Interreligious/Interfaith Studies

Defining a New Field

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Eboo Patel, Jennifer Howe Peace, Noah Silverman
  • Boston, MA: 
    Beacon Press
    , August
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Modern interfaith/interreligious relations began 125 years ago, when the Parliament of Religions convened at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago inspiring a social-political movement, educational programs in religious literacy and pluralism, and a distinct field of study. Co-editors Eboo Patel (author of Interfaith Leadership: A Primer), Jennifer Howe Peace (co-director of CIRCLE), and Noah J. Silverman (senior director at Interfaith Youth Core) map a new academic discipline in a cogent collection of eighteen essays that give direction to scholarly inquiry; offer various pedagogical models and methods; explore tensions, complications, and challenges; and survey applications beyond the classroom. Contributors include a wide range of experts from diverse specializations, and taken together, these authors provide compelling insight into the scope and possibilities of this unique topic. 

Kate McCarthy’s opening essay situates interfaith/interreligious studies within an academy dominated by secular critical inquiry and uncertainty whether the work is an area of research or a community project belonging to student affairs. She argues that interfaith is a problematic term and an academic study must be separate from the interfaith movement’s sociopolitical program aimed at bridge-building and peace-making. She also warns against devotional approaches and advocates learning objectives that avoid affective meaning-making. While admitting that religious literacy is a civic good that reduces prejudice and bigotry, she also proposes opening the idea of pluralism to critique. 

Deanna Ferree Womack frames interfaith/interreligious studies within a colonial-missionary discourse; she recently gave a related presentation at the annual gathering of the Religion Communicators Council. Elizabeth Kubek imagines interfaith/interreligious studies as an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort to identify misconceptions and support social activism. Amy L. Alloco, Geoffrey D. Claussen, and Brian K. Pennington propose radical critique of the methods and emphases of the interfaith movement, especially its covert Protestant suppositions and relationship to the neoliberal agenda of postcolonial nation-states, the stigmatization of conflict, and its prescription for a bland and interiorized spirituality. Kristi Del Vecchio and Noah J. Silverman survey themes that they observe in emerging interfaith/interreligious curricula including intersectionality, experiential encounters, and personal development.

Kevin Minister suggests that interfaith/interreligious studies transforms the foundations of religious studies curricula and pairs knowledge with interpersonal skills and ethical awareness. Ellie Pierce illustrates the form and function of case studies in the field, and Matthew Maruggi and Martha E. Stotz focus on the values and commitments inherent in personal and community narratives. Michael Birkel affirms that the dominant academic approach interprets texts according to a biased method that does not account for the tradition as understood by the religious community itself. Wakoh Shannon Hickey and Margarita M. W. Suarez demonstrate how an interfaith/interreligious studies classroom can nurture empathy and humility through analyzing power and privilege. Rachel S. Mikva examines questions of representation, essentialization, and accountability. 

Jeannine Hill Fletcher contends that interfaith/interreligious studies must be dedicated to positively shaping the world through facilitating solidarity and cooperation. She investigates the deep structures of oppression perpetuated through white supremacist ideologies and European Christian theology that subjugated and exploited native peoples, Africans, Chinese, and others. Marion H. Larson and Sara L. H. Shady assert that the interfaith movement is not as diverse as participants imagine, especially in the misrecognition and absence of politically conservative voices and Evangelicals, and they identify a need for appreciative inquiry that improves the quality of disagreement and difference. Lisa E. Dahill cites the Standing Rock Water Protectors in her argument that commitments to an expanded contextuality requires attention to the environment and other embodied life. 

Jennifer Howe Peace and Or N. Rose make the case for interfaith/interreligious studies in the formation of religious and civic leaders. Barbara A. McGraw gives examples of the power of interfaith/interreligious leadership in institutional change. Mark E. Hanshaw and Usra Ghazi outline the promise of interfaith/interreligious competency in the public square, the professions, and international diplomacy. Heather Miller Rubens, Homayra Ziad, and Benjamin Sax show how interfaith/interreligious networks based on mutual understanding and friendship build resilient cities that prioritize the common good. 

Interreligious/Interfaith Studies: Defining a New Field is a provocative attempt to state the key questions, motivations, and outcomes of an emerging field that now includes undergraduate courses, degree programs, seminars and conferences, tenure-track positions, research centers, journals, and grants. The authors interrogate both theory and practice in a way that enriches the field of study and enhances the effectiveness of the interfaith/interreligious movement in turn. Academics from a variety of disciplines and activists at various levels of the interfaith/interreligious movement will benefit from the fine scholarship in this collection.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Patrick Horn is a Public Scholar.

Date of Review: 
October 23, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Eboo Patel is Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core and the author of Acts of Faith and Sacred Ground. He was a member of President Obama's inaugural faith council, is a regular contributor to the Washington PostHuffington Post, CNN, and public radio, and speaks frequently about interfaith cooperation on college campuses.

Jennifer Howe Peace is Associate Professor of Interfaith Studies at Andover Newton Theological School where she cofounded and has codirected the Center for Interreligious and Communal Leadership Education. Dr. Peace is the founding cochair of the “Interreligious and Interfaith Studies Group” at the American Academy of Religion.

Noah J. Silverman is Senior Director of Learning and Partnerships at Interfaith Youth Core. He served as the associate director of Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, and has also worked for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in London.


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