An Interfaith Fellow’s Mission – Ethan Dickler

As an Interfaith Fellow, our mission statement claims that we are to “become more knowledgeable about different religious traditions and more skilled at communicating with people from other religious backgrounds.” Herein lies my issue: I sense a tension within this statement. I am conflicted whether fellows should present just their personal beliefs or the beliefs of their religious tradition. I understand that there will be deviation in how people practice and explain their traditions because most people either do not orthodoxly follow them or have different views on what is considered orthodox. However, I feel that some people have misrepresented their faith traditions in meetings and blog posts and I feel that more dialogue is needed to appease these problems.

Recently, there was a presentation on “Christianity” that was meant to teach the non-Christian fellows about tenets of Christianity and the differences among sects. As a Roman Catholic, I also presented. The slideshow began with a section about Jesus’ life and another on his teachings. One of the presenters stated that, “Jesus’ teachings were inherently anti-authoritarian.” I raised an objection when this was stated because it was not true for all sects as the section implied.

Then came the “Protestant” slide. Instead of separating the Protestant sects represented in the group into a series of slides or distinguishing among the sects, all Protestant religions were clumped into a single slide. As someone who studied the Protestant Reformation in a Religious Studies class last semester, I was distressed. Protestant sects have unquestionably different beliefs, and distinguishing those beliefs is important. While the presenters mentioned that there were numerous sects and named the major branches, no effort was made to explain belief differences.The presenters either could not or chose not to explain the differences among their traditions. It was a missed learning opportunity that instead perpetuated the stereotype that “all Protestants are basically the same.”

Please understand that there is no issue expressing personal beliefs that differ from teachings if the purpose of an Interfaith Fellow is to discuss his or her personal beliefs with members of different faiths. However, if a fellow’s duty is to “become more knowledgeable about different religious traditions,” as it says in our mission statement, then there is a problem. How can a fellow learn about different religious traditions if the tradition is not represented accurately to its own teachings?

I obviously cannot speak for other faiths outside of Christianity. I have no idea if the presentation on Islam accurately represented different Islamic traditions. However, therein lies my critique. I trust the Muslim fellows to teach me about their faiths for me to learn. When the “Protestant” slide was decided upon in the planning meeting, I voiced my objections, but the Protestant members agreed it was the best move.

I know that some important aspects of Christian sects were either ignored or misrepresented at the presentation and that is a real shame. I do not intend to argue that everyone must always represent their religions as they are written in sacred texts. We all make mistakes or have different beliefs than what are considered orthodox. However, for formal presentations or even blog posts, I feel that more nuanced accuracy would be helpful. Alternatively, I feel that our mission statement needs refining or fellows might need to do a little more research when they present their own tradition.

As fellows, our duty is to improve people’s knowledge about diverse religious traditions. However, for improvement to be made, fellows have a responsibility to represent their beliefs with nuanced accuracy. In my opinion, with the Christianity presentation, we fell short of our duty to spread knowledge about Christianity and we need to try harder collectively. 

How do you view your duty as an Interfaith Fellow? Is your duty to present your religion’s doctrines or your personal beliefs? What could you do to improve others fellows’ understandings of your religions? 

28 thoughts on “An Interfaith Fellow’s Mission – Ethan Dickler”

  1. Hello,

    As a religious fellow myself who is Muslim, when we presented our Islam:101 , my group decided not to discuss Shia Islam as we did not practice that and did not know what exactly to say for an experience we don’t know. We also made the distinction that all things we share are what we believe in the way we have practiced Sunni Islam. So for me when I hear presenters speak about their faith I always recognize that, when they discuss or teach about their faith to some degree it is an interpretation of what they believe their faith is. I believe personally that anyone who speaks about faith for the most part, speaks about it based in interpretation of what they believe their faith says as we all in some way pick or choose what it is exactly we practice or see as important.

