Interfaith Leadership: A Primer

patelWhat does it takes to Be an Interfaith Leader? Eboo Patel, founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core (at the White House, DC) has written one book on Interfaith Leadership. Below are excerpts from the opening and closing of the Introduction to Interfaith Leadership: A Primer, a new book from Eboo Patel being published by Beacon Press this August. Copyright by Eboo Patel.

This book has seven chapters, corresponding to the six categories that I think are essential for interfaith leadership: identity, theory (this category has two chapters), vision, knowledge base, skill set, and intangible qualities.


A youth leadership summit in Washington, DC, last year, sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Core – Photograph: Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.

Chapter 1, “The Identity of an Interfaith Leader,” explores how people can mine personal experience to create a narrative identity as an interfaith leader.

Chapters 2 and 3 are about the theory of interfaith. I break the term “interfaith” into its component parts, “inter” and “faith.” “Inter” is defined as the relationships between people who orient around religion differently. “Faith” is defined as the relationship between an individual and what we commonly understand as a religious or philosophical tradition (such as Christianity, Hinduism, or humanism). The term “interfaith,” therefore, has two profound implications: how do our relationships with those who are different affect our relationships with our religious or philosophical traditions, and how do relationships with our traditions affect how we interact with people who are different from us.

Chapter 4, “The Vision of Interfaith Leadership,” presents frameworks that flesh out what interfaith leaders hope their efforts will achieve.

Chapter 5 is on the knowledge base required for interfaith leadership.

Chapter 6 enumerates the skill set needed to be an effective interfaith leader.

Chapter 7 highlights the intangible qualities that separate truly exceptional interfaith leaders from merely good ones. The conclusion summarises the main themes of the book in the context of a concrete example.

calvinoInterfaith work is often referred to as bridge building. My favorite bridge is a literary one, from Italo Calvino’s beautiful book Invisible Cities. In one chapter, the traveller Marco Polo describes to the emperor Kublai Khan a particular bridge in his kingdom. The emperor grows impatient and asks Polo to get to the point. He wants to know about the stone that holds the bridge together.

The bridge is not held together by a stone, says Polo, it is held together by an arch.
So tell me about the arch, says the Emperor.
Without stones, retorts the traveller, there is no arch.

Polo’s bridge is the guiding metaphor for this book. As you read through, I hope you come to view yourself as a bridge builder (identity), develop an understanding of the complex landscape you are building on (theory), get a clear image of the destination you are building toward (vision), acquire the stones that are the main materials of the bridge (knowledge base), build the aptitude to connect the stones into an arch strong enough to hold a diverse community (skill set), and cultivate the intangibles that give people enough confidence in your leadership to risk the journey (qualities).

Interfaith Leadership: A Primer will be published by Beacon Books (USA) in August. You may read more and backorder this book here.





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