Thursday, July 19, 2007
CSUC professor takes stock of interfaith movement
By DAN BARNETT
Kate McCarthy, associate professor of religious studies at Chico State University, has done us all a great service in her survey of "Interfaith Encounters in America" ($22.95 in paperback from Rutgers University Press). Her research led her to examine several interfaith Web sites (including Beliefnet.com), conduct interviews with 14 people "involved in interfaith partnerships" and compare the Chico Area Interfaith Council with the more urban Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. Prefaced by an examination of scholarly work on the way religions see the "other," the book is generous, deeply honest and marvelously readable.
"Interfaith projects & bring Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Pagans and others into conversation. But more subtly, they also expose the internal diversity of each of these traditions. In Chico & one Catholic church participates in the interfaith organization, another does not.
"As a Roman Catholic Christian," McCarthy writes, "I am also acutely aware of being a woman, which makes me in many ways an alien in my own tradition. & At the same time, I also inhabit, among other things, feminism and American political liberalism." Those who participate in interfaith community groups tend toward progressive politics and liberal religion. More conservative religious leaders, such as evangelical pastor Larry Lane of Chico's Neighborhood Church, tend to stay away. Why? McCarthy's long interview with Lane leads her to conclude that interfaith groups suffer from a perception problem. The reality is that "most members of community interfaith groups do not espouse the kind of pluralism that deems all religions equal or essentially the same."
Nevertheless, "too often, interfaith enthusiasts dismiss the efforts of dogmatically committed people of (usually Christian) faith on the assumption that anyone who believes anything that strongly must be closed to the enriching possibilities of conversation with a religious other." Interfaith groups focus on good works and "it was perplexing to me & to see how little conversation about religion was to be heard in their gatherings." The real place of negotiation between and among diverse religious traditions may be in interfaith marriages and on the Internet.
In the end, "It is worth attending & to the lessons from these encounters as we plod through what is coming to feel like our interminable culture war. They are relatively simple: (1) Be quiet and listen. (2) Find a point of connection, but not too many -- allow the other to remain other. (3) Enter deeply into your own religious identity, with all its difficulties and ambiguities. (4) Don't just talk; find something to do."
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.