Thank you for reading our newsletter. I welcome you to the Minnesota Multifaith Network and, if you are not already involved, extend the warmest invitation to you to become a part of our work and our journey together. We need each one of you.
Surveys of religious knowledge in the USA are quite alarming. We have little knowledge about Christianity, and even less about traditions of Native Americans, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Hmong. One of the primary goals of the Minnesota Multifaith Network is to remedy this problem by the dissemination of knowledge about the religious traditions of our neighbors. The British poet, Thomas Gray, is famous for his line- “Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.” In the case of religion, however, ignorance is never bliss but a grave danger. The absence of religious knowledge is never an absence; it is usually filled by prejudice, stereotypes, and misrepresentations that have their origin in sources not concerned with truth. Connections among ignorance, stereotyping, hostility, and violence in communities of diversity are very well known.
In emphasizing religious literacy as a goal of our network, I think that we must qualify this goal in at least two ways. Gandhi, who devoted so much of his life to overcoming interreligious violence through interreligious education, spoke of the “duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically the scriptures of the world. If we are to respect others’ religions, as we would have them respect our own, a friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty.” The key words here for me are sympathetic and friendly study. Our aim is appreciative knowledge of other traditions. Knowledge of other religions is not always appreciative.
The second is that meaningful interreligious education is not just learning about other traditions but learning from and with our neighbors of other faiths. The appreciative knowledge that we need is the knowledge that comes from opening our hearts and minds to learning from those who practice and embody their traditions. They must be our teachers. It is better to learn about other religions in the presence of those who live those traditions. Such learning helps to build relationships with our neighbors of other traditions.
For a moment, consider these possibilities. What would it mean to have knowledge of other religions, but never have a friend from another religion? Never share a meal together? Never speak of our families, our hopes, our fears? Never laugh or cry together? What is the meaning of knowledge if we never look into each other’s eyes and discover unity in our shared humanity? What is the meaning of interreligious education if we continue to be relationally isolated from each other? Appreciative knowledge and positive relationships are fundamental and complementary components of interfaith education. These twin goals are at the heart of our work together. Our work is the building of communities in which our awakening to each other’s humanity empowers us to stand with and for each other, speaking for the sacred value of every being and working to ensure that all flourish in justice and in peace and in joy.
In the pursuit of these goals, I extend a special invitation to each of you to join us on June 17, 2021, for a deep conversation about our shared moral commitments as we grapple with the challenges of injustice and the denial of human dignity. Purchase event tickets for Minnesota Multifaith Network’s upcoming convening at https://bit.ly/3w8fW6S.
Published: MnMN’s June 2021 Newsletter
Anantanand Rambachan is Chair of MnMN’s Board of Directors and Professor of Religion at Saint Olaf College in Northfield.