    1. Hi,

      I get that and I agree. I want people to share with me about their religion based on what they believe and understand. However, they have to fact check if they are claiming to represent their entire religion or at least specify where their interpretation differs from what the religious text says. I think that it is fine that we did not cover every sect of Christianity, but I do think that we should have covered the ones who have members in the interfaith fellows this semester. I learned nothing about the differences among Lutherans, Methodists, and Evangelicals from the presentation. I still could not tell you the differences among them and that bothers me. I want to know where the differences lie so I can navigate that and learn something.

  2. Hi Ethan!

    This was a really interesting blog post, and I think you bring up some really good points. I also get the sense at times that people cherry-pick the “good” or politically progressive parts of their religion to present to the group.

    It’s kind of a hard line to walk though if you are coming from a minority religion, especially one that tends to be misunderstood or misrepresented in media. I want to call out the parts of my religion I don’t like or disagree with, but I am also weary of giving it a bad rap when I am explaining it to people who aren’t familiar with it. I don’t want what is possibly peoples’ first real exposure to Judaism to paint it in a super negative light, because if you don’t know much about it, then I don’t want the bit you do know about it to be negative. I also think this problem is exacerbated for religions like Islam that tend to be demonized.

    It’s hard to get across nuance when you are just giving people an intro. So like with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, I have so so many thoughts and opinions about how I can be both pro Palestine and Zionist at once, and how the governments of both sides are deeply hurting the people, etc. But I guess it can just be hard to communicate these more complex pieces of religion to people outside my faith who don’t know much about it, so it can be easier to just skim over them completely, even if that might not be the most genuine thing to do.

    1. Hi Azariah,

      I get that we cannot go into nuances about our religions, but I felt that some aspects of the presentation could have been done better. We were not even given the vaguest idea about the differences between a Lutheran and a Methodist were or what distinguished any Protestant branch from another was. If the goal of the presentation was to illustrate that most Christian members only believed vaguely in Christ and not specifics about their sects, then it succeeded, but I learned nothing about why the Christian faith is so diverse. For me, it was like if someone who believed in that “Jews for Jesus” religion claimed that they were Jewish and did not specify the differences between his or herself and a traditional Jew. It is problematic because it sends the wrong idea about where the core of each religious tradition is located.

  3. Ethan,

    I think that I truly learned from the Christianity presentation! I relate, though, to the conflict between presenting a religion’s doctrines and personal beliefs. I think it’s hard for me to say where the line is drawn for me because many of the core doctrines of my faith are really aligned with my own personal beliefs. When Amy and I did the Sikh presentation, we had a very similar upbringing and therefore we presented the faith as we learned it and our familiarity with our heritage. Furthermore, Sikhism is not something many have heard about within American society, compared to Christianity, so teaching folks about Sikhism is something that the majority of people are hearing for the first time. I understand your frustration but the goal for me is to get people to see similarities among ourselves. My role as an Interfaith fellow is to listen to people talk about the most personal connection they possess and how they feel about it. I try not to worry too much about details because ultimately, people aren’t doctrines. People are people who just wanna live their lives consciously.

    1. Simran,

      I understand that there is no such thing as a believer who is 100% aligned with the text of their religion, but I guess I am more conflicted in situations when we are teaching about those religions. If we teach based solely on our experiences, then I feel that others do not get a real understanding of the religion. They are given a shade of interpretation. I think this is fine assuming they specify, but during the Christianity presentation, people were mischaracterizing the beliefs of their own religions. They are welcome to believe things contrary to their religions, but then presenting it as what their religion believes is problematic for me.

