According to Meryl Justin Chertoff, interfaith relations need an upgrade.
Chertoff, director of the Aspen Institute’s Justice and Society Program, will introduce Chautauqua Institution to “Interfaith 2.0.” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. Her lecture is titled “The Findings of the Principled Pluralism Project, based on the Report of the Inclusive America Project,” and is the first of Week One’s Interfaith Lectures on “Interfaith Literacy.”
“Our religious diversity is, and always has been, one of America’s greatest strengths,” Chertoff said. “For that to remain a source of strength, we need to proceed with a sense of intentionality to open up lines of dialogue.”
The Inclusive America Project is an initiative of the Justice and Society program chaired by former secretary of state Madeline Albright and political strategist and analyst David Gergen. According to the project’s 2013 Principled Pluralism Report, the IAP’s goals were to encourage public respect for all religious identities, positive and informed dialogue between the bearers of those identities, and to create partnerships among religious and secular organizations to serve the common good. These ideas have been translated into practices for youth service organizations, universities, the media, religiously affiliated organizations and governments.
“What the project found is that we’re becoming an increasingly diverse nation, and that has the potential to create the kind of tensions we’ve seen across the world,” Chertoff said. “Because of our history of inclusiveness, we are ahead of Europe and the Middle East, but we can’t rest on our laurels. We can’t rely on that as we move forward. As we become more diverse, we have to be more intentional as we engage each new group.”
Chertoff will also discuss the practice of religious pluralism on an interpersonal level. This conversation includes both interfaith literacy and the building of interfaith relationships between individuals. Chertoff plans to offer Chautauquans examples of “best practices” they can use to encourage pluralism in their home communities, such as interfaith service work and united responses to religiously motivated violence.
Chertoff said that engagement with pluralism requires an acknowledgment that while there are some disagreements that cannot be worked out, conversations about those differences should not be avoided.
“We have to be willing to have difficult conversations, because it is disrespectful to say that there aren’t real differences, real differences in theology, real differences in ideas about salvation, about social roles,” she said. “We have to be willing to accept that there are areas where we will have to agree to disagree.”
When conducted in a positive way, these conversations can help to find the underlying issues in moments of misunderstanding and disagreement between religious groups.
“If you start to view people as individuals rather than representatives of groups, then you start to talk about the things that really matter,” Chertoff said.