Skip to content

How interfaith activism could change the world

The col­lege campus is the quin­tes­sen­tial set­ting for pro­moting reli­gious tol­er­ance and nur­turing inter­faith leaders, said Eboo Patel, Northeastern’s inau­gural inter­faith lead­er­ship fellow.

“Higher edu­ca­tion is the place where America throws its hardest prob­lems,” he explained in an hour­long lec­ture on Monday evening in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room. “If our col­lege cam­puses aren’t nur­turing a crit­ical mass of interfaith leaders, we simply for­feit the ter­ri­tory to people who would deal with it in an ugly and neg­a­tive way.”

Patel’s address, “Inter­faith Lead­er­ship in a Time of Global Reli­gious Con­flict,” kicked off the university’s cel­e­bra­tion of World Inter­faith Har­mony Week, a U.N. res­o­lu­tion aimed at pro­moting coop­er­a­tion and under­standing. It was co-​​sponsored by the Center for Spir­i­tu­ality, Dia­logue, and Ser­vice; the Office for Stu­dent Affairs; the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties; and the North­eastern Human­i­ties Center.

In his lec­ture, Patel focused on inter­faith activism on the col­lege campus. He praised Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to diver­sity and inclu­sion, saying, “the uni­ver­sity is a place where inter­faith lead­er­ship is flour­ishing,” and later chal­lenged the campus com­mu­nity to help trans­form the wide­spread belief that “vio­lence and con­flict is written into the DNA of world traditions.”

Named by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, Patel is the founder and pres­i­dent of Inter­faith Youth Core, a Chicago-​​based orga­ni­za­tion that seeks to build the inter­faith move­ment on col­lege cam­puses. He served on Pres­i­dent Obama’s inau­gural Advi­sory Council on Faith-​​based and Neigh­bor­hood Part­ner­ships and holds a doc­torate in the soci­ology of reli­gion from Oxford Uni­ver­sity, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.

In short, his body of work exem­pli­fies his com­mit­ment to building a cul­ture of inclu­sion, mutual respect, and under­standing across reli­gious traditions.

“Eboo is an expert on inter­faith part­ner­ship, an agent for pos­i­tive change in a dif­fi­cult world,” said Lori Lefkovitz, the Rud­erman Pro­fessor and director of the Jewish Studies pro­gram, who offered opening reflec­tions on the study of religion. “He’s a friend, an inspi­ra­tion, and a brother in this work,” added Alexander Lev­ering Kern, the exec­u­tive director of the CSDS.

Patel’s solu­tion to over­coming the fac­tious nature of reli­gion in the U.S.—the world’s most reli­gious indus­tri­al­ized nation—is to foster mean­ingful inter­faith part­ner­ships. “Do not define diver­sity as eating inter­esting ethnic foods alongside people you agree with,” he said. “Define diver­sity as working along­side people with whom you have pro­found dis­agree­ments on fun­da­mental matters.”

In the Q-​​and-​​A, Patel fielded ques­tions from a sec­ular humanist, a spir­i­tual adviser at North­eastern, and the pres­i­dent of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island. The spir­i­tual adviser asked him for advice on expanding her inter­faith literacy.

“If I could inject one piece of inter­faith lit­eracy into everyone on the planet, it would be to find some­thing you admire about the tra­di­tions you dis­agree with,” Patel told her. “It could be some­thing about how they run their com­mu­nity or about the insti­tu­tions they build to serve the world.”

In addi­tion to his lec­ture, Patel’s two-​​day fel­low­ship included a Tuesday after­noon meeting with a score of stu­dent leaders, some of whom par­tic­i­pated in activ­i­ties at the IFYC Inter­faith Lead­er­ship Insti­tute last year.

One such stu­dent is Afif Rahman, S’14, co-​​president of Northeastern’s Islamic Society and member of the university’s Inter­faith Lead­er­ship Council. Tuesday’s meeting with Patel, he said, focused on the IFYC’s model for enhancing interfaith coop­er­a­tion, and has helped reshape the council’s imme­diate goals.

“I think it’s time to push our­selves fur­ther and see what other socially con­scious ini­tia­tives we could create for both North­eastern and the com­mu­nity,” Rahman said. “If we are aware of the role inter­faith coop­er­a­tion plays in solving religious con­flicts around the world, it will increase our urgency to come up with more programs.”

– By Jason Kornwitz

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish