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What is Interfaith Cooperation? 

Today’s America is one of the most religiously diverse societies in history. Look around you and you’ll see people with different histories, values, and beliefs. Different ideas of what justice is or why we’re here in the first place. We’re a nation made up of people with different truths interacting together. 

This diversity isn’t a good or bad thing on its own. It’s just a fact. Oftentimes that fact is at the root of tension, conflict, and tragically, violence. Sadly, we’ve seen this play out on the news and in our own communities all too often. 

However, we can choose to actively engage that diversity towards positive ends. That is pluralism - a social achievement, and one of this country’s founding ideals.  

IFYC believes that a religiously pluralistic society features three key things: 

  • Respect for Identities – where people have the right to form their own religious or non-religious worldviews, express them freely, and expect some reasonable accommodations to live out their convictions. To respect someone else’s worldview doesn’t require you to agree with it or to accept it. 
  • Mutually Inspiring Relationships – where there are conversations, activities, civic association, and friendly contact between people who orient around religion differently. Areas of both commonality and difference are recognized, but there is always some essential concern for the other’s well being. 
  • Commitment to the Common Good – where different people share common values, even despite theological disagreements, support the things people generally agree that we have a collective interest to uphold. Think safe communities, good schools, defeating poverty, access to healthcare, and addressing climate change. 

Interfaith cooperation is a way to achieve pluralism. It’s a process in which people who orient around religion differently come together in ways that respect different identities, build mutually inspiring relationships, and engage in common action around issues of shared concern. Where meaningful interfaith cooperation happens there is less polarization, and communities are stronger and more resilient.  

Importantly, interfaith cooperation doesn’t depend on shared religious, philosophical, or political views. People involved in interfaith cooperation can and do disagree on these matters. Instead, interfaith cooperation builds bridges across differences, bringing people together to build relationships, learn about each other, and take part in common action despite deep differences. 

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The Interfaith Triangle 

Interfaith cooperation has been an inspiring part of the American story since before the nation’s founding. In a society whose identity is largely rooted in its pluralistic ideals, and whose population has grown more diverse through its history, it’s unsurprising that engagement between worldviews has played a role in nearly every major chapter of social change. From colonial times to America’s founding to the civil rights movement to now, interfaith movements and leaders have propelled progress. Watch this video to learn more, and test your knowledge of historic interfaith cooperation with our Interfaith Literacy Quiz

Interfaith Cooperation Today 

For many Americans, the 2016 election was a wake up call for civil society, laying bare many of the most bitter and polarizing differences between groups. In this climate, the very idea of cooperation across deep difference seems harder, and more vitally important, than ever before.  

The question that now faces us as a society is how do we build bridges when your peers and neighbors are increasingly dividing themselves into like-minded subgroups and blocking out those who don’t share their particular set of values? The future of our democracy might just depend on how we answer this question.  

In the face of a big challenge, IFYC is focusing on a ‘big picture’ view of religious diversity and pluralism as we advance interfaith cooperation. Because we believe college and university campuses are ideal models for civil society, we advocate for a model of interfaith cooperation that actively seeks to bring those who disagree on  profound issues - such as when life begins and ends, immigration, economic policies, and culture - into engagement with one another.  

We view this work as complementary, yet distinct from, the many important conversations in higher education today around power, privilege, and oppression in regard to different identity categories. Those conversations are incredibly important, yet we believe that religious identity functions differently, and thus invites a different model. We focus on how interfaith cooperation can foster understanding, relationships, and common action across mutually irreconcilable religious perspectives and worldviews. 

Read: A Nation Under Two Flags: Liberal Education, Interfaith Literacy, and the New American Holy War, By Eboo Patel


In the end, interfaith cooperation is a way of moving America closer to its ideals, but it is also an act of citizenship. When you work to bring people into relationships, even when forging that link is difficult, you actively strengthen the bonds that hold our society together. In divided times, that citizenship is more important than ever.