IR Summer Reading, Part 1, By Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook

Posted on August 10th, 2009 | Filed under Best Practices/Non-Profit, In Print: New Books, InterViews, On Campus

The summer always provides a wonderful opportunity to read for pleasure. Here are several book recommendations by Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, Professor of Religious Education at the Claremont School of Theology and member of the Journal's Board of Scholars and Practitioners. We hope that you enjoy -- and add to your bookshelf.

Heckman, Bud, ed., with Rori Picker Neiss. Interactive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook. Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2008.

This practical handbook is one of the works that I recommend often for those newly interested in interreligious dialogue, as well as members of faith communities and organizations looking for resources in the area. I always assign it for groups and classes designed for religious educations.

Interactive Faith is a practical guide to essential resources available to initiate, support, and sustain interreligious dialogue and action in a variety of contexts. What is refreshing about this book is that despite its encyclopedic approach to the topic, the text is never pedantic or plodding. To the contrary, this book is rooted in substantial scholarship, practical wisdom, and grassroots experience, though it is a challenge to interweave all three in one text. The foundation that binds the book together is the importance of greater religious cooperation, and well as the need for practical tools. Most evocative about the book is the authors' firm belief in the transformative capacity of interreligious community-building, as well as their assertion that it is within our grasp. The vision of the book is to enable religious diverse communities to work more constructively together for justice and peace.

The team that put together Interactive Faith share a deep commitment to interreligious dialogue and practice. Bud Heckman is a Methodist pastor and the former executive director of Religions for Peace – USA; Rori Picker Neiss is the coordinator for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and the former lead staff of Religion for Peace – USA; and, Dirk Ficca is executive director of the Council for a parliament of the World’s Religions, and moderator of Chicago Presbytery’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. The expansive experience of these authors grounds the book and contributes to its importance in the field.

Hughes, Amanda Millay, ed. with Anantanand Rambachan, Yaakov Ariel, Patricia Phalen, Amy Nelson, Five Voices Five Faiths: An Interfaith Primer. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2005.

Five Voices, Five Faiths is one of the most effective interfaith anthologies for non-specialists that I have read to date. The format of the book is built around a series of essays written by adherents of five different faith traditions – Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam – focusing on the basics within the context of living traditions. The essays are geared to the general reader and take on the challenge of sharing the elementary principals of each faith while at the same time engaging in dialogue with other traditions. The power of this book lies within its multilevel impact. The essays engage the intellect and are written to challenge and provoke. At the same time the essays engage the spirit. Written by believers, the authors share the affective aspects of their faith, their conversions, their spiritual practices. Lastly, the essays seek to build relationships across faith groups, and thus, the book has an impact not only in the academy, but in the way people live their daily lives.

The individual authors included in Five Voices, Five Faiths bridge a variety of social locations within their respective traditions. Anantanand Rambachan, born in Trinidad, is a professor of religion at St Olaf’s College who writes on the history and diversity within Hinduism. Yaakov Ariel was raised in Israel, teaches at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and is a specialist in American Judaism. Taitaku Pat Phalen, abbess of the Chapel Hill Zen Center and an American convert to Buddhism, writes on the origin of Buddhism and Zen practice. Amy Nelson, a radio journalist, writes on the Five Pillars of Islam from the perspective of her own conversion and journey of faith. The editor of the overall collection, Amanda Millay Hughes, writes as a Christian, and focuses her essay on “listening” to the Nicene Creed. Hughes is also the director of the seven-year Five Faiths Project of the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The project combines original works of art, photography, storytelling, and community events to introduce the various religions discussed here. The project is rooted in the belief that art is a power tool of interfaith dialogue and an effective way to educate about different religions.

Five Voices, Five Faiths is an excellent resource for use in faith communities, undergraduate, and seminary classrooms. Each chapter also includes suggestions for further reading from the authors. Not only will students learn about other religions intellectually, they will gain insights into the spirit and practices of living traditions as well.

Torry, Malcolm & Sarah Hughes. Together & Different: Christians Engaging People of Other Faiths. London: Canterbury Press, 2008.

The focus of this engaging book is interfaith work at the grassroots. Written from a Christian perspective, the book relates the stories of the building of interfaith relationships, and thus encourages people of all faiths to push the boundaries and enrich their own faith in the process.

The thirteen chapters in Together & Different are practical and evocative and offer a wide variety of models of interfaith sharing. For instance, one chapter discusses Christian and Muslim school exchanges, while another discusses the experience of sharing sacred space in a hospital setting. Another chapter offers a model for an interfaith funeral, while another shares the experiences of an interfaith women’s group. Other chapters offer models of interest to pastors, community workers, and educatiors alike, such as an interfaith prison chaplaincy, an urban peace pagoda, an interfaith pilgrimage, and a community center. Throughout the authors share their own faith perspectives, recognize the differences that exist between different faiths and beliefs, but at the same time seek common ground creatively and with integrity. The theme of mutuality runs through each chapter, as does the need for greater and more genuine interfaith relationships, united in action for the common good.

This book is a great resource for faith communities, schools, or other organizations interested in building relationships across faith groups, as well as those interested in developing specific programmatic efforts to assist in the work. Though not a “manual” on interfaith programs, the stories illustrate the “how” as well as the motivations and outcomes of each example. The stories are creative and inspirational and are helpful to those open to interfaith dialogue but looking for innovative ways to structure the engagement.

Both authors have a great deal of interfaith experience in Britain, and the models featured in the book readily translate to North America. While the authors hesitate to offer fixed "rules" for interfaith engagement, their own experience, as well as the content of the stories offers helpful suggestions, as well as a glossary and other resource information.


Kujawa-Holbrook is author, co-author, or editor of twelve books, handbooks and training manuals, including Seeing God in Each Other (2006) and A House of Prayer For All Peoples: Congregations Building Multiracial Community (2003). A new book entitled God Beyond Borders: Congregations Building Interfaith Community will be published by The Alban Institute in 2010. She also has over 40 published articles and nearly 50 book reviews on issues related to religious education, multiculturalism, inter-religious dialogue, youth, and pastoral theology.

Kujawa-Holbrook holds the Ed.D. from Columbia University Teachers College and Union Theological Seminary in the area of Religion and Education. She also received the Ph.D. in American Religious and Social History from Boston College. Additionally, she holds degrees from Marquette University, Sarah Lawrence College, Episcopal Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School. Kujawa-Holbrook serves on the Board of Scholars and Practitioners of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue.

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