A Christian, a Jew, and a Woman Walk Into a Bar: Exploring the Nonreligious Elements of Interfaith Work
McCormack, Mark Merritt
As conflicts surrounding the global Muslim community and other religious divisions continue to capture the attention of the media and public audiences, scholars and community practitioners increasingly extol the benefits of interfaith dialogue and action for developing interfaith peace. Yet very little research has been done to understand and evaluate the successes and challenges of this work. As outlined in the Introduction, much remains to be done to examine the challenges in interfaith work, particularly that it is made all the more difficult by the reality that interfaith participants are comprised of much more than just religious identities. Race, ethnicity, gender, personal social networks – these factors and others serve to further complicate the ability of persons to effectively come together in relationship. I examine these challenges in three papers through analyses of interview and survey data collected from interfaith organization participants, as well as interview and focus group data collected from research team members, ourselves an “interfaith” group. Building from Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory, in Chapter II, I examine the ways in which a number of ecological factors influence the practice of research, broadening typically narrow views of researcher subjectivity to be more fully ecological. In Chapter III, I show how attention to a nonreligious identity such as gender may help us to better understand individuals’ experiences in interfaith spaces. In Chapter IV, I examine the mesosystemic factors impinging on the interfaith organizations that serve to both support and hinder the individual person’s participation in interfaith work. In the concluding chapter, I propose some future directions and recommendations for interfaith work. These analyses make important contributions to the extant interfaith and social–psychological literatures as well as to the work of interfaith practitioners and organizations seeking to make their work more adaptive and responsive to the needs of the particular persons and local contexts they serve.