Emergence of the Interfaith Movement

Posted by Daniel Smith on February 16th, 2017

The last few decades have witnessed emerging interest in Interfaith. Religion existed as a critical part of human life as far back as pre-history but only in the recent times has there been an acceptance of Interfaith both as a religious tradition but also as means to create and sustain a dialogue among and between religions. The first Interfaith Seminary (New Seminary) was established in New York City by a Rabbi, a Methodist Minister, and a Catholic Priest in 1979. Founder Rabbi Gelman was particularly interested in creating an Interfaith community that welcomed individuals from all religions. His holocaust experiences taught him that a world that could embrace the concept of Interfaith would be less likely to engage in another holocaust. After that first Interfaith Seminary began, others soon followed in the various other places in the United States and eventually around the world.  

Within thirty years, “Interfaith” became more than a simple occasional gathering of various elements of the Christian faith. Slowly, it began to welcome other faith traditions into the council such as Judaism, Islam, and Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. The Parliament of World’s Religions was convened in 1893 but there would not be another one until 1993. The first parliament invited Eastern religious leaders to address the participants but it was not until the revival of the gathering in the late 20th century that they identified themselves as an interfaith organization that looked beyond just recognizing the existence of other traditions. They evolved to embrace understanding and appreciation of all the world’s religions. The current Parliament of World’s Religions’ website says, “The 1893 Parliament marked the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.”

Today, people are becoming aware that many interfaith seminary programs exist, while they are not yet accepted as part of traditional university religious studies programs. Interfaith is growing because there is a deeply felt need in the world for an approach to spiritual development that is not wed to a particular faith tradition. Increasingly, more people wish to understand God in the context of many if not all faith traditions. Today, most Interfaith Ministers maintain their religious loyalty to the faith they were born and raised but they also embrace almost all faith traditions in their deepest understanding of what is interfaith. To them, there are many paths to the oneness of God even if they prefer to walk one path more than the others. A growing number of Interfaith Ministers see the common spiritual wisdom that exists in almost all religions and see their ministry as focusing on what the religions have in common rather than their differences. Regardless, of the approach taken these ministers are responding to the clear expressed need of the population for tolerance, accepting, and celebration of faith across traditional lines.

Interfaith seminary programs train their students to be accepting and knowledgeable about the world’s religions. They teach a strong foundation for the acceptance of religions and their related cultural literacy in the world. Interfaith is clearly more spiritually oriented than many other faith traditions as they teach their students to offer spiritual support and services to people and communities that feel the need to go beyond traditional religious structures and rituals.     

Interfaith explores the common spiritual wisdom that extends beyond religious education, dialogue, understandings of various religious narratives of God, and even social justice issues to emphasize exploration of the neglected spiritual wisdom of most of the world’s religion. Interfaith seminary programs, at the most basic level, promote exploration of mankind’s diverse search for the divine and directs others towards an appreciation of the common aspects of all religions. Most of the interfaith seminary programs include these important elements:

Religious education focused on experiential and conceptual understanding of spiritual wisdom,
The functional importance of ministry in a person’s life
Cultivating a growing human consciousness
Creation of communities to support spiritual wisdom growth
Supporting a deeper understanding of universal spirituality and religious cultural competency
Encouraging individual, historical, and religious growth as a development and an evolution

Cultures and individuals develop their consciousness at different speeds and achieve different level of consciousness. Thus, there will always be a need for interfaith ministers to encourage and foster greater growth of more advanced levels of consciousness. This world needs more caring of others, understanding as to what is spirituality and its significance in having a better world, and an attitude the service to humanity is important in the ultimate creation of a more just, hopeful, peaceful, and sustainable world order. Clearly, Interfaith is one important means toward a universal heightened positive world consciousness.  

Author’s Bio: Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Lynch is President of the International Academy for Interfaith Studies. For more information about him and the Academy, go to www.interfaithacademy.org.  

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Daniel Smith

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Daniel Smith
Joined: January 13th, 2017
Articles Posted: 5

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