Youth and Interfaith

Recently, I have been reading Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim; the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel. Patel is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, and this book tells the story of his personal search for his identity and how he came to recover his sense of being an American and being Muslim.

In his introduction, he ponders what he has seen in acts of violence that invoke religious sanction and acts of compassion and pluralism. He summarizes: “This is a book about how some young people become champions of religious pluralism while others become the foot soldiers of religious totalitarianism. Its thesis is simple: influences matter, programs count, mentors make a difference, institutions leave their mark.” [xvi]

He goes on to note a significant difference in the ways that extremism and pluralism are manifested:

Religious extremism is a movement of young people taking action. Hindu nationalists, hate-filled rabbis, Christian Identity preachers, and Muslim totalitarians prey on young people’s desire to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact. We see their successes in the headlines of our newspapers every day.

Interfaith cooperation is too often a conference of senior religious leaders talking. No doubt these leaders play a crucial role in religious bridge building. They have broken important theological ground, articulated frameworks for interfaith understanding, and sent the signal that cooperation with the religious Other is not only possible but necessary. Yet few in my generation have been involved.

A serious challenge to both generations. How can we find ways to bridge not only the divide between faith and faith, but between young and old? How to meet, engage, and encourage young people toward lived-out pluralism? How to recognize the importance of talking, but not be limited by it?

I’ll share more from Patel in future posts. I heartily recommend the book for anyone who wants to explore the cutting edge of the future of interreligious relationships in our nation.

  • Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007)
  • Interfaith Youth Core: builds mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different religious traditions by empowering them to work together to serve others.
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