A Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, he has four honorary degrees. His autobiography is required freshman reading on 11 college campuses. He runs a nonprofit organization — the Interfaith Youth Core — with 31 employees and a budget of $4 million. And he was tapped by the White House as a key architect of an initiative announced in April by President Obama.
Mr. Patel got there by identifying a sticky problem in American civic life and proposing a concrete solution. The problem? Increased religious diversity is causing increasing religious conflict. And too often, religious extremists are driving events.
He figured that if Muslim radicals and extremists of other religions were recruiting young people, then those who believe in religious tolerance should also enlist the youth.
The work of engaging people, especially youth, in inter-religious dialogue is an important task. Our lives are becoming more and more intertwined with those of other faiths and no faith and the sharp religious divide in our country continues to dominate – as evidenced by the opposition to the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero in NYC, the absurd attacks on Shar’ia law in recent months, and religious profiling.
The White House has taken note of Patel’s work and has itself sent letters to 2,000 university presidents inviting them to sign up their campuses for the “Interfaith and Community Service Challenge” in the coming school year. The University of South Carolina was one of the schools asked. I am on the Steering Committee of the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina and one of our members has been asked by USC’s President to work on the application for this initiative.
Make sure you read the entire NYT article about the work that the Interfaith Youth Core is doing and let me know your thoughts.
Do you think Interfaith dialogue is necessary? Have you ever participated in Interfaith dialogue (in which you weren’t trying to convert someone)?