Teaching for a Multifaith World

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Eleazar S. Fernandez
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , May
     2017.
     248 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781498239745.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Most research on multifaith instruction concentrates on academic strategies, skills, and curriculum for the burgeoning K–12 educational system as well as introductory college courses. However, Teaching for a Multifaith World emphasizes competencies necessary to develop and prepare religious leaders for teaching and service within faith communities or during interfaith encounters. The book’s first six essays frame the discussion with pedagogical approaches to multifaith education. The remaining six chapters concentrate on multifaith spiritual formation, especially in pastoral care, chaplaincy, public ministry, and congregational studies related to identity and mission.

The book begins with Robert Hunt assessing and then justifying the need for theological formation within a multifaith context. Next, Eleazar Fernandez describes seventeen essential competencies ranging from understanding the essential content of unique religious identity to recognizing and embracing multifaith diversity. Mary Hess and Jennifer Peace approach curriculum design from epistemological and relational perspectives, respectively. Hess claims that how the curriculum is taught influences learning more than the actual content. In a case study, Peace explores the benefits of extending religious formation into a conformation of multifaith perspectives without conflating religious distinction into sameness. Extending relationality to pedagogical approaches, Lucinda Mosher introduces refreshing alternatives to comparative methods by constructing “an openhearted theology of religious manyness” (80) that utilizes hospitality, collaboration, dialectic, and especially experiential learning through site visits and immersion seminars. Justin Baird presents a toolbox of pedagogical techniques to educate religious leaders in “faith–rooted social justice work” (91). Faith–based social action originates within faith communities; however, faith–rooted justice reflects “the teachings and practices of their respective religious traditions” (93). Shared justice objectives and collaboration among diverse faith–rooted groups offers a sense of unity and opportunities for hospitality, albeit from different belief systems and motivations.

Essays about multifaith spiritual formation expound on the book’s essential themes of transformative learning, collaboration, and interfaith hospitality. Because spiritual formation is crucial to the training and development of religious leaders, Ruben Habito explores various religious traditions’ perceptions of spirituality to discover common ground for transformative learning and deep understanding of religious others within a multifaith context. Daniel Schipani combines pastoral and spiritual care with a “tridimensional anthropology” (125) of body, psyche/soul, and spirit. Thus, pastoral and spiritual care encourages a holistic collaboration of physical wellness, mental health, and emotional maturity, which includes theology. Core competencies for educating pastoral or spiritual caregivers focus on doing (as companionship), knowing (as understanding), and being (as present to the other and the other’s needs). Chaplaincy education entails a complex matrix of institutions (prisons, hospitals, clinics, and other facilities) and situations in which chaplains encounter people from diverse religions, ethnicities, genders, and cultures. Lucinda Mosher discusses the numerous, often overlapping competencies across religious faiths and the collaborative efforts underway to develop multifaith literature and educational programs to address the pluriform challenges facing today’s chaplains.

The point of multifaith public ministry, according to Shanta Premawardhana, is “listening to, learning from, and living in deep solidarity with those in the margins” (163). Because poverty and greed exist in all religions, public ministry responds to the needs of all oppressed people below the poverty line as well as the spiritual challenges of those above the wealth or “greed line” (169). Successful multifaith public ministry education includes dialogue, hospitality, and collaboration with people at the borders of society’s power centers. Sheryl Kujawa–Holbrook identifies the Christian story of Pentecost with multiple “courageous border crossings” (213) that are central to the mission of the church. She connects multifaith learning to a congregation’s mission as an integral component and expression of a community’s religious identity and faith. For Cindi Beth Johnson, collaboration between interreligious dialogue and the arts is a means of multifaith education. Encounters with art or with religious others share characteristics of mystery, polyvalence, and transformation. Utilizing neutral spaces, impartial language, and mutual respect are effective techniques for educating and transforming religious leaders for a multifaith world.

As editor, Eleazar Fernandez assembles a variety of educational approaches that move beyond the standard elements of history, facts, and rituals found in current world religions courses. Each standalone essay offers excellent suggestions and pedagogies for educating and preparing religious leaders for multifaith interaction. Although some contributors include diverse religious viewpoints, the book’s focus, topics, and many of its contributors appear to be Christian–oriented, thereby offering perspectives and competencies primarily for Christian religious leaders. Perhaps additional exposure to religious plurality would have provided further insights and thought–provoking perspectives relevant to the project’s main objectives.

This book is appropriate for an introductory pastoral ministry course and will be a beneficial resource for directors of spiritual and adult faith formation, religion school teachers, chaplains, and religious leaders presently engaged in multifaith activities. However, readers expecting multifaith curriculum development or pedagogical activities for the academic classroom will have to read and extrapolate useful strategies from a plethora of competencies and models recommended for future religious leaders of faith and interfaith communities.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joyce Ann Konigsburg is visiting assistant professor of religious studies at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Date of Review: 
September 30, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Eleazar S. Fernandez is professor of constructive theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Some of his published works include Burning Center, Porous Borders: The Church in a Globalized World; New Overtures: Asian North American Theology; Reimagining the Human; Realizing the America of Our Hearts; A Dream Unfinished; and Toward a Theology of Struggle. In June 2013 he assumed his new post as President of Union Theological Seminary, Philippines.

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