The attacks in Boston last month again raised questions about the importance of interfaith relationships for strengthening connections between Americans of diverse religious backgrounds. Writing at Huffington Post, Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, suggests that “interfaith efforts matter more than ever.” He notes three important reasons why he believes this is so: “1. Interfaith helps harmonize people’s various identities… 2. Interfaith efforts help us to separate the worst elements of communities from the rest… and 3. Interfaith efforts remind us America is about welcoming the contributions of all communities and nurturing cooperation between them.”
Not so fast, counters Lucia Hulsether, a student at Harvard Divinity School, in an article at Religion Dispatches. She advises against understanding the Boston attacks as a failure of “interfaith cooperation,” and suggests that framing the issue that way may obscure other important dimensions. Suggesting that violence arises from differences of religion, for example, may obscure other very real factors—race, history, and struggles for resources, territory and power. Does the language of interfaith set up yet another opposition, an implicit “we” versus “they” in which the pluralist “we” are fighting the “they” that are “extremists” or “fundamentalists”? And does this perception then encourage us to marginalize, devalue, and even dehumanize those who resist?
Patel warns us, “These times require all of us to be interfaith leaders, to signal clearly that the worst elements of every tradition represent nobody. The murderers of all communities belong only to one community: the community of murderers.”
Hulsether’s warning is a bit different: “Clearly, we cannot draw one “conclusion” about what “interfaith” discourses “do.”What we can do, however, is think critically about how they resonate contextually…if we do critically engage contemporary interfaith rhetoric, we will have accessed—and maybe even begun to influence and redirect—a powerful rhetorical tool for animating transformative social and political action.”
What do you think? How much does interfaith dialogue contribute to preventing or countering religious violence? We invite your responses on the ICP Facebook page or on our blog.
This is the archive for the Bay Area Interfaith Connect, the former newsletter for the Interfaith Center at the Presidio .