Last month, Eboo Patel, founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core based in Chicago made a visit to Santa Clara University as part of the President’s Speakers Series. “Diversity is stunningly challenging,” Patel declared, suggesting that often we take it too much for granted. He pointed out that the United States was the first experiment in democracy that did not involve a homogeneous population, and that we struggle with diversity every day. In a land of many cultures, each individual’s culture becomes not a matter of fate, but a matter of choice.
Great for individuals; but not so great for communities. Diversity can be hard on social cohesion and “social capital,” the “glue” that holds a society together. Religious diversity in particular has the potential to spark conflict, as it implies deep differences around fundamental values. Any day in the world news, we hear about religious conflicts that have exploded into hostility and violence.
In this context of diversity, Patel called for a new generation of leaders who recognize that pluralism– mutual respect and positive relationships among people who differ, and a commitment to the common good—is an achievement, not a given. Bridges between diverse groups “don’t drop from the sky,” he said. They are built by people trained, skilled, and committed to moving diversity towards pluralism.
“Always look for the resonances,” Patel challenged the audience. The greatest challenge is to identify that person or group with which you most profoundly disagree, and then look for something you can admire about them. “Diversity is holy,” he said, “and it is amazing what we can do together.”
This is the archive for the Bay Area Interfaith Connect, the former newsletter for the Interfaith Center at the Presidio .