Five Years Later, a New TIO
Five years ago this month, The Interfaith Observer was launched to share the wealth of stories, issues, and activities being generated by interfaith dialogue and relations all over the globe. Interfaith activity was and is happening spontaneously, without any master plan or central decision-making or even a directory of the groups involved. By the time TIO sent its first posting to 355 interfaith activists, there were already thousands of interfaith projects, large and small, though no one was paying much attention, connecting the dots, or sharing the remarkable stories. That was TIO’s goal, to pay attention, listen to the stories, and make a few of them available through the miracle of the internet.
Some 350 writers have stepped forward to contribute. As you can see from TIO’s Contributor folder, they come from dozens of countries, dozens of traditions and practices, including the Spiritual But Not Religious, LGBTQ interfaith activists, as well as humanists and atheists. Why such an inclusive community? Because many of the values we share, how we live in the world, and what we dream about is more important to us than the ways we self-identify.
Spiritual and religious traditions, absent their most conservative, ‘fundamentalist’ contingents, are increasingly concerned with engendering peace in a violent world, securing respect and opportunity for all people, and confronting the ecological, environmental struggles facing the planet. These issues are unpacked for the general reader each month in TIO, in a ‘library’ today of more than 1,500 articles.
Along the way there have been friendly nudges about five-year-old software and design, starting with Anna Arphan, the original artist who constructed the website and TIO’s wonderful logo. Early this year, TIO was introduced to Faithlab, a wonderful digital production company that said they could do what we needed for the lean budget we could afford. We hope you like the new look and the addition of more graphics and videos. Hats off to David Cassady and the Faithlab team!
Moving that many articles and contributor bios from one software platform to another turned out to be a bit like moving a big library from one building to a new building across town. That is proving more difficult than designing the new building! Hundreds of articles in the TIO archive have been reformatted; but if you look far, you may find articles with captions in the wrong place, headlines askew, or worse – though you’ll find most of the text. TIO intern Megan Weiss is doing the heavy lifting in this huge transfer. Along the way she is setting up a system so that in a few clicks you’ll be able to find the articles which address your particular interfaith interest. The whole TIO library should be up, ordered, and accessible by the end of the year.
A New TIO for a New World
The interfaith world is hugely different from five years ago, when TIO launched. The good, the bad, and the ugly about the relationships between, among, and within religions and spiritual traditions have become part of the daily news cycle and are flooding the internet.
- On the positive side, we’re enjoying a surge of new religious, interreligious data from Pew Research Center, PPRI, and a host of other sources, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other media platforms. Religion News Service and Religion Dispatches are particularly good. It is a new day for religious information and opinion.
Governments, including the United States Department of State, are increasingly paying attention to religious and interreligious issues and affairs. A number of governments and NGOs are actively promoting national and international interfaith-dialogue skillsets.
Interfaith continues to be dominantly a grassroots movement. In the United States, thousands of communities from every state in the union have seen interreligious and interracial cooperation grow and develop. Most recently Donald Trump’s attitude towards minorities has fueled intense blowback from local religious communities intent on building good relations with ‘the other’ in their own backyards.
Two of the largest international interfaith organizations – the Parliament of the World’s Religions and United Religions Initiative – are structured around grassroots engagement. Religions for Peace, the grand-daddy of global interfaith organizations, is structured around high-level representatives from established traditions. But in recent years RfP and its global affiliates increasingly have worked cooperatively with grassroots organizations.
Young adults and women are taking pioneering leadership roles through much of the interfaith world.
Collaboration is the theme of the day. Everyone senses that we need each other if ever the major issues before us are to be met with any success. Concern over climate change has been a major driver in the new call for collaboration.
Or, to put it another way – directly or indirectly, at work, at school, on the bus, in the news – we find ourselves living in an interreligious world. Our ability to make something good out of this new global reality has a great deal to do with the humankind’s future. In that sense, TIO’s stories are more important than ever, five years later.
Let us know what you think about the new TIO. Make a donation if you like what you see! Your support will make our ‘faith and fumes’ approach to sharing each other’s lives a sustainable effort. Thank you!