Project Rousseau Interfaith Studies: Working to unite different religions

A Peacemaking Project by Alistair S.

What is the injustice we are solving?

Through this program we hope to educate our peers about our religions and the cultural traditions associated with them, to address the issue of intolerance between religious communities. We will lead visits to the Jewish Museum and other religiously significant sites as well as make presentations on the current state of our religions in the United States. We hope that by sharing information about our religions we promote equality and create a mutual understanding within our larger community.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of religious discord
we will address lack of communication between faith groups
by educating our peers about religions faiths and traditions and providing a space for dialogue between different faiths.

Our Project Plan:

Goals

  • To help reduce stigma and prejudice about religions which are not our own, through monthly discussion and reflection on our religious attitudes.
  • To provide meaningful information and materials to our peers about world religions, through workshops and trips to places of religious significance.

We will increase my / our compassion by...

By listening to religious leaders from different faith backgrounds, we will be sure to increase our knowledge and understanding of other religions by asking questions and listening carefully to their expert opinions. In our attempts to gain greater knowledge and understanding we will use every opportunity to dispel the misconceptions we hold about others and their faith, in order to engage in productive dialogue with them.

How will you show courage?

We will actively seek out others' perspectives in order to put ourselves in their shoes. In doing so, we will do our best to understand their faith from their perspective, in order to understand why the rituals they practice and the texts they read form such an important part of their lives. We will also show courage by sharing our own views and by being open about often tricky and personal subjects, in order to educate others about our own religious and spiritual beliefs.

How will you collaborate with others?

We will begin by reading and learning about others' experiences engaging in interfaith dialogue, including reading about the experiences of students at Sinai Akiba Academy and the New Horizon School (http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/inspiring-student-voices-reflect-on-an-interfaith-exchange). We will work closely with leaders from places of religious worship and cultural significance. By contacting them, we will ensure that our discussions about religion are as meaningful and in-depth as possible, including through visits each semester to sites of religious and cultural significance. We will work with our peers to read and understand religious texts, and use our knowledge to inform group discussions.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

We will encourage frequent reflection and consideration of the issues raised in each session, gathering student testimonies about their changing attitudes to other religious practices. We will listen carefully to what those involved in the discussions say, in particular to what they emphasize and focus on when discussing other religions. Are they able to approach the topics maturely, without blaming other religions for the world's problems, and instead seeing these conflicts from a different point of view? We aim to help people think about making compromises with those from other religious backgrounds, and to discuss issues in a solutions-focused way.

Key Steps

  • To organize preliminary talks from experts within each religious fields
  • Encourage and facilitate personal research and reflection in advance of trips / discussion groups
  • Arrange to speak with lay people who practice each religion, giving them an opportunity to share their struggles and everyday experiences
  • Contact religious institutions and museums to organize 2 trips each semester
  • Learn about religious holidays and festivals to emphasize the importance of cultural ties to religions alongside the spiritual
  • Establish rules for discussions about sensitive topics which are agreed upon by the group

Reflection:

How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

The more you discuss issues of religious discord, the clearer the issue of misunderstanding between religious groups becomes. Most often misunderstandings are based on misconceptions.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

We all learned a great deal from being exposed to different religious practices, and were able to draw closer to one another as a result. This is particularly important for those who not regularly have the opportunity to discuss religious issues directly. This was particularly clear when we shared the experience of attending the Jewish Museum in a multi-faith grouped and learned more about Jewish traditions.

How many people were impacted by your project?

20

Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

2 student leaders have worked with 18 high school students so far.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

Experiencing discrimination on the grounds of religion, or in some way being involved with a religious dispute, can be a very demoralizing experience. This was clear when people shared their experiences of religious discrimination.

What did your team learn?

We learned that, in a way, we are all affected by the injustice of religious discord. It is impossible for the world to live in harmony when there is such disconnect and misunderstanding between religions.

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

We have worked with the staff at religious organizations such as the Jewish Museum in order to plan interesting and enlightening experiences which help people to understand other religions better. We have also worked with Project Rousseau staff to plan and chaperon our events.

What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?

In this project, we have found compassionate listening to be a more helpful tool than one can possibly imagine. It is a must for all projects dealing with sensitive issues.

Comments:

Amani A.
6 June 2018 13:01

Dear Alistair,

Congratulations to you and your team on finishing your peacemaking project, well done!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your work during the project implementation and what you have learned so far! I am on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for your amazing work and for taking time to share your work.

I would like to provide you with some feedback based on your Reflection, which we hope will help you to celebrate your incredible accomplishment and reflect on how to grow and develop your project in the future:
You have done a great work starting the conversation between the different religious groups! It's an important step towards creating a mutual understanding and promoting a culture of peace. I think in this type of issues, it's important to be willing to hear the different perspective in order to initiate a lasting dialogue. Well done!
"The more you discuss issues of religious discord, the clearer the issue of misunderstanding between religious groups becomes. Most often misunderstandings are based on misconceptions." I really appreciate the conclusion that you reach to after implementing the project and I was wondering and eager to know about the kind of misunderstanding between these groups that you have discovered in this project. As you might think about the next step of your project, it might be helpful to think of how to run ongoing dialogue workshops between the different religious groups in order to last the impact of the project. Also, it would be great to find a way to document the impact.
Would you be able to share some insights or feedback from the religious groups about these dialogue sessions? We would love to learn more and get a better sense of the impact of the project!

