“the surest way to the heart of a people is through their faith” – Huston Smith
A people? Who are they? All ages and genders? All colors? All faiths? No faith? What is faith? What is religion? – NAB
The Birth of Interfaith Generation
In the foreword of the book, Building the Interfaith Youth Movement – Beyond Dialogue to Action, Diana Eck director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University wrote that, “This generation of young people is what we might call the first interfaith generation.” She continued, “Anyone under thirty today in the U.S and Canada has grown up in a religious and cultural world markedly different from that of their parents.”
One can agree with Dr. Eck by simply analyzing the current trend on the demand and supply within the social environment in the USA. The demand is the need to maintain peace and order which translates to human flourishing. Peaceful coexistence prevails if the future Americans are nurtured to be a generation with a deeper understanding on one another religion, ideology and cultural values so that the social capital, especially the human potential is optimized. And the observable supply side in this demand-supply chain is the uprising of the initiatives in the intercultural and interfaith studies and collaborations that go beyond classrooms activities and dialogues all over the USA.
Temple University, one of the academic institutions that has been running its intercultural and inter-religious studies for the last decade, on its website for the graduate study in the department of religion stated that, “The department has always been fueled by the wisdom that if you know only one religion, you really don’t know any, and by the notion that scholars who are also engaged in religious cultures are in the best position to teach about them, emphasizing the study of world religions and the dialogue among them.” Such statement articulately reaffirms what is in vogue in the USA religious landscape.
Of course, the September 11 incident and the voices and initiatives of the marginalized minority catalyzed this transformation too. The post 9/11 incidents such as the murder of a few American Singh men who were mistakenly identified as the potentially radical Muslims due to the turbans they worn justified how unfamiliar some Americans are on the other’s culture. Those coming from South and Southeast Asia may find it appalling that one cannot differentiate between a Singh’s turban and a Muslim man’s head gear and that such ignorance takes the lives of the innocence.
Interfaith Generation versus Inter-religious Generation
Coming back to Dr. Eck’s proposal on the first interfaith generation, the question one may ask is the difference between this generation and their parents’ generations? Have those who are in their forty and fifty, especially the urban folks, not lived in a faith diversified community and therefore, can fall under this ‘interfaith generation’ band?
The fact that the first inter-religious world conference was organized in Chicago in September 1893 by the Parliament of World’s Religion indicates that the US was already officially engaged in this matter since a century ago. Eboo Patel too, in the same book, captured the existence of multi religious community in the USA in 1960s by quoting what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote on “the world house,” in a book titled Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community:
This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, cultures, and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, we must somehow learn to live with each other in peace.
Perhaps, the difference between the faith or religious dynamic in this generation and their parents and forefathers’ generations can be developed by, first, questioning the meaning of interfaith and inter-religious generation. One possible and plausible answer may be derived from the definitions that the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue In Indonesia (INTERFIDEI) give on the terms; interfaith and inter-religious. The latter refers to religion as an institutional structure and the former, inter-faith, emphasizes the essential aspect of religion as well as common concern of individual believers.
This also means that the interfaith initiatives collaborators come from all levels of society including the grass roots, while the inter-religious are normally participated by those in the senior positions in academic and religious institutions, which some identified as the ‘elites.’ Thus, one may conclude that an inter-faith generation is made-up of communities that are engaged in sharing the commonalities of their faith traditions and mutually respecting the differences at both, institutional and personal levels.
The Impact of Globalization on the Dynamism of Interfaith Generation in the U.S.
What strikes me is the last sentence that Patel, the founder of The Interfaith Youth Core, and Brodeur wrote in their conclusion in Building Interfaith Youth Movement, “to anyone who dreams of a day when religious people use their hands, heads, and hearts to build a new world of equity for all human beings……?” Why? Because of the contested definition of the word ‘equity’.
When the USA citizens celebrate the commemoration of 9/11, I sink in sadness thinking of the innocent civilians that died from the War on Terror outside the United States. Are we resolving one form of interfaith crisis and unintentionally create another? In Afghanistan alone, various media agencies reported about 20,000 people; civilians, foreign and Afghan troops, and insurgents died between 2001 and 2006. And between 2007 to 2011, it is estimated that another 10,292 died.
I cannot help to sympathize with the new interfaith generation of the U.S.A on the heavy responsibility that is inherited from the current leadership and the challenge that they will face in “building a new world of equity for all human beings.”
Today the U.S citizens strive for what Martin Luther King Jr. hoped four decades ago on the “world house.” And tomorrow, I hope we can collaterally strive for the hope of the youths worldwide for “global world house” – that peace and dignity belong to everyone. The global peaceful coexistence is still promising if a movement among the ‘Transnational Interfaith Generation’ emerge whereby all animals are treated equal; among the old and the young, rich and poor, and men and women.
Thomas L. Friedman, in an interview on his book The World is Flat, said that, we are now moving from a connected world to hyper-connected world. He commented that in 2004, when the book was first published, the word ‘Facebook’ was not even included in its index. Today, the birth of Arab Spring proves that social media and cyber space have the power to create an unpredictable social and political dynamics.
It is reasonable then to say that in this hyper-connected era, the USA domestic and international agendas may unintentionally create a greater unprecedented global interfaith crisis unless the U.S government values the lives of the people outside its countries too. Therefore, a discourse and diplomacy between the interfaith youth leaders and the current leadership as an agenda of the new interfaith generation movement is important to ensure that the stakeholder of the future world has a voice over their own stake. They are to represent the voice of hope of the youths abroad to their government for the sake of the future peaceful coexistence.
The truth is, either we see the world from within the USA or outside, the world is always round. It is hard work to make the top and bottom come to a flat level. But one can always continue pressing.