In light of this upcoming “Summer of Tolerance,” a phrase coined by Joshua Stanton describing the efforts of interfaith leaders and communities in New York, I’ve been thinking about how to really advocate interfaith projects. However, this dedication forces me to question the definition of interfaith and why it is important. What does interfaith mean? Does it describe a group of people, or can an individual be “interfaith?”
Nowadays we see the word ubiquitously in the media, often denoting a person, or community, that is multi-religious, multi-faith, or multi-cultural. While these terms, at times, overlap, they certainly are not perfectly synonymous with interfaith. As an example of what interfaith means to some, World Faith does not merely represent or promote religious pluralism, but rather recognizes and advocates the shared values between various faith communities.
When we talk about an interfaith community, action, or attitude, there is a particular sentiment tied to it – the value of “inter.” Deeper than multiple, inter-faith travels between and through people, building a complex web of inter-relationships and activism built on understanding and respect of human sameness and difference. While many of us, if not all, live in a pluralistic or multi-faith society, not enough of us take the time to really interact and understand an(other)’s cultural beliefs, practices, and worldviews. For this Summer of Tolerance, let us dedicate the coming months to illuminating the inter-connected aspects of our shared human experience.
This kind of thought and action can be fostered in a number of ways. Several interfaith organizations offer a variety of programs, conversations, and educational and service opportunities to get involved with people of different faiths. However, because we are all time-constrained, there are simple and easy ways of bridging differences, many beginning with just a thought.
For example, next time you see someone on the subway or walking down the street who is clearly of a different faith from you, instead of focusing on how different the two of you might be, think about the potential for similarities, like where they might be going – to work? To a wedding? To a meeting with their daughter’s college counselor? We may even notice someone reading a religious scripture during our daily commute, and assume that person must be “traditional,” and therefore not “modern,” given the ancient text in their hands. But might they be saying a prayer for travelling, for a sick family member, or for a new job promotion?
Often, without even knowing it, many of us act and think in ways that reinforce religious, ethnic, cultural, and gendered stereotypes. The fact that we reinforce them daily means that we also have the power to change them. And, religious or not, most of us share the same daily struggles and the desires to be good husbands, daughters, employees, citizens, friends, and individuals. Educating ourselves about even the most basic principles of other religions can go a long way. Whether Mormon, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic or non-denominational, we all share similar experiences to one another, and we all have a lot to learn from one other.
Contributed by: Amy Levin, World Faith Social Media Intern