By Paul Chaffee
Articles included in this issue’s ‘best of TIO’ compilation were all published in the past six months, and the stories seem to keep getting better. ‘Interfaith’ is the common thread, but the diverse subject matter this year is a measure of the widening scope of the word. This spring, an issue about Empowering the Divine Feminine was followed by Religion Confronting its Shadow-side, and then came Funding Interfaith. TIO contributors this first half of 2014 deserve special thanks for addressing tough issues from an interfaith perspective and providing insight and guidance in the midst of enormous difficulties in the world and most faith traditions. (Go to TIO's homepage to download any of these issues.)
As I write, serious war continues to escalate in Iraq/Syria, bombs and rockets have supplanted dialogue in Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan teeter on the edge of chaos, religiously related violence in Africa and Asia mbY ultiply horror upon horror, the U.S. has approximately 57,000 newly arrived immigrant children on its hands, and humankind is proving reluctant to take seriously the Earth's welfare.
Yet despair in times this fierce is no option for people of good will. Interfaith activities everywhere, witnessed in this month’s stories, are providing pinpoints of light on this very dark night. You won’t find easy feel-good stories here, though feeling good is totally appropriate when reading how faithful people from every kind of background sometimes engender a fruitful goodness that overcomes breakdown, violence, and tragedy. Usually, in our arena, this involves creating friendship with the ‘other.’
For me the most hopeful stories this month are the last four in the best-of collection. They were written by young adult interfaith activists doing their work in the Balkans, France, and the UK, along with a New Yorker, Frank Fredericks, whose World Faith project, profiled in the March 2012 TIO, is generating constructive interfaith work in 16 of the most troubled countries in the world. These young leaders tend to have witnessed considerably more religiously related prejudice and violence than most of us in North America, yet they are full of vision, imagination, and follow-through in striving for the healthy interfaith culture that we seek.
Next month, August, TIO rests. The September 15 TIO will focus on "religious freedom/religiously related violence" in the world today. Another tough set of issues.
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Dr. Hal W. French, 84, a distinguished professor of South Asian religions and pioneering interfaith activist, died on July 10 in Columbia, South Carolina. He joined the University of South Carolina in 1972, chaired its religious studies for many years, and continued teaching there and internationally since then, with plans to teach this fall. Hal authored eight books, including the highly regarded Zen and the Art of Anything (1999), and he was one of the lead editors of the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism (2011).
For more than three decades Hal has been actively involved in the World Congress of Faiths, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, North American Interfaith Network (hosting the 1997 NAINConnect), and the International Association of Religious Freedom, where he has served as chair of the U.S. chapter since 2010. Transcending all his achievements and awards, however, was the kind, gentle spirit and warm friendship he shared with all who knew him.