The Need for Discussing Religion in an Interfaith World
In a diverse society, debate is unavoidable. How do we discuss sensitive topics like religion openly, productively, and respectfully? There’s the old maxim of forbidden dinner table topics – right at the top, you’ll find religion and politics. But, if we never talk about religion, how do we learn to understand others? In today’s increasingly multicultural and multifaith world, understanding those who hold different beliefs from our own is more important than ever before.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2019, nearly half of Americans (46%) say that some, but not all, of their friends share their religious beliefs, and an additional 19% say hardly any or none of their friends do. That said, the report also shows that most Americans do not talk about religion with any regularity.
Why it’s important to discuss our religious beliefs
When we discuss our religious beliefs and the experiences that come with them, people become more understanding of each other’s perspectives, and may even learn that they relate to something that arises from a different faith than their own.
By opening our minds to the diverse views around us, we create a community that works toward the following goals:
- Building Cultural Competency
- Driving Empathic Mindsets
- Promoting Civil Discourse
Having discussions that are both productive and respectful
The most important part is to remember that it’s conversation, not criticism. Knowing that, we should keep a few things in mind:
- Be tactful. Introduce topics gently and gradually.
- Sense discomfort. Move on when topics feel heated.
- Make no assumptions. Explain yourself clearly.
- Discuss, don’t argue. Listen and learn.
- Ask the right questions. Be open to new perspectives.
- Stay calm. Be opinionated but keep it friendly.
As a pioneer in interfaith education, Hartford Seminary sees that having these discussions is vital to teaching students who will be the religious leaders of tomorrow. Through interfaith dialogue, our students become empathetic, understanding, and knowledgeable – and most importantly, capable of navigating complex and diverse perspectives. Through our MA in Interreligious Studies program, students study the lived reality of religion in an interfaith classroom. Our students graduate with a deeper understanding of their own faith while learning about others.