Interfaith Relationships Are Becoming Common. Do They Work?

Research reveals the challenges of partnering with someone of a different faith.


  • The number of interfaith couples is increasing: 20 percent of Gen Xers have interfaith parents, compared to 27 percent of Millennials.
  • Interfaith couples report poorer psychological health and experience pressure from their parents to marry someone of a similar faith.
  • Involvement in, and importance of, religion markedly declines amongst children raised by interfaith parents.

Interfaith relationships are increasingly common. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 27 percent of Millennials were raised by parents with two different religious backgrounds. This is a marked increase from 20 percent of Gen Xers, 19 percent of Baby Boomers, and 13 percent of the Silent Generation who were raised by parents with two different religious backgrounds.

Today, 25 percent of U.S. marriages involve couples of different religions. Such that, 15 percent of marriages involve one partner who is religious and one who is unaffiliated, such as atheist or agnostic. And approximately 9 percent of marriages involve partners of differing religions, such as one Protestant partner and one Catholic partner.

Because more people are choosing interfaith relationships than ever before, couples may be asking if and how they can work. Every couple’s relationship is unique and the variables which affect their long-term success are complex. Luckily, research in psychology reveals some of the unique challenges that interfaith couples might face.

Challenges for Interfaith Relationships

Both relationships and religion tend to be good for your health. Several studies, for instance, reveal people who are married, rather than single, tend to live longer and experience greater physical and psychological health. In fact, patients who had undergone a coronary artery bypass graft were 2.5 times more likely to still be alive 15 years after their surgery if they were married, rather than single.


An interfaith discussion on the role of religion in mental health

Religious leaders often try to support the people they serve during challenging times. This supportive role was especially important during the past few years as the nation dealt with a pandemic, social distancing and the loss of more than a million lives.

In a recent discussion sponsored by the Global Religion Journalism Initiative, academics and religious leaders discussed faith-based mental health counseling, including its benefits and limitations.

Natasha Mikles, an assistant professor at Texas State University, moderated the discussion.

Academic panelists included Thema Bryant, a trauma psychologist, ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and professor at Pepperdine University and Rabbi Seth Winberg, senior chaplain at Brandeis Hillel at Brandeis University. Publisher and author David Morris also took part.

Below are some highlights from the discussion. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Natasha Mikles: Are there times when religion can actually be a source of stress rather than comfort for someone who’s going through a difficult time?

Thema Bryant: Yes, religion can be used for healing and empowerment, and it also can be used to oppress, marginalize and shame. In psychology, there’s something called positive religious coping and negative religious coping. Positive religious coping is believing that God is loving and ultimately wants to help, and that’s associated with positive mental health outcomes. Fundamentally believing that God is harsh and trying to penalize me is associated with more negative religious outcomes, and more negative mental health outcomes.

Seth Winberg: Yes, depending on the person and the circumstances, the faith, traditions and the community that one is living in, faith can certainly be a burden, or a strain, or a source of trauma. But for many people, faith provides a community, a social network, a sense of shared values, a rhythm to life and a common culture that I think is very powerful.


Interfaith summit dreams of America as a potluck, not a battlefield

Hundreds of interfaith campus leaders gathered in Chicago to reimagine America as a potluck, where everyone is welcome — rather than a melting pot.

CHICAGO (RNS) — Amaris DeLeon grew up in a religious home but no longer identifies with any particular faith, calling herself “spiritual but not religious.” But she recognizes that religion can still play a role in bringing people together, especially in times of tension and conflict.

“People are desperate for a place to talk about things like politics where it’s not going to get too aggressive,” said DeLeon, a student at the University of North Florida, where she works with the school’s interfaith office. “Everyone has morals, everyone has these codes of value. And I think there’s so much more similarity than difference. We just have to look for it and be intentional about it.”

DeLeon was one of about 360 students and educators from 90 colleges and universities who gathered in Chicago over the weekend (Aug. 12-14) for Interfaith America’s annual leadership summit. Held in person for the first time in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was a chance to connect with other interfaith leaders and receive training on how to help students from different backgrounds work together.


My Visit to the Holy Land

by Kaleem Hussain FRSA:  a Geo-Political Observer and Analyst with a multi-disciplinary background in law, economics, financial services & central-local government in the UK. He is active in working on inter-faith, peace and reconciliation initiatives to bring communities together at a local, national and international level. He is an Honorary Fellow at the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham and FSTC (Muslim Heritage),UK.

I recently had the honour to visit the city Jerusalem which is considered holy and sacred for the three major Abrahamic religions of JudaismChristianity, and Islam.