  4. Hi Ethan, thanks for this blog post. I think the most important thing to clarify here is that I don’t think us Christian fellows were presenting ourselves as 100% experts on our faiths, much less other sects of our faith, nor was our presentation intended to cover much more than we personally knew and grew up experiencing. I’m guessing if the Protestant fellows didn’t differentiate between the specifics of their various sects, it’s because they weren’t that knowledgeable on the differences and would rather have omitted some information (albeit mentioning that those differences do exist) rather than to misrepresent or misinform. Personally, I will admit that the criticism in your post was tough to read, due to my personal relationship with my religion. As I mentioned in the presentation, I only recently renewed my connection with my religious tradition, and so I was pretty insecure leading up to the presentation that I would make a mistake, present false information, or not enough information. I did a lot of research ahead of time and presented on more than what I personally believe or practice from Russian Orthodoxy, and that felt like a big leap and a risk for me: what if I got something wrong and people got the wrong idea about Orthodoxy? I really care about my religion, but I know I’m not an expert. So, I believe that our Protestant fellows most likely just didn’t take that leap, choosing to share a little less and not risk presenting false information.

    Maybe, something that we could have done in the presentation is made a clearer distinction between our personal beliefs and the “official” practices of each sect, just so the other fellows understood where we were coming from. For example, when I consider my personal relationship with God and Jesus, I do believe that Jesus was anti-authoritarian, in the sense that he inherently had to be to stand up for the poor and the oppressed. However, I know that some official doctrine would contest this. In the future, we can all try to better clarify between personal and official interpretation.

    1. Dear Maya,

      Thank you so much for your response. The post was in no way directed at you. I thought that you were honest and open about your beliefs and I found that really great. I understand that we cannot accurately 100% represent our religions, which is why I argue we may need to change our mission statement a bit. I am also just getting back into my religion after a long break, but I wanted to emphasize what my religion believed. If I was not more open about my own personal beliefs that it because I was confused about our purpose in giving the presentation.

      Again, I really liked your slide and thought that it was extremely well-researched and I had no problems with it. My critique was directed at those who did not research their religions at all prior to the presentation or those who misrepresented their religions (separate from their beliefs).

    2. Hey Maya,
      I really appreciate your post and I think it was useful in clearing up some misunderstandings. I’m glad we agree on the importance of delineating between the Protestant denominations and some of the details of Jesus’ philosophy, and I’m also glad that we understand the difference between personal experience and hard set religious doctrine. I think when it comes to religion it’s important to discuss both how you experience your religion personally and broadly held beliefs of the community, and I think we did a great job of that. Thanks!

  5. Hi Ethan, I understand the concerns that you raise in this blog post, but I think I may have to push back on some of your points. As a social work major, we practice what is called “cultural humility”. In the past, social workers were taught to practice “cultural competence”. Cultural competence stated that as an individual social worker you needed to be “competent” and “know” about every cultural background that you might work with in practice. Essentially, cultural competence tried to propagate the idea that anyone can achieve an adequate level of knowledge about every culture. The problem with this was that there really was no way to be truly knowledgeable about a culture that you have not had personal experience with. Cultural competence’s successor, cultural humility, tells us that we need to acknowledge our own personal inability to be experts in any culture but those that we have personal lived experience with. I guess how this relates to your post is to say that I don’t think that anyone can claim to be an expert in a particular religion or religious sect unless they have personal experience with it. In the presentation, I think that many presenters made the point that they can only claim to know about their own sect of Christianity. I think that such a distinction is what matters, not the particulars of theology. An omission of information only reflects the experiences of an individual. And in my view, this fellowship is about individual’s experiences, because as I discussed I do not think we can pretend to be experts on religions other than our own. With that in mind, I do not think that the presentation constituted some great “missed learning opportunity”.

