The case for multi-faith education

Rabbi Justus N. Baird, writing for The Alban Institute talks about why we need interfaith education:

As a rabbi who directs a multifaith center in a Christian seminary, I often get asked about multifaith education. People ask me, “What curriculum should I use?” or “How can we teach our students about other religions?” Even more often I am asked, “Do you know a Muslim I can invite to speak at our program?” But rarely am I asked, “Why should we be doing interfaith education at all?” A rabbinic colleague of mine put it to me this way: “I just can’t articulate why interfaith is important to focus on,” he said. “Other than making sure we can all just get along, why does this matter?” he asked. Let’s be honest: most of us know precious little about our own religious traditions, so why should we spend our valuable time learning about other faiths?

I do not embrace a “why don’t we all just get along” attitude toward interfaith work, and I do not believe that the world would be a better place if people of faith would just focus on a few so-called universal teachings from their religious traditions. I do not want there to be one religion in the world; in fact, I think that would be a disaster, and my own understanding of God’s will, which is rooted in Jewish tradition and the Hebrew Bible, is that God doesn’t want there to be one religion either.

He says, “The case for multifaith education stands on three things: the news, the pews, and religious views.” …

News headlines are dominated by events that are, at least in part, the result of religious ignorance or misunderstanding.

“Pews” refers to the religious diversity in our neighborhoods and in our congregations. Although reliable figures are hard to come by, many have claimed that the United States is the most religiously diverse country in the world. What is not disputed is the incredible growth of religious diversity in the United States since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

The third reason, religious views, is more subtle and personal: engaging in multifaith education enriches one’s own faith. Those who spend time learning about different religious traditions report that they come to understand their own tradition better and that they are stretched to grow spiritually. A familiar maxim teaches that “to know one religion is to know none.”

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