening realization that, in the midst of strong differences, people can make the choice to work together on issues of common good.
- Networking and development opportunities are provided for people from all traditions. This is particularly important for those in traditions without a strong presence in the community—who may have few if any opportunities for professional development.
How Interfaith Engagement Enriches Service-Learning
An interfaith approach offers a variety of opportunities to service-learning. Here are examples:
- It engages a broad spectrum of the faith community in the service-learning movement, recognizing that many young people engage in service first through their religious institution.
- It provides the structure and processes for encouraging young people to reflect on their deepest beliefs, values, and identity as they reflect on their service to others.
- It strengthens and broadens partnerships for service-learning across the community and around the nation.
How Interfaith Engagement Enriches Asset Building
Because many people begin building assets in a public sector environment (such as public schools), they may be reluctant to consider interfaith engagement as part of their asset-building activities. However, intentional interfaith work can strengthen asset-building efforts in many ways:
- It invites a wide range of faith communities to participate in the shared community vision, emphasizing the common ground of an asset-building approach.
- It gives permission and encouragement for participants to bring their deepest values and convictions into the dialogue about the common good.
- It helps to ensure that a wide range of religious perspectives are at the table, not just those that dominate a particular city.
- It helps to nurture in young people the kinds of skills and competencies they need to be successful in an increasingly pluralistic world.
Putting Interfaith Service-Learning Into Practice
If you haven't been involved in interfaith activities, it can be challenging to know where to start. The getting started section of this tool kit offers possibilities.
More Information on Interfaith Engagement