This Sunday is World Religions Day, a day started by the American Bahá’í community in 1950 but now celebrated in many places across the globe. To mark the day I will be speaking (virtually of course) at two events in Ontario (here and here).
I appreciate the chance to talk to these groups and that these and other organizations, (and readers of this blog!) are meeting this topic head on. Almost daily now, Encounter fields calls and emails asking for help in learning more about religions and in starting conversations that we don’t know how to have. The answer is both daunting and relatively straight forward: we need to learn more about one another. One place to start is simply to broaden our religious literacy, to help us gain knowledge and background that will give us more comfort and confidence talking about this important topic. To that end, I thought I would offer five things you can do to expand your religious literacy:
1) Dig into a book on religions. There are many options. Do you want great insight and information? There’s no better text than Stephen Prothero’s God is Not One. Do you want biography? Try Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here or Jagmeet Singh’s Love and Courage. If you prefer a novel, try Geraldine Brook’s The People of the Book or Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer-winning Gilead. For a children’s book, consider the true story of a 100 year old marathoner written by Simran Jeet Singh in Fauja Singh Keeps Going.
Gilead is a meditation masquerading as a book. It’s the idea of grace manifested in book form in a way that left me quiet, warmed, and humbled.
2) Watch a video on religions. ReligionForBreakfast is a great YouTube source of really good information, packed into short 20 minute videos.
3) Remember that religious communities are internally diverse. Each religious community contains multitudes, as with any large community. I interviewed a gay Muslim this past week and know other Muslims who would consider gay relationships out of bounds. Same with Jews or Hindus. Religions are organic – they change, grow, and house disagreements and arguments like a large, unruly family. Thinking of communities this way insulates us against what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the Danger of a Single Story. Anytime we think group X is like this, we end up stereotyping people, denying them their individuality, and closing ourselves off to learning about the diverse ways identities are lived.
This is the best single volume on religions I’ve ever seen. Chapters are standalone. You can just read the Judaism chapter and months later, check out Hinduism. Insightful and good reading.
4) Consider starting a conversation with someone about their religion. If you are unsure how to proceed, start honestly and gently so no one feels forced. You can simply express curiosity and ask if it would be okay to ask a few questions. This opens the door a little and allows them to take the next step. When people know you come from a place of respect, the truth is most of us like to tell our story. These kind of conversations move us past the weather and create more authentic connections with people. And your conversation partner feels seen for who they are and not just the IT person fixing your PC or a neighbour to whom you’re being polite.
5) Read this blog! We cover a lot of ground here with the hope readers will find some useful nuggets to help them become more conversant about religion, to see its nuances, and to learn about diverse traditions. Some of our most popular articles include why to retire the word Judeo-Christian, the importance of beauty, and one on the Zoroastrians, a small community you may not have heard of and yet which has heavily influenced the world you live in.
Religions shape history, our world, our politics, your neighbours and colleagues, and maybe you. So why not learn more? It’s a good way to learn about your fellow human beings and create the basis for greater connections. Happy world religions day!
Copyright: Courtesy of Alin Andersen on Unsplash