By Lauren Zinn
DUAL-RELIGIOUS IDENTITY FAMILIES FLOURISHING
Being Both – Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2013) by Susan Katz Miller is a fascinating preview of how everyone’s ideas about religion may be significantly influenced as a result of intermarriage. And while not all intermarried families choose to raise their children with both parents' religion, the experience of those who do is well worth a look.
Being Both sheds light on why an increasing number of families choose to practice two religions and how they do it. Katz Miller shares stories and statistics from her survey of Jewish-Christian families’ experiences in four different interfaith communities across the country. She thoughtfully defuses the usual objections posed by skeptics to raising children with two faiths.
Her arguments are thorough in that she includes the perceptions of grown children, parents, clergy, and teachers. This addition of the teachers’ perspective is especially interesting to me as an interfaith minister and educator. Our voices are often rejected in the development of religious school curricula, forcing us to try our ideas in marginalized programs. Yet, the reflections shared by the now-grown children who experience these interfaith educational programs is groundbreaking. Suffice it to say, they are not confused.
Being intermarried and having started a Jewish-Interfaith (as opposed to Jewish-Christian) community with an ongoing Jewish-Interfaith educational program, I found my experience resembling those of the families described in this book. And I saw areas where my educational model overlaps with programs the author describes. I nodded as I read along, highlighting passages that articulated some of the ironies that intermarried families encounter, such as theexclusionary practices of Jewish institutions at a time of decreasing enrollment.
Katz Miller provides much awaited research to back up positive experiences with interfaith education that I do hope many traditional religious leaders will consider. For instance, a growing number of the offspring of these interfaith programs have chosen careers dedicated to helping others resolve conflict. It seems to come more naturally to them confirming what I see in my own Jewish-Interfaith students, namely, “the peace makers are at hand.”
Being Both is a well-written macro and micro sweep of a small but growing grassroots interfaith movement, one with far reaching effects for anyone involved with religion. It certainly paves the way for future intermarried couples considering alternative models of religious education for themselves and their children. (I plan to give this book as a gift to my wedding clients!) I look forward to watching this interfaith educational trend continue with intermarrying Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.
But I am perhaps most eager to see how religious institutions and interfaith dialogue groups – organizations whose missions depend on mono-faith identity – respond, as more children grow up successfully holding complex and fluid religious identities. It may turn out that in a multifaith world, the current social norm of a single-religious identity is the more confusing one, not the other way around. If dual or interfaith religious identities end up producing adults especially capable of bringing about peace, then what are we waiting for?