Writer, scholar, and youth leader Eboo Patel is executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core and writes a blog for The Washington Post. Patel’s ongoing work with youth and study of religious divisions is rooted in his own struggle choosing between Indian, Muslim, and American identities and faith in a common “dream of pluralism.” In Acts of Faith, he defines pluralism as
a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the wellbeing of each and all depends on the health of the whole. It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution.
The foundation for pluralism, Patel says, is built upon common values. Equality, freedom, and dignity are values shared by Americans. Commonality teaches tolerance for diverse racial, religious, and ethnic differences. Patel argues that interfaith dialogues in America today pass democratic values on to the next generation in a new way.
Patel calls youth today The New Interfaith Generation because they hold different attitudes about the world and asks new questions about religions. He thinks America’s diversity and faith traditions serve as a model for pluralism in the rest of the world. Is this really the case? If so, what is America’s unique contribution to the global community?
The interplay between religion and politics is a common tension in the lives of Christians, Jews, and Muslims around the world. America is uniquely religious in comparison to other Western countries. According to The Pew Global Attitudes Report, published in September 2008, America is a deeply religious society. Compared to other developed nations in the West, America ranks with less-developed countries like India, Lebanon, and Brazil. America could serve as a model for developed countries in the West and less-developed countries in the East since it shares values in common with both.
What could American pluralism mean in a global context? If other nations use religious pluralism as a model, Patel’s “dream of pluralism” says interfaith dialogue will serve common values global in scale. Eboo Patel has another name for this global phenomenon. He calls it The New Interfaith Generation.
The “dream of pluralism” and the Clash of Civilizations
Patel’s book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation follows interfaith groups, peace movements, and related stories to remind citizens that cultural conflict is not an end in itself. Media controversies and world news coverage emphasize war, famine, and global crisis, reinforcing negative attitudes about religious plurality. Negative attitudes and images frame international conflict as if Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations is inevitable.
If America is a unique case, then values common in its new interfaith projects would not make sense in a global context. Thus, the Clash of Civilizations is inevitable. Patel discusses the importance of pluralism in a recent Talk of the Nation podcast about interfaith projects. Education and collaboration are common values that seem to make sense across diverse cultures.
The Inside Islam project focuses on interfaith dialogues and debates around the world. The purpose of such studies is to understand Islam and Muslim issues in a global context. The Pew Report is one such study. In addition to American faiths, global attitudes, although increasingly negative about religion, may also become increasingly pluralistic. The report finds that, Muslim or not, people around the world are concerned about terrorism at home and abroad. Violence and radicalism are global threats, suggesting interfaith study is a valuable to America and other nations around the world. Are education and collective response global values? Can nations bridge faith communities in the East and West to address the terrorist threat?
Source: Patel, Eboo. Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Photo credit: Interfaith Youth Core (Flickr)