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KAMPALA, Uganda Ñ (Jun 2, 2011) Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Chaplain and Religious Affairs Director (U.S. Navy Captain) Jon Cutler tours the Kampala Gaddafi Mosque with a member of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

As befits the end of a seven-year cycle, this is a kind of “sabbatical” issue. Six scholars in the field of interreligious studies each respond to one of our previously published articles, using their response to reflect not only on the specific issues in that article but on the issues it raises for the field as a whole. A seventh piece captures a conversation among the members of the Journal’s leadership team about the evolution and mission of the Journal itself.

A brief introduction to Issue 18 by Sue Fendrick, Editor-in-Chief of the JIRS.

Interreligious peacebuilding (IRPB) practitioners operate within the wider context of peace and conflict resolution, applying processes such as dialogue, peace education, conflict resolution, and reconciliation.  As an emerging field, several lessons have arisen within IRPB highlighting how it can improve its effectiveness. Interfaith efforts in Israel/Palestine reflect several of these lessons. One main lesson is discussed in this essay: The need for careful examination of the macro setting and questioning of the power dynamics, taking into account the goals of harmonization versus liberation, is crucial. In addition, the value of interreligious intervention as a tool to contribute to the humanization of the other is asserted.

For Lamptey, academic questions are also questions that matter to our communities—or should. This paper lifts up Lamptey’s core insight: the value of bringing together the conversation about gender difference with the one about religious plurality. It argues that two theoretical issues Lamptey explores—hierarchy and boundaries—have real life implications for Jews, connecting to some of the most hotly debated topics in the Jewish world today. In the early work of Judith Plaskow on hierarchy (both gender and religious) and in recent works by Shaul Magid and Noam Pianko on boundaries (related to Jewish peoplehood), we see how Lamptey’s thinking can help us to navigate this new territory in helpful ways. The conversation has important implications for how we understand interreligious engagement in the 21st century.

This article builds on the various meanings of "dialogue" within the growing field of interreligious education, and updates the discussion from the original article. Noted here is the history of the term "dialogue" itself, the range of understandings of the term within the literature today, and the relational applications of dialogue within interreligious engagement.  Also, specific applications of the use of dialogue within interreligious hospitality, youth work, and peace-building are noted. A brief discussion of the "next steps" for interreligious dialogue within student teaching and learning is offered in conclusion.

In her response to Melissa Heller's article, “Jewish-Christian Encounter Through Text: An Interfaith Course for Seminarians,” Suomala discusses how using traditionally Jewish methods of studying sacred text, i.e., hevruta-style partner groups, can also work in the undergraduate classroom.  While an interreligious encounter around sacred text is a more optimal avenue to fruitful and productive learning across religious boundaries, many colleges and seminaries aren't located in settings where this is possible.  Suomala considers how instructors and professors might proceed, using Heller's approach, in the absence of the religious other.

Written in response to Jeannine Hill Fletcher’s essay on research and practice challenges in interreligious education, this article uses Hill Fletcher’s focus on the challenges that Christian theologians must address in the field as a springboard to propose an interrogation of the construct of religion itself. The author also calls for examining our understandings and definitions of intersectionality and cosmopolitanism, including their class assumptions, and addresses the ways that scholars and practitioners must interrogate these terms as they build the fields of both study and practice. One of the important impacts of this interrogation is the widening of the scope of voices that can be recognized and heard as part of interreligious conversation.

This article suggests that we live in the era of interfaith relations, where the pluralist hypothesis still provides the best possible foundation for interreligious dialogue and comparative theology. The article proposes a new formulation of the pluralist hypothesis that does not ignore postmodern insights and is not necessarily committed to the epistemological and ontological assumptions of John Hick’s pluralism. The article clarifies common misconceptions about pluralism and contends that it is primarily about rejecting religiocentric claims and upholding one’s own convictions with intellectual humility, i.e., without claiming that one’s own faith is the center of the universe of faiths.

JIRS Founding Editors and Co-Publishers reflect on the Journal’s origins and development, its relationship to both institutional homes and partners, its evolving mission and vision, and the field of interreligious studies including the language used to speak about that field. Of note are discussions of the paucity, just a decade ago, of publications in interreligious studies, the role of young scholars and activists in the Journal’s origins and of partnerships across faith/religious traditions in the Journal’s history, the terms “interreligious” and “interfaith,” the desire for an academic journal that can nevertheless be accessible to and reflect the voices of practitioners and activists, the language of “dialogue” vs. “studies,” and expanding the range of voices in the Journal.

