Interfaith, Interreligious, Pluralism, Dialogue, Etc.
Mitch Hanley, senior producer
We often struggle with crafting interesting or catchy titles for each new program. Sometimes we latch on to something one of our guests said in the interview, as was the case with our recent program, which may win the dubious honor of having the longest title: Curiosity Over Assumptions, Interreligiosity Meets a New Generation.
But, please do know that it was not without much debate and extensive brainstorming among our entire staff to try to arrive at a title for the work of Aziza Hasan and Malka Haya Fenyvesi. With humility, I share some of the runners-up:
- Reimagining Interfaith (blah)
- Jewish-Muslim Relationship: The Next Generation (starring Patrick Stewart!)
- Us & Them - Engaging the Other in Jewish/Muslim Conversation (blah)
- The Next Generation of Interreligious (still a bit Trekky)
The struggle had to do with our attempts to avoid the words “interfaith,” “dialogue,” and “pluralism,” which we felt do not sufficiently carry the meaning and real importance of the work that many are doing around the world. We also didn’t want to invoke images of intergalactic pluralism (still a far off dream, I’m afraid).
Krista even brought up the shortcomings of these terms in the interview. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
Ms. Tippett: I feel that the word “interfaith” or the adjective “interfaith,” even like the word “pluralism,” these words themselves are kind of safe and benign and maybe even boring. When, in fact, when people really have their hands and lives dug into this stuff, as you do, it’s anything but. I mean, it’s very dramatic. It’s galvanizing. It’s changing human life. Do you think about that, that problem of the words themselves getting in the way of communicating to the larger society, what the power of this is?
Ms. Hasan: Absolutely, and I’m glad you brought that up because, when we first started the program, that’s how I would describe it. I would say, you know, this is an interfaith dialog group, and it just wasn’t deep enough. I mean like I’ve been there, done that. I don’t need to do hugs and hummus. If anything, I want to be part of something that’s real, and so to be able to finally like understand the complexity beneath the surface and the importance of having honest conversations that deal with issues like identity and diversity of opinion and gender and so many other things.
Ms. Fenyvesi: I also think a lot about what one of our Fellows who’s actually a Rabbinical student right now said to me. He said, “I really feel like NewGround is about what it means to be Muslim and Jewish in America today.” So that’s not as short as pluralism or interfaith, but I think there’s something about it that really covers what we do.
So what do you think? What words really capture the importance and essence of this work? Or do the existing defaults — e.g. interfaith, pluralism, dialogue — work just fine?
Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Sarah + Joanna
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
» download (mp3, 5:17)
Sarah Kelman and Joanna Schochet are friends who are half-Jewish on their fathers’ sides. “We’re both halfies,” they say. “By the book I don’t count,” says Joanna.
When Joanna says she doesn’t count, she’s referring to the principle of matrilineal descent in Judaism where Jewishness is passed down through the mother. Not all denominations in Judaism observe this law, but it’s still a very real issue that Sarah and Joanna seem to have wrestled with throughout their lives.
In our latest show, “Curiosity Over Assumptions,” Krista explores the notion that interfaith engagement isn’t just about encountering “the other.” Along the way, people may come to know themselves and their faith traditions differently.
Earlier this year Sarah and Joanna interviewed each other about their experiences as NewGround fellows. Listening to the conversation, I’m struck by how their Jewish identities are still evolving — and how they seem to find connection and comfort in each other stories. Joanna reflects on how her brother (who himself decided to formally convert) once told her that she didn’t “count” as Jewish. Sarah asks, “Do I consider myself Jewish and why and who is it good enough for…and what do I think about that?”
Tatarstan, A Model for Interfaith Dialogue
Trent Gilliss, online editor
The most unexpected connections are often made through the most unlikely sources. A couple of days ago, a friend of mine (whose name you might see in our photo credits from time to time) sent me an e-mail asking for advice on restaurants where he could entertain some diplomats from the republic of Tatarstan.