    As someone who is a Protestant and was part of the presentation, I think it is worth noting that my own experience with Protestant religion (including Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist churches) has been marked by differing experiences with the particulars of a Sunday service, but I personally do not feel like my experiences with these churches have been defined by a difference of theology. I feel like my own lived experience was represented within the presentation on Christianity, which again in my view is the purpose of our presentations. I personally chose not to present more about the differences because logistically that would not have made sense as there are many, many sects and I only have personal lived experience with a select few. And while Protestants are not all the same, to claim it is a stereotype to say we are all the same does not really jive with my experiences either. I think that yes, there are big similarities, so in many ways we are the “same” as both Christians and Protestants. There are similarities between Protestant sects, and those similarities are in my view some of the most important parts of my beliefs — for example, believing that all individuals should have the ability to partake in communion. You mentioned that not knowing the differences between the sects bothers you, and if so then I think that learning more on your own time is great. That being said, I do not agree with your view that by not teaching individuals about every theological difference there is harm done.

    1. Hi Grace, I really appreciate you sharing the concept of “cultural humility”, this idea is always something that we must keep in mind, and certainly in this fellowship! I would agree that I did learn a lot from the lived experiences of Protestant sects that you (and other folks) shared during our presentation, for example, I had not previously known about the differing communion participation practices. I had learned about Protestantism from a historical perspective in various classes, but for me, hearing your lived experiences made it all the more clear.

    2. Ethan – I echo what Grace wrote above. Grace, thanks for so elegantly putting words to how I feel regarding our presentation.

      I’d like to add some additional commentary: In the presentation, I spoke from my own experience with the Protestant faith. I grew up attending a Lutheran church, and never actually learned about the differences between varying Protestant sects. I currently have very little attachment to Christianity. Since these nuances between different sects haven’t been a part of my experience with the Christian faith, I didn’t feel comfortable elaborating on something I am not directly apart of. As Grace mentioned, I believe that it is not any of our responsibilities to represent parts of our religion that doesn’t align with our experiences, and if you’d like to learn more about factual information, you can educate yourself. I see our time together in this fellowship as a conversation starter. We can’t get through everything in a hour. When saying this, I must acknowledge my privilege. As someone who had a Christian upbringing, I’m often well understood in society. I don’t want to take up a lot of space within our group of fellows. Christianity is present in our lives enough as it is, and I aim to allow ample room for those who are often silenced and have stronger attachments to their faith to talk.

    3. Dear Grace,

      As an English major, we are taught to have nuance in our arguments. My critique of the “Protestant slide” was that it was vague to the point of being incomprehensible. I never argued that everyone must know about all the major sects – that we should all have, “cultural competence.” No, I argued that we should know what we are presenting about. In the case of a Protestant from a particular sect, I expected a presentation about that sect or at least one interpretation of that sect. Instead, I learned that they were all “basically the same,” which is a blatant lie based on casual assumptions and a lack of research. I understand that you have been involved with multiple sects of Christianity. However, that does not mean that they are all the same. The essentialization of Protestant theologies is harmful because it strips away the very reasons why there are different sects in the first place. Christianity did not splinter into a series of sects because everyone essentially believed in the same thing. No, we splintered because there were nuances in beliefs.

      Now, you argue that you were just presenting your own views about Protestantism based on your experiences, which was that they were all pretty much the same. Yet, if they were all the same, then why did you switch from sect to sect? Furthermore, what is a religion except a theology and a ritual. If you remove the theology from the ritual, then you are not presenting the religion in its complete form. It would be fine if you presented the theology and the ritual and then stated your own beliefs, but the slide only had personal beliefs and no facts about the actual theological differences and *that* was my issue.

      1. Hi Ethan, I did just want to clear up a couple of misconceptions here. I did not switch from sect to sect because I was seeking a difference of belief or even practice. I did this because my family moved and we simply found different churches and spent lots of time going to and visiting other Protestant churches to find one where we felt the pastor and community were a good fit for us. It actually had nothing to do with the differences in beliefs between sects. And to your points about us claiming that the sects of Protestantism being “basically the same”, I do not think that we made that claim. We chose to highlight some key similarities that distinguished Protestantism from Roman Catholicism, a choice that I think was made in the interest of time and based on the Protestant student’s experiences. We also specifically wrote and stated that the slide was presented from a viewpoint of Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist individuals. To say that the information we presented was based on “casual assumptions and a lack of research” only serves to negate and diminish our own religious experiences as Protestants who maybe have not had personal experience with these differences affecting the core parts of our religious experience.

