Learn what some of today’s most exciting visionaries, thinkers, advocates, and activists are doing in the field of religion. Watch exclusive interViews, and read responses from the next generation of graduate students, seminarians, and civic leaders.
interView with Rev. Paul Raushenbush
Response by Anna DeWeese
Listening to Paul Raushenbush, it was very encouraging to hear him speak on ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ as two distinct, yet related, ideas. Often these words are used interchangeably, as if to believe in something is to have faith in that thing. But these words are much more complex than the above statement assumes, and each word has different meanings to different people.
This is why I have studied and continue to engage in interfaith work. I have struggled with the questions of ‘what do I believe’ and ‘do I want or need to have faith’, and have learned to embrace these questions in a way that opened me up – opened me up to my self and my tradition of Christianity, and to others and their traditions. These questions have opened me up to concepts and ideologies I would never have considered worth my while, but have come to enrich my life in fascinating ways. It is through these questions that I will continue to grow and learn, so that every encounter I have with another person helps us discover more deeply what our faiths and our beliefs mean.
Response By Freeman Trebilcock
When Rev. Paul Raushenbush asks us to think about how we find interfaith inspiration within our various traditions he is emphasising personal inquiry, getting us to look to the core of our own personal experience as people of faith living in a diverse world. As he says, this is the first and most important step towards developing a deeper understanding of where we stand and how we might contribute to the broader dialogue between faiths.
The point that Rev. Raushenbush makes that "we don't want all-liberals talking to all-liberals" is a good one. This is because those people who may not normally be drawn to engage others from a different faith may in fact be the ones with the most to gain from it. Also in terms of normalising interfaith engagement to become something more than a peripheral curiosty we cannot go on simply preaching to the converted. I'm often asked why I do interfaith work, usually in a way that implies that this is a strange thing indeed. Why on earth would people from such different places, with such different ways of looking at the world even bother with one another? One goal world would certainly be to change the common sentiment, to prove that there is nothing strange about collaborating with people who share similar values – values such as service, compassion and respect – and enacting these values co-operatively.
In response to Rev. Raushenbush first question I'd say that my own religious tradition explicitly calls for interfaith engagement. Within the Buddhist tradition there are teachings that liken the diverse spiritual traditions to a range of medicines that can be prescribed to a person afflicted by disease. Different medicines are needed for different people. It seems to me that we are fortunate to live in a world today where the spiritual medicine-cabinet is brimming full. Viewing this great diversity as an asset makes much more sense than searching for contradictions. And by coming together with others to collectively put into practice our various prescriptions of faith, we are all the more effective in healing ourselves and this world we share.
Response By Liane Carlson
Rev. Raushenbush begins by asking why the bloggers have become invested in inter-religious dialogue, and ends by urging all people, regardless of affiliation, to “learn their traditions,” in order to have a firm place from which to argue. Rather than answer with an anecdote or quotation, I want to question the assumptions structuring his request. Such a question privileges the text and the personal experience as granting a particular authority or right to speak. That this dual emphasis on text and interiority are paradigmatically Protestant Christian preoccupations goes without saying. That it also assumes something like a common set of experiences which might unite us – exposure to relatives, friends of different faiths, belief in the heterogeneity of the canon – seems equally obvious.
But is this really the best place to start thinking about inter-religious dialogue, or is it, instead, symptomatic of the assumptions that make dialogue so necessary and so difficult? In responding by turning inward, both textually and personally, are we attempting to found dialogue on fundamentally incommensurable, unsharable, radically private experiences? So, rather than beginning with confession, might it not be better to start by turning outward, to a common world with common problems?
Response By Leigh Rogers
Rev. Raushenbush clearly explained why inter-religious work is important to him: he was raised in a Christian tradition that held these values, and he was shaped by experiences in an interfaith family. These two elements, tradition and experience, gave him a sense of why it is so important to get “explicit” about why inter-religious work matters: if we don’t know where we stand, as he puts it to his students, where will our voices be around the circle?
Being around the circle and including all voices is what makes inter-religious dialogue so important. Raushenbush said he wanted “as wide a spectrum of talking to one another as possible,” because its purpose is a shared dialogue answering two questions: What do I believe, and what does my neighbor believe?
I like that he said it doesn’t matter what level of orthodoxy your tradition is, or whether you’re conservative or liberal. For me, it reaffirmed my fears of being perceived as too “wishy-washy” as a spiritually promiscuous person from an agnostic household. I may still be figuring my spirituality out, but I can still know my values.
What matters is that you have something to say, and you’re willing to listen and learn about what the person next to you is saying. We have to understand our own values and our neighbor’s. Not only did Jesus teach the parable of the Good Samaritan as a Jew; he taught it from the perspective of the Samaritan.
This is the religious literacy that Raushenbush refers to, where the purpose is to “[be equipped] with language and knowledge of other religious traditions- to be respectful and aware of others’ beliefs but also our own beliefs.”
Finally, to answer Raushenbush’s question, I do interfaith work because I need to learn from others to really know where I stand. As an aspiring theologian, I have to be literate of others’ religious values, listen and reflect, then balance it with my own.
Response By Anthony Paz
The Catholic Christian tradition does not, as part of its everyday operation, promote interfaith understanding as central to its message. It seems that few religious traditions do. For Catholics, thinking about other religions has never happened except because of experience. Today's Catholic, especially in America, is constantly confronted with other worldviews. Raushenbush asks, “why are you doing this?” My answer: The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the conquest of the New World, the Troubles in Ireland. My tradition has, almost in secret, grown more interested in tolerating and understanding other faiths. I had to seek the 20th Century pronouncements that quietly declare that non-Christians can, in fact, make it to heaven. So, while the tradition has a varied and mostly disturbing history of Raushenbush's “this,” I would not have known about it if not for my own experience of September 11, 2001, which triggered a desire to understand other religious and to be understood by them. Raushenbush hits on one of the great truths of religious belief, one that is central to our dialogue: the difference between tradition and experience. I may identify with a 12th Century Catholic, but my experience creates an individual with a strikingly different set of values and beliefs. It is essential to understand individuals as representing only some of their tradition, since it is all filtered through experience.