We hope you will stay in touch and keep us up to date as you continue your work to create change!

Amani
 

Dalton B.
5 April 2018 11:15

Hi Alistair! Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant. We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below

STRENGTHS:
I love how thoughtful your entire approach to this project is! Your intentions to engage with a diverse set of people - students, educators, experts, community members, etc. - is a powerful collaborative approach.

I also love the diversity of activity you want to provide - from discussions to trips to lectures! You're doing a great job of ensuring people of many learning styles will get something out of your project!

THINGS TO CONSIDER:
I think it'll be really helpful to set some real standards and methods of tracking your impact. Right now, your reliance on frequent reflection is awesome, but may not capture some important impact learnings! I'd suggest looking into pre- and post surveys or some other analytical approach (on top of the reflections!)

I want to hear more about how these discussions will look! I love the idea, but I'm not very clear on how these will really look in practice - what are the questions you're asking? How will you facilitate healthy discussion? The more you can expand and plan that area of the project, the more effective you'll be!

Congratulations and best of luck with your project!  

Kelsey T.
26 March 2018 20:06

Hi Team! We're excited to hear more about your ideas to bring together people of different faith backgrounds! I wanted to remind you about the upcoming mini-grant deadline -- if you are interested in getting some funding for materials that you need to carry out your project, you can apply for a mini-grant of up to $250.

The deadline to submit your Project Plan and Mini-Grant Application is March 31st if you want to remain eligible to apply to attend a Peace First Accelerator.

As you craft your plan, be sure to consider the feedback we gave you on your compassionate insight, and check out our project planning tools for help turning your insight into a concrete action plan: https://www.peacefirst.org/plan-your-project

Then, through your dashboard you can make any changes you want to make to your "compassionate insight," record your plan in "Make a plan" and then "Apply for a mini-grant" for the materials you need.

Let us know if you have questions. We're looking forward to supporting your project!
 

Kelsey T.
13 March 2018 15:23

Hi Alistair and Team! Thanks for sharing your project -- I'm here to give you some formal feedback on your compassionate insight. We provide insight feedback to help teams further strengthen their ideas to come up with the best possible solution as they head into the plan phase.

I think it is fantastic that you want to promote understanding across lines of difference and help people from different faiths build relationships with one another. That is such important work! Your insight makes sense -- a lack of communication and knowledge about different faith traditions is definitely a contributing factor. I'm curious to hear more about how you intend to educate your peers about different religious faiths and traditions -- will you be able to work with a group of people from different faiths who can share about their own backgrounds? Since you've mentioned "lack of communication" as the root cause but also "educating" as your solution, I'm curious if you are seeing your project as about informing people about faith traditions (to counter false information or misunderstandings) or about providing space for dialogue and relationship building between people of different faiths? Or both? I think there is space for both directions in this work, but will be important for you to know what exactly you are trying to achieve as you create your plan.

One question I have is whether "religious discord" is the best way to articulate the injustice you are trying to address. Could you share a bit more about what you mean by religious discord? I wonder if what you are identifying as religious discord might be the symptoms of a deeper injustice -- which I might consider "intolerance toward religious diversity" or something else along those lines. I think altering the "religious discord" language or providing a bit more information would help people understand better. I also think it is important to remember that conflict is inevitable for us as humans -- but finding ways to engage conflict constructively instead of destructively (as you are doing!) is critical!

I wanted to share some resources and stories about dialogue across difference that might help or inspire you... Keep up the good work!

http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/inspiring-student-voices-reflect-on-an-interfaith-exchange

https://www.ted.com/talks/nabila_alibhai_why_people_of_different_faiths_are_painting_their_houses_of_worship_yellow?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2017-09-30&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=talk_of_the_week_image

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/this-thanksgiving-pass-the-stuffing-mdash-and-dont-pass-on-the-discussion-of-social-issues/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sa-editorial-social&utm_content&utm_term=policy_blog_

Essential Partners is an organization with a ton of free (in depth) resources on dialogue building (you'll need to create an account to access them):
https://whatisessential.org/resource/hybrid-model?destination=node/430
https://whatisessential.org/resource/dialogue-virtual-workshop

https://whatisessential.org/resource/fostering-dialogue-across-divides-nuts-and-bolts-guide-essential-partners  

Fish S.
6 March 2018 11:02

Hi team! Thank you so much for sharing this project. The work you're doing to reduce stereotypes and bring folks together across lines of difference is so important. Way to go!

Someone will be along to give formal feedback on your insight soon, but I wanted to share the work of another group of young people -- called the Peace-Builders -- who worked on convening interfaith conversations in Columbus, OH to solve exactly this problem. Sounds like you have a lot in common! I hope their story inspires you and gives you some ideas for where to go next.
https://www.peacefirst.org/stories/good-starts-young-peace-builders
https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/peace-builders-uniting-us

I just have one question: Is there any way I can help?