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Patel highlights value of interfaith dialogue

| Friday, January 16, 2015

Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, discussed the importance and implications of interfaith narrative and dialogue in a lecture titled “Interfaith Leadership: Engaging Religious and Non-Religious Diversity in the 21st Century.” The lecture was sponsored by Notre Dame’s Multicultural Student Programs and Services.

Patel, who also serves as an member of the Inaugural Advisory Council for the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the need for coexistence and cooperation among various religions would become a defining question of our time.

“The question of how people orient around religion differently, or interact with one another, whether that be based on conflict or cooperation, will be one of the most engaging questions of the 21st century,” he said.

Patel said becoming an interfaith leader is a process that involves viewing one’s identity as a person of faith as an opportunity to create relationships among multiple communities of faith, which helps establish cooperation and dialogue.

“You could look to make [your faith identity] a barrier of division, you could look to make it a bludgeon of domination or you could look to make it a bridge of cooperation,” Patel said.

Patel said civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist, was an example of a successful interfaith leader because he took inspiration from the peaceful protests of Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and cooperated with prominent leaders of multiple religions.

“Martin Luther King is many, many things, but amongst them, he is certainly an interfaith leader,” Patel said.

Patel said interfaith leadership is developed through three key experiences or “moments.” He said these moments include being inspired by a person or ideal of another faith, engaging and cooperating with people of multiple religions and observing and collaborating in solutions to combat interfaith violence.

“You being inspired by an ideal or a person from a different religion; you recognizing and lifting up your memories of partnering with people of different religions whose endeavors are beautiful and great and holy; you recognizing the scourge of religious violence and thinking to yourself, ‘there has to be something done about this and I will take some responsibility’ — these are the kinds of moments that help you craft your own story of interfaith leadership,” Patel said.

Patel said interfaith dialogue requires youth leaders who create inspiring and innovative discussion on faith. He focused on the concept of storytelling in the process of developing as an interfaith leader and said interfaith leaders “tell new stories to the world and embody those stories in their lives.”

He said storytelling involves creating narratives and environments that are defined by similarities among, rather than by division of, people of different faiths.

“Part of what leaders do is shape environments that make salient the commonalities between people from different religions,” Patel said.

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