Critical Conversations about Religion

Promises and Pitfalls of a Social Justice Approach to Interfaith Dialogue

Sachi Edwards, University of Maryland, College Park

A volume in the series: Transforming Education for the Future. Editor(s): Jing Lin, University of Maryland. Rebecca L. Oxford, University of Maryland. Vachel W. Miller, Appalachian State University. Amanda Jane Fiore, State Department.

Published 2016

Interfaith initiatives are increasingly prevalent on college and university campuses around the country. In large part, this trend responds both to ongoing religious violence throughout the world and to increasing religious tension in the United States. As such, these interfaith initiatives often attempt to bolster interfaith collaboration and increase awareness of different religious cultures, identities, beliefs, and traditions. In this book, Edwards reviews the various goals and processes associated with the interfaith movement, and offers both warnings and suggestions for those who are interested in pursuing an approach to interfaith dialogue that is oriented toward social justice. In doing so, this book fills a critical gap in academic literature surrounding the impact of religious identity and interfaith relations on pedagogy, educational experiences, and campus climates.

Through three descriptive case studies set in a large public university in the United States, Edwards explores the use of Intergroup Dialogue as a pedagogical model for interfaith dialogue. While the goal of this pedagogy is to increase student understanding of privilege, oppression, and social injustice pertaining to religious identity, the cases in this book demonstrate how and why social justice oriented interfaith dialogue can be easily derailed and, if so, may potentially have harmful implications for religious minorities. Accordingly, Edwards offers five necessary conditions for assuring that social justice oriented interfaith dialogue (which Intergroup Dialogue is intended to be) succeeds. By focusing on the unique perspectives of four particular student participants (all of whom have religious identities outside of the three dominant Abrahamic religions) Edwards also highlights the experiences of those from religious identity groups that are the most overlooked and under‐represented in the discourse on interfaith dialogue.

Acknowledgments. Introduction. Religious Identity and Religious Oppression. My Journey to This Research. Research Context. Research Questions. Research Methods. Research Participants. Summary of Case Profiles. Defining Interfaith Dialogue. Approaches to Understanding Truth. Pluralism. The Purpose of Interfaith Dialogue. Negative and Positive Peace. The Causal Flow of Violence. The Contact Hypothesis and Intergroup Contact Theory. Conflict Resolution and Postconflict Reconciliation. Building Community Harmony. A Social Justice Approach to Interfaith Dialogue. Integrating Interfaith Dialogue With Education. Promoting Religious Literacy. Attending to Students’ Spiritual Development. Broadening the Discourse on Diversity and Social Justice. Current Trends in Interfaith Student Programming. Religious Identity Inclusion Beyond the Dominant Abrahamic Faiths. Critical Theory: A Foundation of Social Justice Education. Social Justice Education: Recognizing Christian Privilege. Intergroup Dialogue Pedagogy. The Origins of Intergroup Dialogue. Conscientization and Problem Posing Pedagogy. Optimal Conditions for Intergroup Contact. Direct Engagement With Social Justice Issues. Process and Pedagogy. Empirical Support of Intergroup Dialogue. Research on Religion‐Themed Intergroup Dialogue. Case Study One: Interfaith Dialogue Without a Clear Purpose. Setting the Stage for Dialogue. Attempting to Make Sense of Religious Identity, Privilege, and Stereotypes. Hot Topics: Religion in the Public Sphere. Giving Up On Dialogue. Parth. Increased Awareness of Self and Others. Case Study Two: Interfaith Dialogue as Religious Studies. This Class is “Different”Struggling With Religion and Proselytism?. Missing the Christian Privilege Target. Religion 101. Group Dynamics: Building and Losing Momentum. Out of Comfort Zone Experience. Facilitator Journals. Kavita. Increased Knowledge and New Perspectives. Case Study Three: Interfaith Dialogue as a Philosophical Debate. Committing to an Honest Exchange of Perspectives. Clarifying Personal Beliefs and the “True” Meaning of Religion. Determining Appropriate Hot Topics. Believers Versus Nonbelievers. Hinting at Christian Privilege Without Naming It. Recognizing the “Gray Area” and Questioning One’s Own Beliefs. Missing the Target, Misunderstanding the Point: What Went Wrong? Expectations and Motivations for Interfaith Dialogue. Misunderstanding Religious Identity. Difficulty Grasping the Concept of Christian Privilege. The Impact of the Second Largest Group. The Impact of the Facilitators. Outcomes Pertaining to IGD Theory. Necessary Conditions for Facilitating Social Justice Oriented Interfaith Dialogue. Strategies for Avoiding Potential Pitfalls. Recommendations for Future Intergroup Dialogue Theory and Research. Recommendations for Intergroup Dialogue Practitioners and Coordinators. Recommendations for Higher Education Administrators and Staff. Recommendations for Interfaith Dialogue Practitioners Around the World. Necessary Conditions for Facilitating Social Justice Oriented Interfaith Dialogue. References. Appendix 1: Participants’ Religious Identities. About the Author.