The term “interfaith leader” may not be part of the vernacular yet, but founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel, hopes it will someday be as widely used as “feminist” or “environmentalist.”
“When people who want to make a constructive, positive difference in our society don’t talk positively and publically about religion, it simply creates a vacuum for people who want to be destructive about religion to have their say,” Patel said. “It’s not that religion doesn’t get talked about in our country. It’s that, oftentimes, the people doing the talking do not seem to be constructive when it comes to religious diversity issues.”
Patel will return to Chautauqua Institution for the third time at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. His lecture is titled “Interfaith Leadership and Literacy.”
Patel called interfaith literacy a “crucial civic knowledge base for engaging in a religiously diverse country” like the United States.
“It is an objective truth that religious diversity issues play a significant role in the world and in American society,” Patel said. “I think it [interfaith literacy] is important for being an educated person in America and the world. You want to have some fluency with diverse religious and philosophical traditions.”
Patel will contribute to the fluency of Chautauquans by introducing them to what he considers to be the component parts of interfaith literacy. Such tenets include appreciative knowledge of other traditions that cultivates admiration, a theology of interfaith cooperation drawn from individual traditions that encourages positive engagement with others, and knowledge of the history of interfaith cooperation.
These components, along with a skill set that includes conversation facilitation, event organization and cooperation form the basis of the Interfaith Youth Core’s work.
Patel hopes that contact with the Interfaith Youth Core will inspire people to see religion as a point of understanding rather than one of contention.
“Faith can either be a bridge of cooperation, or it can be a barrier of division, or it can be a bludgeon of domination,” he said. “There is an awful lot of civic good to be reaped when we make our various faith identities bridges.”
Though the Interfaith Youth Core strives to create ”ecologies that cultivate the art and craft of bridge building,” on college campuses, Patel said he looks forward to returning to Chautauqua because he feels the Institution has been a “similar ecology” for generations.
“It’s a hugely stimulating experience, with an extremely well-informed audience in an absolutely beautiful setting,” he said. “I’m very excited about coming back.”
Patel encouraged audience members to remember that, although religious diversity is not as widely discussed as other forms of diversity, it is still an important topic.
“Just because there isn’t a positive, proactive public discourse about religious diversity doesn’t mean that religion is not playing a profound role in the world,” Patel said. “I think that our literacy has to catch up with the role that religion and religious diversity is playing in the world.”