You Don't Have to Reinvent the Wheel
A TIO Interview
Scarboro Missions is a Canadian Roman Catholic Mission Society located in Toronto. Its Interfaith Department published a Golden Rule poster 15 years ago, which included versions of the GR from 13 religious traditions. To date, the poster has been translated into more than 20 languages and imitated by numerous groups. The most recent translation is into the ancient language of Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, spoken by 17.5 million. It was translated by Mussie Hailu, who is circulating 200,000 copies of the poster. Mussie, a leading interfaith activist in Africa, has circulated half a million English-version Golden Rule posters throughout the continent. Around the world, Golden Rule posters can be found posted in school rooms, community centers, sanctuaries, internet sites, and homes around the world – a clear candidate for the most useful interfaith resource ever published.
Under the leadership of Paul McKenna, Scarboro has become a nexus of reliable interfaith resources. This began with a bookshelf of teaching resources focused on the Golden Rule. But Scarboro moved on then into the practical, everyday issues facing individuals and communities learning to be interfaith-friendly.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, they cast a net across the internet interfaith community, searching for curricula and other educational tools that have been successfully used in local communities. Thousands of resources exist out there, but most don’t measure up as exemplary. Scarboro Interfaith has identified, curated, made internet-friendly, and freely distributed several dozen of the best resources on the Web, a gift to anyone who promotes healthy interfaith culture.
Even more important is their collection of 26 documents gathered under the rubric “Principles and Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue.” A number of these documents are foundational to the modern interfaith movement.
Paul McKenna is an old friend of TIO and was happy to talk about how Scarboro’s rich library of open-source interfaith resources developed.
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TIO: Congratulations, Paul! Your team has opened a door to quality interfaith how-to resources mixed in with seminal documents that help define the scope and depth of everyday interfaith issues. How did Scarboro get involved in such a major undertaking?
Paul McKenna: Well, thank you! And thanks to TIO for asking. For nearly a decade the Scarboro Missions Interfaith Departmenthas committed itself to building a website featuring curricula and useful educational resourcesfor interfaith work. These resources includeonline courses, toolkits, best practices, do-it-yourself workshops, activities, multifaith prayer services, guidelines, games, meditations, Powerpoint presentations, and more.
TIO: What inspired you to take this on?
Paul: I saw the interfaith movement as being in its infancy, and therefore very much in the information stage, at least on the internet. But there was no how-to manual for teaching interfaith, no educational tools. Interfaith folks do wonderful workshops! All over the world people are designing engaging interfaith programs. We all keep reinventing the wheel. Great stuff is being done. But back then I perceived that no one was addressing the skill-sets and best practices involved, no one recording how the most successful interfaith programs were doing their work.
Interfaith life in the world today – it seems like such a big issue. We decided to collect the best resources we could find and make them available.
Today our Curriculum Resources is one of the best collections of interfaith educational resources available, I do believe, and it’s because we’ve really insisted that what we promote be more than a good idea, that it has been tried and flourished. We pass on two out of three submissions we receive. We shoot for excellence, and lots of stuff just doesn’t measure up. To date we’ve posted 42 superb curricular packages anyone can download and use for free.
TIO: To be honest, 42 different curricular packages seems intimidating. Is there an easy way into this library?
Paul: Good question! We find that the curricula fall into roughly eight categories: elementary and secondary, college and university, youth and young adult, peacebuilding, ecology, dialogue guidelines, and special workshop outlines. With considerable overlap, of course. The graphic here is one we’re evolving as we rebuild the curriculum part of our website. With appropriate links embedded, browsers will be able to find the kind of resources they’re looking for quickly. Most of the resources come from Canada and the U.S., but we’ve discovered excellent contributions in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
I should note that while “social justice” doesn’t have its own chapter, social justice issues come into play in almost all of the curricula.
TIO: I didn’t discover your folder titled “Principles and Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue” until I got to the bottom of the curricula list. Saving the best for last? It’s actually where I want to start digging deeper into your digital library.
Paul: Point taken. Though of course “Principles and Guidelines” has its own folder where you’ll find 26 remarkable documents. Here’s your text book for introducing interfaith to those who are open to the vision we share, to students who want to get far beyond the ‘introduction’ phase of interfaith. These resources will give you a deep look into the interfaith movement, its wisest claims, a treasury of learning opportunities, and a number of how-to mandates for interfaith activists.
TIO: As you survey this burgeoning new field of interfaith education, are there certain themes that come up over and over?
Paul: Sure there are. Diversity and dealing with differences. Conflict resolution and peacemaking. Starter-kits no matter what the particular context. The importance of respect. The importance of listening. Working to create a better world, a healed world. There is a lot of interest in ‘bilateral’ curricula, say for Jewish-Muslim dialogue, or Christian-Hindu relationships. Also, I’m happy to say, we see a surge of energy concerning youth and young adult activities, a rich proliferation of resources for them.
TIO: Where do you go from here?
Paul: The works goes on and keeps us busy. Excellent resources keep showing up and we will continue to review them and feature the best. Interfaith education on planet Earth has barely begun, and it’s wonderful to have a role in spreading the news.
Declaration of Interdependence
In 1997, this extraordinary document linking social justice to interfaith dialogue was produced and signed by 22 faith communities in Edmonton, Alberta. It is one of 26 documents collected in Scarboro’s “Principles and Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue.”
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WE, as faith group representatives, declare our interdependence with those who are living in poverty in our local community as well as in the world community.
WE DECLARE that we are all united in the spirit of one God, and that we are called to uphold the spirit of universal interdependence with our sisters and brothers of all faiths.
WE DECLARE that it is an offense to our faith that some enjoy an abundance of this world’s goods while the quality of life of others is restricted by hunger, by lack of proper shelter and by inability to fulfill their places in society because of poverty.
WE DECLARE that it is the role of governments to care for those who are unable to care for themselves, and that the provision of a compassionate social system is an absolute requirement.
WE DECLARE our concern that governments today are failing to provide adequately for those suffering from poverty in our society, and we call upon those whom we have elected to treat all people in their care with dignity and respect, providing sufficient financial resources so that all may have adequate food, clothing, and shelter, and access to education and health care.
WE DECLARE our deep concern about the growing gap between rich and poor in our society and our anger at the lack of action to redress this social injustice.
WE DECLARE our conviction that the failure of governments to provide adequately for persons in poverty, especially children, has drastic consequences for the future in unemployment, lack of self-fulfillment, violence, abuse, crime and illness. Investment in proper social services today will result in a higher quality of life and reduce social costs in the future.