  6. Hi Ethan,

    I appreciate your post and I’m very glad that we all have different interpretations of our religion, after all religion is very personal and for that reason there is no capital N Narrative or capital A Authority that dictates all of our religious experiences. With that being said, I feel extremely disrespected by the implication that some of us “did not research their religions at all prior to the presentation or those who misrepresented their religions.” It’s true actually, because we’ve all been living our religious experience for our whole lives and that doesn’t need to be researched. But I also don’t want to take away from the several hours of research we all put into our presentation, some of which was deleted minutes before we presented.

    In regard to our group’s disagreements on Jesus’ early life, I think you will find a wide consensus of Christian scholars who would agree that Jesus was indeed an ally of the poor and downtrodden and as a result, was skeptical of Roman rule in Judea. If you’d like more information on the matter, even John Green covers it in his Crash Course of Christianity.

    As some of the other Christian fellows have noted, not a single one of us is claiming that all Protestant denominations can be grouped under one umbrella. With sixty minutes to present, it is very unrealistic to assume that we could delve more into the nuances of each denomination and still give worthy time to traditionally underrepresented groups such as the LDS church. As a Baptist myself, I am once again hurt at the accusation that we deliberately chose a reductionist approach to group all Protestant denominations into one. I’m glad to hear that you took a class on the Reformation, but as a Protestant myself, I wish I would be shown a little bit more respect about my knowledge of my Baptist denomination. For the sake of time, we all agreed as a group that it was more important to give time to Jesus’s philosophy and early life than getting into the differences between John Calvin and Martin Luther, and I think that is valid- especially considering it was decided as a group.

    Ethan, I do not wish to call you out in any way, but I think there is a more constructive way to go about disagreements on our beliefs. In your blog post you condemned our group’s mission statement for striving to “become more knowledgeable about different religious traditions and more skilled at communicating with people from other religious backgrounds” and then you proceeded to dismiss other Christian fellows’ opinions. I completely agree that we should distinguish between our own personal beliefs and the beliefs of the community as a whole, but I do not agree that differing opinions should be silenced.

    1. Hi Calvin! Thanks for this post – I thought the point you made about giving more time to sects such as the LDS church, as they are are a minority and culturally misrepresented much more often than any other Christian denominations, was very important, and I did learn a lot from Bryce’s slides! I would also agree that it’s important to have faith that each fellow values their religious background and does not ever intend to misrepresent it, and that we should trust that they are doing the best they can to represent their faith background as they have lived it.

    2. Dear Calvin,

      First, I never suggested that people needed to do research to represent their own personal beliefs. However, it is absolutely necessary to conduct research when presenting on entire faith traditions that have millions of members who share common core beliefs. If we were only supposed to share our personal beliefs and not represent our entire religions, then why not have every fellow give a short presentation each – it would be stupid! because many share the same core beliefs and it would get repetitive. As for the information that was changed on your slide prior to the presentation, I changed it because it was not true for all sects like the title suggested.

      This brings me to my second point, there is not a “wide consensus of Christian scholars who would agree that Jesus was indeed an ally of the poor and downtrodden and as a result, was skeptical of Roman rule in Judea.” First, this is not what your said. You said that “Jesus’ teachings were anti-authoritarian.” You mischaracterize my critique. Second, there is no wide consensus in history. Certainly, the numerous czars of Russia would disagree as would my personal hero Fyodor Dostoevsky, every king/queen of England, in fact, every king or queen of all of Europe for the past thousand years. The ability of Christianity to conform to an authoritative state structure was essential for its spreading to countless governments over the years. Third, I have seen all of John Green’s crash course videos. I do not think Green would object to my criticisms of your statement as stated in the meeting. I also recommend that you find a more nuanced source than Crash Course for your argument.

