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The ideal of interreligious education is actually an intricate dance of comedy, offensive speech, history and a commitment to all involved to stick it out to the end. Although that may sum it up the rest of this paper will outline how this dance works to bring about effective learning across religious/faith platforms that historically spent most of their time avoiding or trying to conquer one another. For the purpose of this paper and to avoid using religion/faith repeatedly, faith will be the term of choice. The dance is broken into three sections 1) Structure of the setting 2) approach of all learners and 3) curriculum parameters.
Structure of the Setting
The structure of the interreligious educational setting provides the foundation for interaction and growth while setting the guidelines for communal expectations. Before anyone can approach the table there should be an acknowledged commitment to stay. This commitment to stay includes an understanding of the imperfect nature of humans and thus admits the less than ideal social dealings of the imminent interreligious stetting. If many people of the same faith cannot sit in the same room, the participant of interreligious education should expect a similar encounter. The difference here, the interreligious encounter will provide an avenue for change through exposure to heterogeneous belief systems.
Along with a commitment to stay, the participant in interreligious education should also bring a sense of humor. Humor is the great equalizer and if the participant cannot see the humor in their faith in addition to the humor in another’s faith it will be hard for him or her to progress and be an active member in the community. Laughter builds bridges across divergent interests much easier than any other apparatus and employing one’s humor to what is often the very stiff, volatile, and cantankerous subject of religion and faith will allow everyone to be at greater ease when dialogue begins. The only catch, the participant must be able to laugh at his or herself and his or her faith.
The space of the interreligious educational setting plays an integral role for the learner. The space can be broken down into two categories; physical and atmospheric. The physical space can be anywhere people feel comfortable; outside, at a coffee shop, in a home, a school, a neutral setting, etc.The main point is that the setting is not a place where one faith group feels dominant, so no churches, mosques, temples etc. The exception to the rule is if there were a interfaith practice scheduled or visit planned to another faith’s place of worship. The atmosphere necessary for interreligious education must be one that mimmicks a round table. No one person, religion or faith is at the head of the table. No one faith is placed higher than another all have a place to speak and all have a space to be heard.
The seminar setting/structure for learning works best because it places trust in the participants to be prepared and ready to participate while understanding that real learning takes place in community and through dialogue. No close ended lecture is going to allow the participants to really engage and wrestle with the material in a transformative way quite like the seminar setting. It is important to note that transformative is not used in a way to describe some hidden proselytized effort in interreligioius education. Transformation is the result of coming in genuine contact with another faith and being affected in a definite way.
Approach of all learners
One thing that should be addressed before anyone approaches the table is the subject of prosyletizing. Since no faith is posited above another there should be no proselytizing of any kind. Interrligious education is a learning exercise, but it is also an exercise in being together. Ideally each faith should come into this expeience looking to learn as much as possible about themselves, their faith, other faiths and how to be together in community with the other.
The interreligious educational experience should also be seen as a privilege. Due to fear and cultural bias many are not willing or able to share their faith or in contrast listen to other religions or faiths. With that understanding the participant must approach this experience openly. They must prepare themselves to not just learn about other religions and faiths academically with a recognized distance between them and the belief system, no the participant must be willing to place themselves in the lens of the other faith as much as possible in order to humanize the faith system they are learning. The question of what would life be like for me in this faith should not be far from their mind. Openness will allow for a more robust dialogue and that is ultimately what we are after.
Humility is quintessential to the interreligious participant. There will be times when another ideology or philosophy will be introduced and it is imperative for the listener to not shut down if they find themselves questioning their own beliefs based upon this new information. To remain humble, acknowledging the struggle they are facing whether inwardly or outward allows them to continue engaging this new information in a constructive way. Human nature is to fight things which make us feel uncomfortable. However, humility works here as a buffer to get the participant to engage in the beliefs and philosophies of another faith while not losing themselves in the process.
Respect plays a pivotal role as interreligious education can embark upon sensitive subjects. All view points should be given the respect and space to voice the intricacies of specific religions, faiths, philosophies, etc in a safe environment. No matter what someone may think about whatever opinion is voiced they must treat that voice with respect. The guidelines for respect are listening and answering honestly. True community involves conflict and here is the place for it. When a disagreement takes place it should be raw, it should be blatant. It’s how we show our cards contributing to the overall success of the venture because whatever responses stay mute also stay unresolved. It is important that every voice be taken seriously and part of taking voices seriously is giving open and honest responses depicting our affirmation or denial of a view point or perspective.
The possible scope of knowledge and topics to learn in the interreligious educational setting can be pretty daunting. So, its probably best to deal with topics pertaining to history, text and global issues. History humanizes faiths because it allows one religion/faith to see how another faith has moved throughout history and often it allows a faith to see how the other faith moved with their faith throughout history. The goal of humanizing faith is to see its roots and the people that helped make it what it has become.
Engaging different faith texts in an interreligious setting disrupts normative readings/interpretations of personal and differing faiths while addressing the ultimate truth; we all still have questions. Reading a Christian text in the midst of a Muslim, Buddhist or Jew will bring up questions from the Christians that need to be discussed, while also shedding light on how other faiths see Christian texts. By bringing these views to light misconceptions can be addressed, questions can be answered and new perspectives can be gained. The same will happen in a mixed setting if a Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist text is read. The questions that arise will be eye opening. Participants may be on edge as people from other faiths raise their voice on the meaning of their text. However, sooner or later the realization will come, none of us really know it all about our own faith, let alone the universe. This humbling experience should neutralize the debate of which faith is best providing for solidarity among humans against unanswered questions of meaning, which leads to global issues.
Finding how dissimilar faiths can come together as people to defeat larger global issues should also be a major component of interreligious education. The majority of faiths deal with morality and making the world better. Learning to work together based upon religious/faith based ideals of global reformational ethics should be a goal of interreligious education. It helps participants understand that at the heart of any faith are the people that believe in it, and that ultimately people are being engaged. Seldomly, are religious texts of differing faiths directly engaged. More often people are engaging those who believe these differing texts. By finding global issues to impact as an interreligious educational community the people who work together begin to humanize one another along with the people they are impacting creating a space for transformation.