Images taken and provided with permission by Kaleem Hussian

The magnetism and attraction towards Jerusalem are enthused by the veneration it has for Jews where they pray towards it three times each day and pledge to return to it each year, with the words “Next Year in Jerusalem” chanted at the conclusion of the Passover seder and the Day of Atonement prayer service. For Christians, it is the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth along with the resurrection. For Muslims, it houses the Dome of the Rock, the location where Prophet Muhammad ﷺ ascended to heaven as part of the miraculous night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem called Al Isra-Wal-Miraj), the Qibli Mosque, commonly termed as Al-Aqsa Mosque (the furthest mosque) situated within the precincts of the noble sanctuary which is the third most important mosque in Islam and served as the first Qibla, the direction Muslims turn towards when praying before it was orientated towards Makkah in Saudi Arabia.


Preserving stories of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh friendships through India’s partition

Descendants of those who experienced the Partition of Punjab in 1947 come together to share stories of interfaith collaboration after 75 years of religious animosity in India and Pakistan.

A special refugee train at Ambala Station in February 1954 in northern India. The 1947 Partition of India resulted in the largest human migration in history, lasting years. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — In September of 1947, after Tarunjit Singh Butalia’s Sikh grandparents’ ancestral home in West Punjab was set afire by mobs from a neighboring village, they had no choice but to flee. A Muslim couple in present-day Pakistan swore on the Quran to give them shelter and protect them as if they were family.

They survived, and seven decades later, Butalia, now executive director of the interfaith advocacy organization Religions for Peace USA, tracked down the Muslim couple’s son. The man guided him to the village where his parents, Ahmed Bashir Virk and his wife, Amina Bibi, were buried. Butalia knelt and kissed their graves.

 “There are angels that walk on the earth,” said Butalia, who chronicled his grandparents’ past in his 2020 book, “My Journey Home: Going Back to Lehnda Punjab.” “And for my family, they were indeed angels on earth.”

Butalia is only two generations removed from the Partition of South Asia in August 1947, when the British, as they ended their colonial rule in India, imposed a national boundary across northern India that created Pakistan. In so doing they split the religiously diverse province of Punjab into West, or Lehnda, Punjab, and East, or Charda, Punjab.

The border added a geographical quotient to the existing religious distinctions made between Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Jains and Christians, resulting in nearly 15 million people being divided from their religious community. Many left their homes to seek wholeness again in the largest mass migration that the region has seen; others stayed and fought for their rights as minorities. More than half a million people died in revenge killings, riots and communal violence from all sides.

Butalia believes the kindness shown to his grandparents fostered his devotion to creating meaningful relationships and understanding between people of faith. The shared history of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus at the time of Partition led him to his current position, as well as his work as a founding member of the Sikh Coalition for Interfaith Relations.


Ashura Signifies that Truth Will Never Die

(Note: Ashura is a day holy to Shi’a Muslims memorializing the death of Ali’s son, Hussain, in battle in Kerballa, Iraq in 680 CE. which also has spiritual significance related to his martyrdom. This article references a Lebanese Christian scholar who interestingly ties Hussain’s martyrdom to the suffering of Christ)

George Zaki al-Hujjaj made the remark in a forum recently held by IQNA under the title of “Imam Hussein’s (AS) Depiction in Christianity”.

Syrian thinker, author and media activist Antoine Barbara and Lebanese scholar and researcher Luis Saliba were the other Christian figures addressing the forum.

Hujjaj said Ashura is the day in which blood gained victory over sword and the truth overcame falsehood.

He said Imam Hussein (AS) was an absolute hero who remained steadfast and never bowed to oppressors.

“(Imam Hussein) fought to the last drop of blood and with his martyrdom, created an epic of bravery and defending the truth.”

Hujjaj added that in this era humanity needs the likes of Imam Hussein (AS) to remain unwavering in defending the truth and justice and stand up to oppressors.

In his address, Saliba said what happened to Imam Hussein (AS) is something that brought Shia Muslims and Christians closer together.

He referred to contemporary Christian figures like Gibran Khalil Gibran, Mikhail Naimy, and George Jordac as only some of the Arab Christian figures who have written about AHl-ul-Bayt (AS).

Calling for dialogue among Christians and Shias, he said there are many commonalities between followers of Jesus (AS) and followers of the Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS).

He said there is also much similarity between the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS) and what happened to Jesus (AS) as well as between Hazrat Zahra (SA) and Mary (SA), the mother of Jesus (AS).

Saliba said dialogue between Shias and Christians will promote Islam-Christianity dialogue and enhance peaceful coexistence among the followers of the two faiths.


A new era: Chief rabbi meets Emirati sheik in historic moment

Appearing together in parliament, the Chief Rabbi and leading Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah have hailed the Abraham peace accords as kickstarting a new era of interfaith relations.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the 2020 agreement marked a “paradigm shift” in cooperation between Jews and Muslims.

Sheikh bin Bayyah, who founded the UAE-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, said that since the deal was signed: “The record of Israel is a move to a more peaceful existence.”

The meeting was an “exceptionally special occasion” held “in a spirit of friendship”, the Chief Rabbi added.

He said: “Let’s discuss the deepest elements of what might divide us and I have no doubt we will emerge strengthened knowing that there is so much that unites us. 

