About Us


Catholics, Jews, Muslims Working Together: Learning About Each Other, From Each Other

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 reminds Catholics:

"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: 48)

 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.

The Chicago Coalition for InterReligious Learning affirms:

  • Interreligious learning is neither proselytism nor syncretism.  We approach one another in a spirit of respectful inquiry.  We are neither attempting to “convert” each other to our religion nor saying that there is not difference among us.

  • Interreligious learning will transform the relationships among us as we come to understand our neighbors' religious beliefs and outlooks.  At the same time, we will remain authentically true to the vital core of our own religious tradition, maintaining our religious integrity.

  • "Self-identification" is essential in interreligious learning. Each of us must respect the wish of others to define themselves, their beliefs, and their values in their own terms. While one group can describe another, only a member can express the meaning of a faith tradition on its own terms.

  • Sometimes we have defined ourselves over and against each other. This often leads to denigrating another's beliefs or practices. In interreligious learning we seek positive, authentic definitions of ourselves and of others.  We also strive to identify, and eliminate stereotypes of ourselves and of others.  We must always be careful when presenting the faith traditions of others to provide appropriate historical and religious context.


What are our educational objectives?

We want teachers to:

  • present all religious traditions in a respectful manner.

  • be secure in their own identities and well grounded in knowledge of their own religion.

  • be able to discuss religious differences with respect and appreciation for the faith commitment of the believers in another religious community, avoiding efforts to define others in categories and terms reflecting the teacher’s own beliefs.

  • be able to "translate” the terms of their religion into language that is understandable to members of another religion.

  • be aware of unexamined assumptions about the believers in other religious communities and be willing to discard false assumptions.

  •  be open to dialogue.

  • strive to secure resource people who practice the religious tradition being taught.

 We want students to: 

  • learn that God is the God of all peoples.

  • believe that each one is created and loved by God and has his/her own dignity as a human person before the Creator.

  • understand that the One God is known by many names that represent different religious traditions; each name is deeply honored by those who pronounce it.

  •  seek to eliminate all forms of religious prejudice in their thoughts, language and demeanor.

  • participate in interreligious conversation to deepen understanding and respect for other religious traditions.

  • build relationships based on mutual understanding, civility and trust.

  • promote peace and tolerance as an outcome of religious practice.

  • appreciate the honored place that Catholics, Muslims and Jews give the texts that they regard as sacred scriptures.

  • understand that appreciation for all that is good, holy and true enhances one’s own spiritual well-being.

 We suggest resources that:

  • are dedicated to all those who believe in God and do good to others without any distinction.

  • are developed with care that all representations of the believers and teachings of other traditions are sensitive, objective, factual and balanced.

  • are prepared by publishers who seek collaborative input from those of other faiths when the materials deal with those other faiths.

  • clearly teach that 1) attitudes of hatred and contempt are held by many people whom students may meet, 2) such attitudes are clearly forbidden by Jewish, Catholic and Islamic teachings and 3) fidelity to the One God calls every person to resist such attitudes.

  • support the efforts of publishers to develop innovative tools with which to supplement classroom textbooks and teachers' manuals.

  • introduce interreligious subjects in creative, age-appropriate ways.

  • portray persons of other faith traditions as present in civil and cultural life, as they do in the worlds which our children inhabit.

  • point to similarities among various faith traditions without losing sight of the uniqueness of those traditions, and without studying them only in comparison to one's own tradition

  • avoid art or commentary that directly or indirectly reinforces negative stereotypes.

  • present the diversity of a tradition and avoid identifying an entire faith tradition with a particular person, movement or religious community who holds that faith. 

  • offer pictures and text that suggest appropriate ways to understand and talk about persons of other faith traditions.