      Third, I disagree with your point that we do not need to hear about the differences between John Calvin and Martin Luther in a presentation about Christianity 101. It would take a single sentence to show some differentiation between Calvinism and Lutheranism. I did not want all the details, just a few sentences about what differentiated your Baptist beliefs from a Lutheran’s beliefs. We have members of several Protestant sects, it would not have taken long. Plus, I objected in the meeting we had over a Protestant slide and I was overruled.

      Finally, this is not a debate over differing opinions. It is a debate over showing nuance in a presentation. If anything, it was the Protestant slide that silenced differing opinions, since it did not state the differences between sects. I am not dismissing your opinion, I am simply arguing that you failed to state your opinion in the group and it caused perpetuated a stereotype as a result.

      1. Hi Ethan, a quick response to just one of your points: I would like to add further nuance by saying that just because Christianity has been able to conform to and spread via authoritarian systems (which it certainly has!), that doesn’t mean that Jesus himself would have supported the way in which his faith was used for upholding power. We must distinguish between Jesus’s actions during his life, which were explicitly in support of those oppressed by powerful systems of rule and which infuriated the Romans (the authority of the time) and the ways in which Christianity has been used after his death. Other very respected historical figures, such as Count Leo Tolstoy, did link Christianity with the protection and holiness of the downtrodden peasants of their empires; Tolstoy’s views on Christianity actually resulted in a rift with the Russian Orthodox Church (though I’m sure you know this!)

        1. Hi Maya,

          I would just add that, while it is probably true that Jesus was against the authoritarianism of the Roman Empire, that is a matter of Biblical interpretation and I am sure that a case could be made for the alternative. Jesus’ intentions were notoriously difficult to nab and often interpreted in different ways, so I do not think that taking a firm stance based on Jesus’ intentions is a valid excuse for including it in the slide about his teachings.

  7. Hello Ethan,

    While I certainly acknowledge your argument in alignment with our mission statement, I beg to differ with what you define as religion, and what you deem as appropriate to share. I was raised Roman Catholic, I am Catholic. I attend mass on most Sundays, I go to confession quarterly, I pray to Jesus, God and Mary daily (and usually St. Anthony because I would lose my head if it wasn’t attached to me lol). How I practice my religion has been informed by my lifelong community in the Church. To say someone has misrepresented their religion, when they have represented it just the way they have practiced it their whole lives is an interesting take. I am wondering, what you deem as “research” if not a lifelong commitment to a religion one practices daily? In your post you wrote a line I really liked: “As fellows, our duty is to improve people’s knowledge about diverse religious traditions.” Are religious traditions not being accurately represented if Fellow’s add their own individualized experiences or interpretations? I would argue that they are still accurate. Anyone could take a course on Catholicism or google “what do Catholics believe” but talking to a Catholic, learning about what they believe and how they experience their religion doesn’t make their responses inaccurate because they don’t align with every other Catholic’s beliefs and experiences. In my opinion at least.

    When you raised the concern to me about all the Protestants being lumped together I assured you that “if they are okay with it, then it must be okay”. As you pointed out when Muslim fellows present, you trust that they are presenting accurate information about Islam. For me, the same goes for other Christians. The Protestant Reformation was hundreds of years ago, and I felt the Protestant fellows (and many other Christian fellows) did the best job they could with prefacing that these were their individual experiences. Many Protestant fellows had a diversified background in Protestant religions, and accurately accounted Protestantism from how they had experienced it and interpreted it as an individual. Moreover I find your accusation that fellows did not “research their religion” or “misrepresented their religion” kind of frustrating and even hurtful. Surely you are entitled to your own opinion and I enjoy reading and hearing your opinions. I always enjoy your writing (the English major in you), but I have to admit that this blog post was a hard one to read, especially as a co-fellow and a fellow Roman Catholic.

