Patel urges interfaith cooperation as American interest


BRIA GRANVILLE | Staff Photographer
Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, spoke on Thursday about interfaith leadership and literacy. Patel is also a member of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnership.

“We are a city upon a hill,” “We Americans are an almost chosen people,” “[America is] a beloved community.”

What do these lines by John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., respectively, all have in common?

They’re all famous words about America, and they all draw on language from the Bible. This, Eboo Patel argued, is a prime example of why America needs interfaith cooperation.

“What is interfaith?” Patel asked. “It is how our relationships with people who are different impact the way we understand our traditions, and how our interactions within our traditions help us relate to other people.”

Speaking at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy, Patel delivered his lecture, “Interfaith Leadership and Literacy,” focusing on what interfaith cooperation is and why America so desperately needs it to thrive.

According to Patel, the answer to the question that interfaith cooperation poses is pluralism. Pluralism, he continued, comprises three ingredients: respect for dissenting views and different faiths of others, relationships with those of other traditions and denominations and a mutual commitment to the common good.

“Pluralism is the solution to the main question that interfaith cooperation seeks to solve, which is how do you have a healthy, religiously diverse society,” Patel said.

Given that Patel is a longtime Chautauqua veteran, he made an explicit point to ask the question some lecturers evade or ignore: Why does any of this matter?

The benefits of interfaith cooperation, he said, matter because they fortify five cornerstones of a healthy, functioning democracy: interfaith cooperation reduces prejudices that pose as barriers to political participation; it strengthens social cohesion; it builds social capital; it advances the continuity of community identities; and it confirms and furthers the sacredness of diverse religious communities.

Regarding the latter, Patel drew from the iconic American words of Winthrop, Lincoln and King.

“It is impossible to imagine the thread of American rhetoric without the sacred,” Patel said.

Wrapping up his point, Patel shared the story of Ruth Messinger. Patel said when Messinger moved to Oklahoma, she was tasked with the job of fixing the state’s child welfare system. After experiencing difficulty due to being a Jewish woman, she reached out to local churches for help.

Despite her and the church members’ differing views, Patel said, they all found common ground in the need to tend to orphaned children. The pastors allowed her to speak at their congregations to foster a network of parents for the children.

“There are hundreds of thousands of young Native Americans who grew up in loving homes in Western Oklahoma because of Ruth Messinger,” Patel said. “[She] was an interfaith leader and had the ability to build bridges of cooperation across some of the divide.”

It is Messinger’s ability to find the tangential points of agreement between two different religions to better the world that Patel urged for more of in America from aspiring social entrepreneurs.

“This is a growing movement,” Patel said. “You all in Chautauqua should be very proud of your role in it, and I think the moment right now calls for definition, and I think that the future is very bright.”

There is one comment

  1. Chris Highland

    I agree with much of this and find it valuable to the discussion of faith in a secular state. However, I would add and ask if interfaith cooperation can also mean inclusion of those without faith? Though it may be historically accurate to claim “It is impossible to imagine the thread of American rhetoric without the sacred,” I would refer Patel and other interfaith leaders to Susan Jacoby’s book “Freethinkers,” an excellent exposition of the powerful “thread of American rhetoric” and thinking not based on the sacred or supernatural.

    Otherwise, I think what Patel is doing with the youth core is commendable.

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