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Developing Interfaith Education, Starting with the Heart

By Paul Chaffee


Compounding the growing global refugee crisis, news this summer suggests the possibility of leaving behind a generation of Arab youth who have lost their schools and universities to war. Rob kids of their education and beware the consequences. Globally, of course, this horror extends far beyond Arabs and should serve as a wake-up call to educators everywhere about education and the future.

That said, one happily notes that interfaith education is chock-a-block with new ways to learn, new educational strategies and models, burgeoning resources, and lots of interest globally. Religious education has never before had the advantages we enjoy today, particularly internet resources and the web. As with everything else religious in the world today, authority structures are crumbling, ‘old time religion’ has lost its draw for millions, and new kinds of community and educational opportunities are cropping up in all sorts of places.

Recently Australia and Wales have indicated that they are making strides not to restrict religion in the classroom but to make it interfaith friendly and not dominated by a majority religion.

An abundance of material on the internet means you must be judicious. Beware religious/spiritual shenanigans anxious to teach their special truth for a price. Check references with your browser, and watch how you are treated when you relate to a site. Along the way you can find spiritually grounded, deeply faithful, and innovative educators creating new resources and learning environments. Scarboro Missions’ curricular resources, profiled in this issue, provide a superb place to start if you are interested in interfaith education, whatever your subject and constituency.

TIO has highlighted a number of stand-alone websites that do better than anyone at providing particular educational resources and opportunities. For example, Spirituality and Practice, an internet nexus that’s been profiled in TIO, freely offers 40,000 web pages of carefully selected, curated spiritual material from the world’s various traditions and acknowledged leaders, as well as more than 100 on-demand online courses. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, founders and co-directors of S&P, are moving their digital library and activities from New York City to Claremont, California, where they will become part of the Claremont School of Theology. That development, by itself, tells you something about the changing face of religious education, a positive new connection between the academy and new technology-driven resources.

This month’s thematic section begins with ways traditional educational institutions are responding to the challenges of living in a thoroughly interfaith population, locally and globally. But most of this month’s stories are about new ways to teach and learn in multi-faith environments.

The growth and development of one child can be a priceless achievement, not to be gainsaid by any quid quo pro comparisons with the educational failures that abound in the world. This month’s TIO is about what can be achieved in spite of the problems, with stories of where priceless achievements are multiplying. Let these stories be a light on the mountain to inspire us all to be good students and teachers of each other and the traditions from which we come. 

Please don’t miss Theodore Timpson’s cry of the heart, at the end. It will take you back to your own childhood, remind you of what is most important to you, and perhaps rearrange your thinking a bit, in a feel-good way.