    1. Dear Anna,

      But they did not represent it as they practiced it. The Protestant students suggested that they practice their religious faiths identical to one another or close enough that there were no differences. How could they even know how each of them practiced? The story we were told by the Protestant slide was that they believe and practice slightly different things, but it is all essentially the same. That is not true.

      I did not take that stance that fellows cannot show the personal and unique ways that they practice their faiths – I encourage it. However, for the presentation, I did argue that the Protestants should have showed their sects as unique and not homogenous – that is erasure.

  8. Hi Ethan,

    Thank you for sharing your opinions. I just want to state that I didn’t get the opportunity to attend the Christianity-101 meeting, so obviously I lack on having learned about that. Now to answer your question, I think the true essence of this fellowship is way beyond the traditional followings and texts of our respective religions. The reason I enjoy having conversations with you all each week is not that we follow the exact way the religion was set up, but rather we have mended the parts of our religion that intersect with our other identities and beliefs, and are sharing about our journey through balancing those identities. I personally think that this is better because we aren’t trying to educate others on these respective religions, we are actually trying to promote this idea of interfaith.

    1. Hi Anusha,

      Thanks for the response. I agree, I think that it is better that way. Yet, I felt that the presentations were a moment when we needed the context of core beliefs from each religion and I felt that not all the information was accurately presented.

  9. I have found that what Grace and Cal have stated above elegantly summarizes how I feel about your reflection, Ethan.

    I don’t want to be redundant, so will keep my comments brief. (Apologies if my other comment got posted from earlier tonight, but I haven’t seen it up yet — writing based on what I currently see posted)

    I don’t find myself, or any fellow, responsible for educating other fellows on things that can be googled. I would much rather hear personal narrative and experience from each of you. Our conversations are a 60 minute starting point for further self-research and exploration on topics.

    Protestants and Catholics have privilege. Our religion is often represented in media and society. I do my best to acknowledge this privilege and not take up a lot of space within our group of fellows. Christianity is present in our lives already, so I aim to allow ample room for those who are often silenced and have stronger attachments to their faith to share.

    1. Dear Danielle,

      I agree that hearing personal testimonies are a goal of the program. However, the presentations are a chance for us to learn about the core beliefs of different traditions and I felt that the Christianity presentation did not show that. We do have a responsibility to teach others the “things that can be googled” because we don’t google them. The presentations were a chance for us to teach others what our religions believe and what we believe – both. And the presentation I participated in did not have some features of that for some sects.

      As for Privilege, I understand that Christianity is the most common religion in the world. However, many people do not know about the core beliefs. Most people today do not know what transubstantiation is or the signs of the cross and that is why we had the presentation – to teach and to learn. We all have an opportunity in the program to present our faiths and religions and some of the Christians did not do that.

  10. Hi Ethan,

    Thanks for sharing and writing this really insightful and powerful blog post. I really like the question that you examined and are grappling with, in this blog post. As someone who identifies as a modern orthodox Jew, there are many practices that I perform that are integral to Judaism that do in fact represent the faith, and because of that I contend that I never thought about how I represent the religion because my practices are closest to the original structure of Judaism. The previous sentence is not meant, to suggest a superiority of some sort, or that I am better because my practices are the closest to the original structure of Judaism; rather, I pointed it out to say that how I represent Judaism has rarely come up in my mind.

    That being said, I do think that within the group of Jewish fellows, there is a wide variety of people with varying experiences and levels of practice. I think that the diversity of narratives is what makes interfaith dialogue so interesting and engaging. If we were all to share every part of our religion, even parts that we did not agree with, I maintain that our interfaith dialogue would lose substance, meaning, and importance. In addition, having each person give a “crash course” of their religion (that would be identical within the religion) would reduce the religion to facts and practices when religion is indeed so much more than that. Each person has their own particular connection to religion, and in the words of Martin Buber, a renowned twentieth century Jewish existentialist, our relationship with religion is one that is considered an “I and thou” relationship. This type of relationship is one that humans can never completely fathom or comprehend and they are in a perpetual state of unknown. That is not to say that our relationship with religion is blind, rather it is to say that there is a simultaneous quality of knowing and not knowing which we endeavor to balance and maintain. In my opinion, intrapersonal tension is one of the things that makes religion beautiful and more meaningful. As someone who is gay and modern orthodox (two things that you wouldn’t think go together), I live in intrapersonal tension daily. My connection to the Divine and by extension Judaism, is stronger because of that tension.