“One already sees that the sands of change have shifted and as a result there is a positive movement in regards to a new reality, that provides so many extraordinary opportunities for us as adherents of these two faiths and through us for the entire world. It is a thrilling moment, let’s make the most of it.”

Sheikh bin Bayyah said his aim in meeting with the Chief Rabbi was “peace with all nations and peoples.”

Emphasising the common links between Islam and Judaism, he said: “The Quran and the Jewish tradition affirms the quest to save one soul is the quest to save all souls…


In Tbilisi, the Peace Project rises as a home for Christians, Jews and Muslims under one roof

Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili is all too familiar with the criticisms of interfaith dialogue, especially as his Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, moves toward completion of a facility designed to host Christian, Jewish and Muslim worship and promote stronger relationships between the three Abrahamic faiths.

But Songulashvili said neither his nor the other congregations involved in the Peace Project are seeking to water down or merge their spiritual traditions, as some critics claim.

The mosque inside the Peace Project under construction.

“This project will respect the liturgical integrity of each community, each in their own space, but there will be a fellowship hall where Muslims, Christians and Jews can come together for meals and food. We do not encourage or approve of some sort of religious syncretism.”

Founded originally as First Baptist Church in Tbilisi, the Peace Cathedral is the oldest Baptist church in the Republic of Georgia and a partner of the U.S.-based Alliance of Baptists. It is known as a champion of interfaith cooperation, religious freedom and social justice throughout the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Its embrace of gender equality and LGBTQ rights, and its practice of ordaining women, often have resulted in harassment from both political and religious authorities, including other Baptists.

That experience helped inspire the Peace Project, which will combine in one facility separate worship spaces for Christians, Jews and Muslims who also will share combined accommodations for fellowship, study and interfaith relationship building. The anticipated completion date is Pentecost 2023, depending on the availability and cost of construction materials.

A summary provided by the cathedral said the initiative will include adult and children’s libraries and an interfaith dialogue center “designed to create a spiritual home for Abrahamic faiths, including both Sunni and Shi’a Muslim communities. The Peace Project is envisioned to be a profound example of what the world can be, and should be, in cooperation and respectful unity.”


Study document on antisemitism, Islamophobia advances

The report is billed as a practical guide to repairing relationships with Jews and Muslims.

Moderator Frances Lin (standing) speaks with resource staff for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky – The Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee of the 225th General Assembly today recommended that the assembly receive a study document denouncing antisemitism and Islamophobia and distribute it throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for “study and reflection.” The vote was 25-2.

The study document – which is not PC(USA) policy – “is designed as a practical guide to repairing our relationships with Jews and Muslims,” said Whitney Wilkinson Arreche, a member of the denomination’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations (CEIR).

“We address antisemitism and Islamophobia in a single document,” Wilkinson Arreche continued, “because of our singular commitment to repent of and make repair for harm we have caused both communities.”

The study document builds on the “Interreligious Stance” adopted by the 2014 General Assembly, which states that “many things draw us together in respect for those who have religious commitments different from our own, including the example and person of Jesus Christ, the evident need for religious peace, the necessity of meeting human needs in a world of poverty or want, and the biblical call to solidarity amid our diversity.”

Antisemitism “exists on multiple levels,” the study document states, “ranging from consistent, low-level aggression and negative stereotyping, to significant acts of violence against Jews, their religious communities, and their property.” All of these forms of antisemitism are on the rise, the document asserts, fueled in part by White supremacy. “Addressing the long history of antisemitism, and our current complicity in it,” the document continues, “requires study, confession and repentance.”

The document includes two definitions of antisemitism – from the 2021 “Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism” developed by a group of scholars in Jewish, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine and Middle East studies; and from the Anti-Defamation League.


Interfaith Explainer: The Difference Between Intrafaith, Interfaith, Multifaith and Interspirituality

  • Intrafaith, interfaith, multifaith and interspirituality are words that mean very different things. Yet, they are sometimes used interchangeably and without distinction. The following definitions should help people discern and understand the differences.

Intrafaith = Within

When someone proposes an intrafaith conversation, it means a conversation within a specific faith or religion, for instance, Christians speaking with Christians from other denominations. Also known as ecumenical, these interactions can be critical for social cohesion, as exemplified by interactions between Evangelicals and Catholics, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Orthodox and cultural Jews, and many more.

Interfaith = Between/Among

Interfaith refers to relations between faiths, spiritual paths, or even worldviews. It does not have to be restricted to religion alone because one way to define faith is as “complete trust, confidence or strong belief in someone or something.”

Interfaith work is usually about improving relations between people of different faiths, but it can also revolve around working with people of other faiths. For example, many interfaith organizations—some of whom started as ecumenical organizations—pool their resources and help those who need food and housing.

Interfaith has nothing to do with uniformity, conformity, or sacrificing one’s beliefs. The goal of most interfaith work is to foster harmonious diversityThe Parliament of the World’s Religions is a fantastic example.