In this issue, we are pleased to bring the work of a guest editor and collaborator, Whittney Barth, from the Pluralism Project. Founded and directed by Dr. Diana Eck, the Pluralism Project at Harvard University is a research and educational project that aims to study America’s increasingly diverse religious landscape and its implications for public life. For nearly 25 years, Pluralism Project researchers have been documenting the changing contours of cities and towns—the establishment of new mosques and temples, the growth of interfaith efforts, and the development of complex controversies—drawn anew by immigration trends of the last several decades.

Although the case method is rarely used in religious studies or interfaith education, it is a proven pedagogical tool which can help us engage with both the problems and promise of pluralism. The Pluralism Project's newest case study, "A Call to Prayer," describes the divisions that emerge over the broadcast of the call to prayer in Hamtramck, Michigan. This case invites us to consider "what is at stake?" for the city council president, the diverse Muslim communities, interfaith leaders, as well as those who oppose the broadcast. Case studies provide a unique opportunity to practice, rather than theorize about, pluralism.

Recent interfaith scholarship has noted the influence of non-religious identities and other external ecological factors on the participation and experiences of individuals in interfaith work. This study builds on this recent literature to examine the mesosystemic factors, and the interfaith participant’s faith community in particular, as they influence interfaith participation. Utilizing case study interviews, we consider the experiences of immigrant/minority faith community members in interfaith work as contrasted with the experiences of non-immigrant/majority faith community members. Implications of this research for interfaith practice will briefly be considered.

Transforming communities through the power of relationships is a process that requires a great deal of thought and work. Shifting the way we communicate allows us to hold constructive conversations that honor differences and build on commonalities. NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change constructs opportunities for Muslims and Jews to work through conflict instead of allowing disagreement to characterize the larger communal relationship. Conflict resolution tools applicable to life in a pluralistic society help participants see the value of connecting with the other to build on areas of common concern.

Local interfaith efforts often cite “relationship building” as a core, if not primary goal. Many engaged in these efforts filter this commitment to relationship building through a lens of pluralism, a strategy for responding to religious diversity. In what ways does interfaith activity that foregrounds the importance of relationships engage in a process of place-making, both imaginatively and physically? This article explores this theme, drawing from several examples from different U.S. cities and putting them in conversation with select scholarship on place and place-making from perspectives within religious studies, education, and geography.

Preparing students for citizenship in a diverse society whose members hold deeply conflicting worldviews and religious beliefs is an essential task of civic education in a democratic society. This article asserts that the dominant emphasis in the United States on free expression and civil discourse is insufficient for this task. When applied to lightning rod issues, such as sexual orientation, this approach fails to acknowledge structural inequities in the marketplace of ideas and does not require meaningful mutual respect for differing perspectives. To fully prepare students, educators also should promote an additional norm, religious pluralism as understood by Diana Eck.

Religious pluralism is a contested discourse that has been subject to much criticism for its complicity with American economic and military imperialism. Yet liberal pluralism discourses have remained largely unmarred by critics of pluralism’s disciplinary power. This essay probes the source of communication breakdown between organizations that advocate pluralism—such as the Pluralism Project and the Interfaith Youth Core—and pluralism’s critical analysts in Ethnic Studies, Subaltern Studies, and Religious Studies. I theorize pluralism as both affective economy and philosophy of history, wherein the past is marked by discord and the future is a happy reconciliation under the auspices of the U.S. nation-state. I argue that when we accept as natural the terms on which mainstream pluralism discourse is constructed—the primacy of the nation-state, the concept of “world religions,” the possibility of redemption in linear time, the self-contained individual subject—other configurations of difference and power are rendered not only invisible, but even unthinkable. Critics who interrogate pluralism on the basis of its structural underpinnings and aim to “include,” instead of in terms of who is still excluded, are fully illegible to its liberal discourse. This illegibility of pluralism’s strongest critics raises again the question: If pluralism’s champions are still unable to fathom the concerns of their critics, of what “pluralism” do we speak?

The Pluralism Project began twenty-five years ago as a research project, investigating the many ways in which America's religious landscape has changed with the renewed period of immigration launched 50 years ago this year, in 1965, with the passage of the Immigration and Nationalities Act. This issue of the Journal of Interreligious Studies brings together several perspectives on pluralism, each of which raises important issues, drawing for the most part from research in on-the-ground studies. This gives me the opportunity to reflect on the roots of the Pluralism Project, why it began, and what are the problems and the promise of this research.

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