THE CHICAGO COALITION FOR INTERRELIGIOUS
Catholics, Jews, Muslims Working Together: Learning About Each Other, From
The Chicago Coalition for Interreligious
Learning (CCIRL) is a group of Chicago Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim
religious school educators, writers and book publishers, who came together
after 9/11/01, concerned that overt and covert teachings of hatred and
contempt, as well as negative, damaging stereotypes, could be found in
religious school classrooms. We studied and discussed our religious texts
and writings, found many substantive areas of agreement, and incorporated
them in our carefully deliberated Statement of Principles. We diligently
read children's religious textbooks, recommended badly needed strategies for
reform, and are now focused on teacher/administrator education that stresses
interreligious teaching, learning, understanding and respect, the very
foundations for building special interreligious relationships of trust.
We create interactive, interreligious
workshops and give presentations to religious school educators and
administrators designed to stimulate formation of interreligious thinking,
teaching models and practices. At the request of teachers, we are currently
developing a multimedia resource guide suitable to this new and heralded
interreligious approach to teaching and learning. For our students, we
encourage and support participation in dialogues, trilateral activities, and
other interreligious school and/or community learning projects.
We are contacting book publishers to tell
them about our project and professional educational expertise, and are asking
for submissions of books, films and other classroom resources suitable for
Coalition members to review and/or endorse. We plan to put the
bibliographical information and reviews up on the official CCIRL Resource
Guide database on our website (www.ccirl.org). In addition, we are
emphasizing the need for new, interreligiously sensitive children's books and
other educational materials to fill the extraordinary demand. In that regard,
our coalition partners have been working together to develop a series of
manuals for teachers to use as guides to interreligious education.
CCIRL will join together with Dominican
University to cosponsor a summer course, called "Tent of Abraham: Home of 3
Faith Traditions," designed primarily for Catholic, Jewish and Muslim
elementary and secondary religious school teachers. Students will be able to
apply for CEUs or academic credits from Dominican University's School of
Education. We hope to cosponsor other such opportunities as they arise.
Why pursue interreligious
learning? Isn't it
difficult enough to learn about our own faith?
We share one city and one world.
In Chicago we no longer think
of each other as outsiders, newly arrived from some far away country. We live
in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, pluralistic society in the United States
where individual and community freedoms, including the freedom of religion, are
honored and protected. Muslims, Jews and Christians are each other's
colleagues, classmates, neighbors, friends, and sometimes relatives.
We share common religious roots.
Followers of Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam, the three "Abrahamic faiths," trace their
spiritual roots to Abraham. We believe in one God though we worship and
call upon God in different ways and with different understandings.
We share similar ethical
and moral values, and some key religious practices.
We can grow in our own faith.
Learning about each other's
traditions encourages each of us to learn more about, and deepen our own faith.
We are encouraged by our religious traditions to learn about
and to respect others.
The Second Vatican Council
"The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these [other] religions.... The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through
dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out
with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they
recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as
the socio-cultural values found among these men."
(Nostra Aetate, #2)
In Judaism, the Torah teaches
us that every human being is created in the image of God (Bereshit/Genesis
1:27). This not only compels us to strive to be holy because God is holy
(Leviticus 19:2), but also that we recognize the Divine spark in each person.
Indeed in the Talmud, the Rabbis teach that any act of disrespect to another
human being is an act of disrespect towards God Himself (Genesis Rabbah, 24).
Judaism also teaches that the righteous of all nations have a share in the world
to come so that we must be tolerant, understanding and informed as to the
various ways righteousness may be achieved.
In Islam the acceptance of
human diversity, is stressed in the Qur'anic verse:
"Had God so willed He could have made you (Mankind) as one community, but
that He may try you He made you as you are. So vie with one another in
good works. To God you will all return and then He will inform you of that in which you differed. “(5:
We want to build a better community.
We want Chicago to be a
community that reflects our shared belief: every human being must be
treated with respect because human life is sacred and of inestimable worth.
Given the prejudices and divisions which exist amongst us, here and in
the world, the task of building such a community is of the utmost importance.
The post 9/11 environment has produced an urgency to reach out to one another.
Our American context provides us with a unique opportunity to do this.
What is interreligious learning?
We learn about each other in
many different ways. Interreligious learning happens when we study another religion -- take a
class in Christianity or Judaism or Islam - taught by a member of that religion
or by an "expert,” often someone from our own religion.
Interreligious learning also happens,
sometimes without realizing it, when we study our own religion, history or
current events; however, this learning may not always be positive or without prejudice.
There are four dynamics to
interreligious learning: 1) we learn to respect and understand our own religion;
2) we learn to respect and understand another’s religion; 3) we encourage
members of our own religion to better respect and understand another’s religion;
and 4) we encourage members of another religion to better respect and understand
our religion. These distinctions will influence both the content of materials
and the method of teaching.
The interreligious learning we
propose is a unique kind of learning. Religion involves the whole being: the
head, the heart, and the spirit. It establishes relationships for both the
individual and the community. Therefore we believe that learning about members
of another faith requires openness and respect. In order to begin to know each
other as we truly are, we will invariably need to unlearn misinformation about
each other. It takes time and care for us to discern the values in another
tradition and to learn how to present our own faith authentically, without
polemics, and with sensitivity to the understandings of one another.