    Thank you for raising this important subject, question, and subsequent discussion. It is very important that we always remember what brings us to this fellowship and what our duties are.

  11. Hey Ethan,

    I want to thank you for writing this post. I have to say I agree to some extent with your concerns about the role of doctrine and nuance in interfaith work. Specifically, what I mean is that divergent religious communities, including breaks between Protestant and Roman Catholic communities since the Reformation, or between different Catholic communities long before that, have histories. They do not simply appear one day. They have cultural/political/national/material antecedents and certain locuses of doctrinal disagreement that carried significant meaning at the time and continue to do so for many in those communities. For example, Anabaptist proponents of adult baptism in Munster fought a vicious war against the Holy Roman Empire over the issue.

    However, the United States in the 21st century has a particular history as well. The Munster Rebellion would be incoherent in the context of the modern liberal democratic nation-state. Some have called it “secularization” or more polemically the “death of religion.” We have houses of religious practice from different denominations and different faiths on the same street, even side-by-side, and integrated with the secular world. We have synagogues next to mosques and churches next to Burger Kings. Furthermore, we have social movements that have stressed unity and comradery rather than distinction and disagreement in religious life. There are certain religious topics we litigate publicly (abortion) and certain ones we do not (the doctrine of transubstantiation). So I do not find the pushback you are receiving to be surprising. Everyone came into this fellowship with a different picture of interfaith work and different priorities for what they wanted to get out of it.

    Since I’m not religious, I’ve tried to come at this question from what I am familiar with, which is the study of religion from an academic perspective. I think that some of the disagreements in this sections are reflective of long-standing debates within academia. Is the proper stance of studying religion to consider what lay-people do? What clergy do? What they write? Those who take the so-called “lived religion” stance say it is most important to study how regular folks act out and internalize their religious practice. Those who take a more “textualist” approach are concerned more with scripture and exegesis.

    What I am trying to say is that I hope to understand both positions on this issue. There are people for whom the request to do “research” is offensive because they consider their own religious lives to be such. Then there are some who want to hear more clearly-articulated doctrine because they are committed to a more textualist and historical understanding of religion. I do not think that either position, or any in between them, is wrong. They each depend on deeply-held notions of the nature and function of interfaith work, notions that I do not wish to discredit.

  12. Hi Ethan – thanks for sharing your perspective – I believe that you raised some really valid points! When presenting religion, it is hard to distinguish the fine line between presenting religious doctrine, its traditional practices and personal beliefs/ways of practicing. As someone who practices Sikhi, I do feel a sense of pressure to accurately portray my religion to the best of my ability. This is especially true because my religion is in the minority – not many people know about Sikhi and what it entails. However, my ability to share Sikhi’s values and doctrine is limited by how I or my family practice Sikhi. For example, different families and groups of people within Sikhi emphasize different religious traditions. There are certain traditions within Sikhi that my family does not practice as often, and it would be hard to present information about these aspects of the religion. As a result, I believe our Protestant fellows did not present on aspects of their faith they do not practice or have knowledge on perhaps in fear of misrepresentation.

    I think an idea to keep in mind going forward is that perhaps we conduct more religious research on doctrines, traditions of the religion to explain original structure of the religion (if comfortable doing so) but also acknowledge parts of the religion that a fellow does not follow and explain how a fellow has interpreted the parts of the religion they are most comfortable and have most experience with.

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