ABOUT THE PROJECT
Much has been written about inter-faith dialogue. A lot of money has been poured into bringing people from different faith communities together for international conferences – particularly in the aftermath of 9/11. But what is the value of such initiatives? What impact do they have? Do they ‘work’ or are they a waste of time and resources that ultimately weaken rather than strengthen communities? Would the resources be better used in other ways?
This project seeks to answer these questions in the case of recent ‘robust dialogue’ initiatives that have brought together conservative believers from different faith communities.
Three reports are available:
- Hope Built? – a short report on the outcomes of the Building Hope Conference held at Yale University in 2011.
- Inter-faith Impact: Cambridge Inter-faith Programme Summer Schools 2011-13 – a summary of the full report presented to the University of Cambridge highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the first three years of the Scriptural Reasoning programme.
- CIP Summer Schools 2011-15: Public Report – the final report on the 5 CIP summer schools.
What is the Scope?
This research focuses on the new inter-faith initiatives which have sprung up over the last 10 to 20 years bringing together people of committed faith from more conservative religious communities. Whilst it is global in its extent it is currently focusing on a limited number of events and programmes that have grown out of A Common Word between Us and You and Scriptural Reasoning.
In particular CMCS is working with the University of Cambridge to evaluate the Scriptural Reasoning Summer School organised annually by the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme and funded by the Polonsky Foundation and the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments in the Sultanate of Oman. A second project is following the alumni of the Building Hope Conference held at Yale University in 2011 funded by the United Arab Emirates and a few individual philanthropists.
What are the Aims?
The aims of the research are to:
- Appraise the programmes in terms of their content, leadership and participation.
- Evaluate the impact of robust inter-faith initiatives not only on the individual participants but also on the communities they return to.
- Track with participants in the programmes over a period of time and record the types of events they go on to organise, career choices they make and influence they have in their religious communities.
- Measure whether dialogue events of this nature reduce or increase religious identity and faith commitment.
- Advise donors on the value of the programmes.
What is the Need?
Events during the opening years of the C21st have brought religion sharply back into public consciousness. There has been a realisation that religion cannot be ignored and that people of faith are significant actors – for both ill and good. This has led to a plethora of new-style inter-faith initiatives. Rather than bringing together the progressive, liberal wings of different faiths, as much C20th dialogue did, these efforts seek to bring together committed conservative believers who represent much larger constituencies within their communities. The aim is a ‘robust dialogue’ which does not necessarily seek common ground and a lowest common denominator but rather embraces differences, highlights opposing views and works toward mutual respect and understanding despite them.
With so much at stake it is critical that we understand the impact and benefit that such initiatives have. We have to do the careful work of evaluation in order to be able to advise organisers, donors and policy makers on the best use of resources, networks and social capital.
Dr. Richard McCallum
Richard is currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies and is also engaged in the Inter-faith Impact research project. He is involved in teaching at theological colleges and is currently planning a joint summer school for Muslim and Christian theology students. In addition he speaks on various topics connected to the sociology of religion and provides inter-cultural training for companies working in the Arab world.