[I’m here in Chicago at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting – this year I’m the trailing spouse – a second-class conference member who doesn’t even receive a free tote, and had to lie to get a schedule for the weekend. Oh well. It just means I don’t feel guilty about sitting in Caribou Coffee while sessions are going on…which works for me.]
I first heard Eboo Patel on NPR’s Speaking of Faith a year ago. Patel is the Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago and writes and speaks across the country on the topic of religious pluralism and youth. It was good to hear his thoughts on such an important issue – especially in today’s world. I often find it interesting when I hear the question, “So, what do you think about pluralism…?” In some ways – it’s really like asking the question, “So, what do you think of air?” What do we think about pluralism? Well – like the air we breathe – it just is; we live in a pluralist and multicultural world. This is the position that Diana Eck takes, and is where the Interfaith Youth Core finds itself.
Yet, Patel wants to define religious pluralism a little differently than Eck in the end. Patel gave us his definition of pluralism: Pluralism is about building societies where people from different backgrounds live in equal dignity and mutual loyalty. As they work toward building these societies, there are three main questions that they focus on:
- Is there respect for identity in that society? Can you wear a head scarf or cross if that’s important to you? Can you build a synagogue as easily as you can build a church?
- Are there positive relationships between different communities in a pluralist society? Having religious freedom does not equate to having positive relationships between people from different religious traditions.
- Is there a broader society – a ‘community of communities’ – is there a common good? Just having a diverse group of people living and working with one another isn’t enough – there needs to be some “common good” that people hold together. He gave the example that folks in a mosque shouldn’t be just thinking about their own particular good – but that in order to ensure their own well being, they have to ensure the health of the whole.
The Interfaith Youth Core works to help young people reflect on these issues and questions related to religious pluralism; they are concerned that there are groups of people who are trying to reach youth using religion – and many of these groups are religious extremists. The Interfaith Youth Core, however, is attempting to create Interfaith Leaders. Patel made an interesting case trying to create a new identity category in culture – the identity of being an interfaith leader. They want to create a core group of emerging adults who are comfortable living with the religious pluralism that exists in our world today – and can help create, develop and sustain relationships with people from other religious and faith traditions.
If you’ve read my blog much, you know that I’m very sympathetic to this view of pluralism, and it is one in which I think the youth of today are much more comfortable with than previous generations. That is probably for a variety of reasons, but clearly the fact that we live in such a diverse world, and the fact that through the Internet we are more easily connected to so many different people from different cultures and faiths, play into why this generation of emerging adults is much more comfortable with living with this difference.
I wonder, sometimes, about how I can be doing more with the youth ministry at Asbury to help youth think about these issues and reflect on their place in the diverse world we find ourselves in. I have some ideas, and will share those in the future if they materialize.