The interfaith movement in the United States is growing. Led by organizations like the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, the Pluralism Project at Harvard, and the groundswell movement founded by Ms. Valarie Kaur (to name just a few), more and more Americans are engaging with people of different religious and spiritual identities than themselves. The mainstream media has finally started to pick up on this trend. Major news outlets like theNew York Times, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting Service, and The Huffington Post frequently report on interreligious engagement.
As an American Muslim, I am very excited by these trends and hope to continue promoting interfaith work in 2014. However, as the interfaith movement grows, it is becoming increasingly important to discuss potential challenges of interfaith dialogue and how they can be addressed.
The first challenge is a lack of focus. For any interfaith dialogue to succeed, all parties must be clear on the conversation’s goals. This can help people decide which conversations they should join. For example, if the goal is to discuss complex theological issues, it is necessary to include scripture experts, historians, linguists, and other academics. Lay people and usually younger people may not feel comfortable in these discussions. On the other hand, conversations focused around personal values and experiences would be more appealing to people who do not fit into a defined faith or spiritual category (e.g. agnostics or atheists) or people who are less interested in theology. Academics who want to debate religious minutiae would probably shy away from these discussions. Thus, it is necessary to hold multiple different types of conversations, each geared to a different audience.