In a talk yesterday at Tufts, Eboo Patel, the founder and President of the Interfaith Youth Core, said that the guiding question of the field of Interfaith Studies is how to build a religiously diverse democracy. He defined a democracy as a place “where people can make their personal commitments public.” He said that diversity “is not just the differences you like.” It means being able to deal with people who disagree with you about important matters, including politics. And he defined religion as being “about ultimate concerns.”
Eboo made an explicit connection to Civic Studies, for which the defining question is “What should we do?” How to live democratically with religious diversity is an important branch of Civic Studies. It raises empirical questions (What are the roles of religious congregations in civil society? How will they change? How do human beings react to out-groups?) and normative questions (What is the place of faith in public deliberation? How should we respond to beliefs that are intolerant? When should we treat the transmission of practices from one tradition to another as appropriation?)
In January, I got a dose of Interfaith Studies–meaning the theory, the everyday practices, and the committed people–at a conference of the Pluralism Project. I’m eager to work with our chaplaincy and others to build a stronger strand of Interfaith Studies as a complement to Civic Studies.
See also: when political movements resemble religions; the political advantages of organized religion; are religions comprehensive doctrines?; on religion in public debates and specifically in middle school classrooms; churchgoing and Trump; and is everyone religious?