Monday, October 22, 2012

Training the Next Generation of Interfaith Leaders: An Interview with Eboo Patel

By Kip Richardson
Originally posted 10/22/12 at Religion & Politics

Even over the phone, Eboo Patel projects a youthful energy. This may come from his many hours spent talking to college students at universities around the country. As the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), an organization that seeks to engage college students of different faith traditions in community and global service projects, Patel brings an enthusiastic and entrepreneurial style to the frequently academic world of interfaith dialogue. Moreover, he is not content with merely theorizing about how to cooperate across religious lines. He wants American college students to actually do this work, and he expects results.

Born in India to an Ismaili Muslim family and raised in the suburbs of Chicago where Christians and Jews far outnumbered Muslims, Patel has lots of experience negotiating the challenges of communicating across racial, cultural, and religious lines. In his first book, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (2007), Patel described how he came to interfaith work after years of learning to appreciate the richness of his own Indian Muslim heritage, as well as the diverse religious cultures of his adopted country. As he became involved in the interfaith movement, he grew dissatisfied with the amount of time and resources most interfaith leaders spent writing position papers and posing for pictures. “Where was the concrete commitment to social action,” he wrote in Acts of Faith. “And where were the young people?” While pursuing a doctorate in the sociology of religion as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Patel put his convictions and ideas into practice, officially launching IFYC in 2002. A decade later, he has become one of the leading figures in the interfaith movement. In 2009, he was named to President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships. He also serves on the National Advisory Board of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.

His most recent book, Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, examines the long history of religious prejudice in the United States, and the ongoing challenges such prejudice poses to contemporary interfaith leaders.

Click here to read the full interview.