Now, Marc’s got a sly, subtle, playful humor. I immediately thought he was joking and made a play on words — Tatar, as in cream of tartar or steak tartare, and a dining establishment. But, I know that he also served in Turkmenistan as a Peace Corps volunteer and that the NGO he works for conducts a fair amount of business in that area of the world where most countries end in “stan.”
A quick search revealed that Tatarstan is an actual place, and part of the Russian Federation. My ignorance shining brightly, once again.
In the most delightful way, I also happened upon a number of reports detailing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Kazan, its capital. And, more serendipitously, an article from Radio Free Europe reported she said that “the Russian republic of Tatarstan could serve as a model for tolerance and coexistence between Muslims and Christians.”
Our current show, “Curiosity over Assumptions,” highlights the work of two women who are leading a Muslim-Jewish interfaith group in Los Angeles, and might serve as a new model for this type of dialogue within local communities. As we look domestically for people coming together with their religious identities intact, it’s helpful to be reminded that other countries in unimaginable areas have wrestled for centuries with these issues and have much to teach if we are only aware — and do a Google search.
Four Pairs of Interfaith Fellows: Malka + Aziza
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
» download (mp3, 5:32)
We’re in the final throes of polishing up our latest production, “Curiosity Over Assumptions: Interreligiosity Meets a New Generation” (yes, we know it’s a mouthful!). Featured in this show are two activists based in Los Angeles, Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan, whom Krista first encountered in 2007 at an Interfaith Youth Core conference. Together they co-direct an interfaith fellowship program in Los Angeles called NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.
As production for this show unfolded, we were searching for how to illuminate the lived experience and impact of interfaith programs like NewGround. We wanted to know: “What do these NewGround fellows actually do? What does it look like or sound like?”
The organization didn’t have any audio recordings of their bi-monthly dialogue sessions, so we initially considered interviewing a handful of alumni. Then we discovered four pairs of fellows had actually interviewed each other through StoryCorps, a traveling oral history project. To kick things off, here’s some tape of Malka and Aziza talking about their family histories and memories, and how these legacies speak to the activist work they’re doing in LA.
Earlier this year we used StoryCorps material in another show we produced, “Alzheimer’s, Memory, and Being.” This lovely audio gave the program emotional heft, and our audience noticed. As one listener wrote:
“This morning on the way to the dog park I was completely overwhelmed and moved listening to the two daughters interview their father. The interview was beautiful in its sadness and horrified me in its possible prediction of my relationship with my parents. I had to sit for a long while waiting to clear the tears before I could get out of my car.”
-Brian Coleman, Boca Raton, FL
As producers, we love getting e-mails like this because it tells us that the material we’re putting out there “sings.” Over the coming week, we’ll be featuring excerpts of some NewGround conversations on SOF Observed. Let us know what you think.
*Special thanks to StoryCorps, who recorded these stories in Los Angeles in 2009.
“Curiousity Over Assumptions”
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
Last Wednesday was our “cuts ‘n copy” session for Krista’s interview with Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan. Fenyvesi and Hasan are co-founders of NewGround, a project that reaches out to members of Jewish and Muslim communities and brings them together for dialogue and “doesn’t shy away from discussing the tough topics such as, identity, gender, pluralism and Israel/Palestine.” One phrase that grabbed me is when Fenyvesi explained that NewGround encourages “curiosity over assumptions” during its dialogue sessions.
It’s a common-sense idea: when going into a situation of existing conflict, one’s assumptions are likely to continue feeding that conflict. But curiosity — about other religious traditions, other ways of living, alternative ways of seeing the world — has the potential to span seemingly unbridgeable gaps.
One thing that seems to drive many of us at Speaking of Faith is a shared curiosity, which has taken the show to many unexpected places. Hearing Malka Haya Fenyvesi’s “curiosity over assumptions” was refreshing in its practical value — as a means of bringing people closer together.
Eat, Listen, Ask: Learning from Students
Aaron Spiegel, guest blogger
“Next to being the children of God our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other.”
