Current Synergies and Future Collaborations: Possibilities for Peace Studies and Interfaith Leadership
Eboo Patel, President and Founder of Interfaith Youth Core
Kristi Del Vecchio, Academic Initiatives Manager of Interfaith Youth Core
The academic field of Peace Studies continues to advance and evolve, and carries with it an inspiring foundation established by its pioneers. At its highest level, Peace Studies seeks to equip students with non-violent conflict resolution skills, tools for reconciliation and restorative justice, and an awareness of the mechanisms of social change, towards the end of actualizing a more equitable and just world. Methodologically, Peace Studies draws upon any number of disciplines to critically analyze these topics, including Sociology, Philosophy, Communications Studies, International Relations, Foreign Languages, History, Religious Studies, Political Science, and Economics. Given the field’s thoughtful, multidisciplinary, and skills-based approach, it is no surprise that more than four hundred Peace Studies programs have been developed across the globe at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
While an impressive foundation has been established, practitioners within Peace Studies have noted that the field would benefit from a greater consideration of religious and philosophical diversity. In a review of my most recent book, Interfaith Leadership: A Primer, Dr. Betty Reardon claims that religious diversity tends to be undertheorized and underdeveloped in Peace Studies courses. She writes,
Bridging divides in worldviews and values is an area to which insufficient attention has been paid, even by peace education…For all the hailing of culture of peace frameworks and goals, minimal space and time in our curricula is occupied by one of the most significant factors in any culture, fundamental religious and spiritual beliefs and foundational worldviews. In these days when so many political issues, severe social contention and interpersonal violence is articulated and acted out in the name of the basic and contending religious values that comprise a major divide in this society and the world, this gaping hole in peace curricula must be filled.
As Dr. Reardon notes – and as both history and the current news cycle remind us – interactions between people who orient around religion differently often implicate (or are perhaps inseparable from) issues of peace and justice. Our hope is that the theories and methodologies articulated in Interfaith Leadership will serve as one tool to help close the gap that Peace Studies scholars like Dr. Reardon articulate.
“Interfaith,” as defined in this book, refers to interactions between people who orient around religion differently. Interfaith leaders, then, not only concern themselves with the implications of these interactions, but wish to proactively and positively shape them. To do this successfully, we believe — similarly to Peace Studies, in this regard — that interfaith leaders must be equipped with a particular knowledge base and skill set. Interfaith leaders benefit from appreciative knowledge about different religious traditions or worldviews, and, with inspiration from their tradition or worldview, should be able to articulate their own theology or ethic of interfaith cooperation. Interfaith leaders should also have some working knowledge of the history of interfaith cooperation (in the U.S. and beyond), as well as an understanding of the shared values across traditions and worldviews that urge cooperation over conflict (hospitality, service, non-violence, etc.).
This knowledge base is then put into action through the specific skill set of an interfaith leader. In their personal and professional lives, interfaith leaders actively build relationships, host dialogues or conversations, mobilize, and lead projects or activities with groups of people who orient around religion differently. Interfaith leaders would work to develop a “radar screen” (i.e. elevated awareness) of when issues of religious diversity are at play, as well as a public narrative about the value and importance of interfaith cooperation within their own contexts and communities.
As an organization, Interfaith Youth Core – IFYC works to train hundreds of student interfaith leaders each year, and we are pleased to see them apply this knowledge base and skill set in a wide range of professional fields: Education, Public Policy, Law, Non-Profit Work, Business, Healthcare, and more. These efforts are further supported by hundreds of scholars across a diverse range of academic disciplines, who sense the relevance of interfaith training for their students and teach on this topic in the classroom. Some scholars are doing so under the auspices of the developing discipline or sub-field called Interreligious and Interfaith Studies, which continues to grow through academic programs such as majors, minors, and concentrations. Others simply wish to explore topics of religious and worldview diversity in the context of a more traditional discipline, which we believe furthers and strengthens the efforts of this field.
IFYC strives to be a partner and resource to scholars from a wide range of disciplines who are interested in interfaith cooperation and leadership. We hope to find new ways to partner with Peace Studies faculty and practitioners, who could in turn help us be more thoughtful about the relevance Peace Studies goals and methodologies — such as non-violent conflict resolution skills — for interfaith leaders. It is worth mentioning that more than half of the undergraduate institutions known for having Peace Studies programs also already offer courses that focus on interfaith topics. Indeed, exciting synergies already exist. As we look to the future of both fields, the time is ripe for further collaboration.
Related articles on the Global Campaign for Peace Education:
- Book review – “Interfaith leadership: a primer” by Eboo Patel
- 2016 El-Hibri Peace Education Prize Winner Eboo Patel
- A call to Address Identity-based Violence through Teach-ins at American* Universities
- As a Teacher and a Daughter: The Impact of Islamophobia
 Online Guide to Undergraduate Peace Studies Programs, accessible at: http://www.peacecolleges.com/category/undergraduate/.
 What is Peace Studies? Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, accessible at:
 Betty A. Reardon, “Book review – Interfaith Leadership: A Primer by Eboo Patel,” Global Campaign for Peace Education, accessible at http://www.peace-ed-campaign.org/book-review-interfaith-leadership-primer-eboo-patel/.
 “Interreligious and Interfaith Studies” is the name of an official group established through the American Academy of Religion. To date, we are aware of 11 minors, 4 certificates, 1 concentration, and 1 major in Interfaith/Interreligious Studies or Interfaith Leadership Studies at undergraduate institutions across the country. These numbers are likely to double in the coming year, as more than a dozen institutions are currently partnering with IFYC to create academic programs at the intersection of pre-professional fields (Business, Nursing, Education, etc.) and Interfaith/Interreligious Studies.
 More than half of the undergraduate institutions listed in the Online Guide to Undergraduate Peace Studies Programs (http://www.peacecolleges.com/category/undergraduate/) offer courses that explicitly focus on interfaith topics.