Interfaith Youth Core is a Chicago-based non-profit organization dedicated to interfaith cooperation and religious pluralism.
In a time when the fundamental causes of today’s most pressing conflicts are rooted in misunderstanding and intolerance, the discussion of religious pluralism is needed now more than ever. Although less known to public, an interfaith cooperation movement has been gaining momentum. A former member of President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, Eboo Patel, has been leading a national non-profit organization that stresses the importance of religious pluralism, an idea based on the coexistence and diversity of religious beliefs. His organization, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), seeks to make the idea of religious pluralism and interfaith cooperation more accessible to college students and beyond.
Although religious tolerance is often talked about in our conversations about diversity and social justice, many are less familiar with the term “religious pluralism”. Patel describes religious pluralism as “a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the wellbeing of each and all depends on the health of the whole.” Religious pluralism thus takes a stance stronger than tolerance, by seeking to create and encourage an environment in which different faiths come together to learn from each other – a way to remedy the lack of interactions and dialogue between different faith leaders and members. To put it simply, according to Patel, the practice of religious pluralism is “to see the other side, to defend other people, not despite your tradition, but because of it.”
Founded upon these core beliefs of cooperation between different faiths, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) began in Eboo Patel’s Oxford University dorm room in 2002. His organization’s model focused on two things that he believed was essential to religious pluralism: interfaith cooperation and interfaith leadership. Interfaith cooperation rises from the belief that by “fostering appreciative knowledge of other traditions, attitudes improve, knowledge increases, and more relationships occur.” A form of interfaith cooperation that IFYC engages in includes interfaith conferences that facilitate dialogue between different interfaith leaders and members. Another example of interfaith cooperation is IFYC’s “The Better Together Campaign,” in which students of different faiths work on a same service project together to provide an environment for understanding and cooperation under a common cause.
In particular, Patel has focused on bringing interfaith leadership to college campuses. He believes that the youth have the highest potential to create and lead interfaith movements. By reaching out to students and educating them about the importance of religious pluralism in a world where religious intolerance is at the center of conflict, Patel believes that the next generation will be a more pluralistic one with leaders that encourage interfaith cooperation. With firm belief in youth making a difference in the interfaith dialogue, IFYC currently works over five continents and over 200 college campuses today with a $4-million budget.
In one of his famous novels on religious pluralism, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Eboo Patel reveals the drive behind his work: “I realized that it was precisely because of America’s glaring imperfections that I should seek to participate in its progress, carve a place in its promise, and play a role in its possibility. And at its heart and at its best, America was about pluralism.”
The U.S. and the international community suffers from dialogues and policies that continue to marginalize people based on difference in values. However, organizations that promote religious pluralism are forces that can channel positive change in an era where intolerance often drives damaging policies. Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core serve as a reminder that there is a possibility of future based on cooperation and mutual respect.
To learn more about Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core, visit: https://www.ifyc.org/
1) Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation
2) All quotes are found at: Interfaith Youth Core Website