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Bowled Over by Emerging Interfaith Voices

By Paul Chaffee


The cornucopia of interfaith resources coming online each day can be an embarrassment of riches. With so many saying so much, to whom do I turn? The plan for TIO’s March issue was to highlight exemplary “emerging voices” in the global interfaith community. Enough good material showed up to justify dedicating both March and April issues of TIO to important, largely unknown, voices emerging from interfaith sources.

To put some sort of frame around the subject, we focus on three constituencies currently generating a lot of buzz – indigenous leaders, women, and young adults. The categories can overlap.

First, we sought out indigenous voices. Perhaps the saddest story in religion is how dominant, institutionalized religions, over and over the world over, have disrespected, bullied, and violated Earth-based religions, including multiple genocides. Indigenous folks encompass Aboriginal, Indian, as in American Indian, and Pagan peoples, and include Hindu and Shinto peoples. These traditions share a deep respect for the Earth, pay close attention to the equinoxes as they go by, and have created thousands of religious fables, songs, and dances in hundreds of different languages.

The 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions was the first major public gathering where indigenous groups of every kind were respectfully invited to the interfaith table, and since then they have made rich contributions, some of which you’ll read about here this month and next.

Women have played a role in the interfaith movement since its beginning. In 1853, Antoinette Brown became the first woman ordained in the United States. She championed women’s rights from a religious perspective and was the only woman to speak at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions. Since then, Dorothy Day, Juliet Hollister, Bettina Gray, Kusumita Pedersen, Diana Eck, Rita Gross, Kay Lindahl, and Karen Armstrong are a few of the many women who have helped shape an interfaith-friendly world for us all.

Rev. Dr. Antoinette Brown, 1825-1921

Rev. Dr. Antoinette Brown, 1825-1921

In recent years though, as women’s empowerment issues have come to the fore globally, something has changed. There is a new energy and engagement of, by, and for women working on interfaith issues. Since 9/11, Women Transcending Boundaries, S.A.R.A.H. (Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope), Daughters of Abraham, The Faith Club, and Women of Spirit and Faith are a few of the many women’s groups that have emerged and are making significant contributions to interfaith culture.

Until the turn of the century, the lack of young adults in interfaith activities was a common lament. No longer. The Parliament of the World’s Religions, United Religions Initiative, and Religions for Peace all have robust programs welcoming young adults to the interfaith table. The North American Interfaith Network designates approximately half its annual budget to young adult scholarships, and the results have been institutionally transforming.

Even more exciting are the organizations and publications young adults are creating today. The Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) may be the most vital, constructive interfaith organization on the planet today. Its founder, Eboo Patel, is profiled in this issue. IFYC ‘alums’ are starting organizations like World Faith, whose story you’ll also find in this issue.KidSpirit, featured in TIO’s February issue, is edited and written by 11 to 16-year-old young people. The Journal of Interreligious Dialogue, Journal for Comparative Theology, and the Claremont Journal of Religion, devoted to “deep pluralism,” were all begun by graduate students with multifaith interests.

Reading this month’s articles and next month’s as well is a source of hope. Good things are happening in many places, and the stories should inspire you. Enjoy