We in the religion world use the word interfaith much too often. And in my opinion, most of what passes for interfaith dialogue is not dialogue at all — it’s a lecture about why I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s not that we’re all religious zealots, but most often the forum for these dialogues are set up to create division rather than civil discourse. Put simply, we’re much better at talking than listening.
I recently had a chance to experience real interfaith dialogue. Butler University students from Hillel, a Jewish student organization, and Muslim Student Alliance decided they wanted to organize a dinner and conversation around Eid and the High Holy Days. The two organizations have collaborated in the past couple years on similar events and have a great working and social relationship.
The students formulated the agenda, which was brilliantly simple — let’s each give the very basics of our holiday and then ask each other questions. Let’s eat together, listen to each other, and ask each other questions.
On the surface, the conversation seemed light and conversational. Yet, the exchange was profound. These young Jews and young Muslims genuinely shared with each other. There was no attempt at making nice; they genuinely liked talking to each other. There were no overt attempts at finding commonality; it was inherent. They recognized the humanity in one another. They learned about, and from, one another in ways that are lasting and powerful. I’m sure it will influence how these young adults see the “other” in their lives. I know it’s influenced mine!
Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is campus rabbi for Butler University.
La Convivencia and the West-Eastern Divan
» download [mp3, 2:57]
Marc Sanchez, associate producer
The audio above comes from one of our “Revealing Ramadan” participants, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, who appeared in our podcast and radio program. He’s an Iraqi-American who currently lives and teaches in Spain, and has lived in California (Los Angeles and Monterey) and Turkey. During his interview, he talked about one of the things that attracted him to Spain: La Convivencia. This idea, which translates as “the coexistence,” describes a cultural harmony between Muslims, Jews, and Christians and was first coined when Spain came under Muslim rule beginning in the 8th century. Al-Marashi goes on to talk about his Lebanese-Christian grandmother and his interests in shared Muslim-Jewish-Christian ideas.
Al-Marashi’s interview was fresh in my mind when I happened to catch an airing of the documentary, Knowledge Is the Beginning. The movie follows a season of the West-Eastern Divan, an orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.
The orchestra is made up of young Israelis and Arabs, and Barenboim’s hope is to show how music can bring people together. The idea for the group was born out of Barenboim’s friendship with Edward Said.
Barenboim was first raised in Buenos Aires, the son of Russian Jews, and he began studying piano and giving performances at an early age. His family relocated to Israel 10 years after Barenboim was born, and he was on the conductor’s track before his thirteenth birthday.
Said was born in Palestine before the founding of Israel. His family moved to Egypt after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He went on to study at Princeton and Harvard and to teach English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He was a prolific writer, and staunch advocate for Palestinian rights. He passed away in 2003.
In addition to his political writing and cultural criticism, Said was a passionate fan of classical music. So much so that he was the classical music critic for The Nation. It was through music that he and Barenboim first bonded. And, it was music that opened a dialogue to their differences. Said and Barenboim knew that coming together — just bringing your ideas to the table to talk — can open a lot of doors. From the orchestra’s Web site:
“Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East.”
(Top photo: Ibrahim Al-Marashi.
Middle photo: Edward Said, left, and Daniel Barenboim, right, chat during an awards ceremony in Oviedo, Spain in 2002. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images.
Bottom photo: The West-Eastern Divan rehearses at Royal Albert Hall in London for the BBC Proms in 2009. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
[Editor’s note: I was combing through a test blog for SOF that never made it into production. One of the entries I posted I regretted not publishing. The piece is timeless, so I thought I’d re-post for you design lovers.]
The design house of mike and maaike developed a wonderfully elegant and simple bookshelf for a curated series of bookshelves. Its title: “religion.” Niches for seven influential religious texts are carved out of a three-foot-long piece of hardwood and reverently cozied up to one another. Included are the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Qur’an, Confucius’ The Analects, the Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchell), The Discourses of the Buddha, and the Torah.
You can get one of these lovely pieces, but it’ll cost you. The price: $2500.