In 1950, the United States leadership of the Bahai religion declared the third Sunday of January as World Religion Day.

While the Bahai don’t lead the activities on a national level anymore, the day continues to make its mark, being observed by many churches and organizations.

Most people find some common ground when they study other faiths. When they take the next step into interfaith work, they often find much more. They find strength in combating problems, they find understanding and the lessening of fear, and they find friendship.

Here are some excerpts from the Internet about why it’s helpful to learn about other beliefs and to learn to work together.

First up is the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge.

Reduce suffering

Our Mission: The mission of the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge is to cultivate interfaith understanding and cooperation to reduce human suffering in Greater Baton Rouge.

Listeners and community

Interfaith work requires us to be reliable, honest, open, listening, enquiring, informative and hard working, but the opportunities and experiences are great. It gives us the opportunity to dispel misunderstanding about our beliefs and talk to those normally least likely to listen to us: those committed to other faiths. In the long term, we become respected as credible team players, keen to help and engage with the wider community.

Embrace unity

Religion has two faces: one unites and the other divides. Religion unifies people into communities and simultaneously divides by building tight boundaries around them.

… We live in a pluralistic, secular democracy. ... Religious identities must be balanced against the responsibility of equal respect, heartfelt and not merely superficial. Are we capable of it? Are we genuinely teaching and encouraging it in our youth?

Democracy is very spiritual in its recognition of our underlying oneness, which is foundational to equal rights. Rights demand responsibility. …

We need to enrich and expand our identity. Let us not be so fearful about losing our religious identity that we isolate ourselves and shy away from building bridges to survive in pluralistic societies or a pluralistic global village that the world is fast becoming.

We must wholeheartedly adopt the unitive face of religion. We must discard the divisive one in our lives and in educating our children.

Challenges of dialogue

As the interfaith movement grows, it is becoming increasingly important to discuss potential challenges of interfaith dialogue and how they can be addressed.

The first challenge is a lack of focus. For any interfaith dialogue to succeed, all parties must be clear on the conversation’s goals. …

The second challenge is when people feel that they need to “water down” or compromise their religious identity in order to fit in. …

The third challenge is proselytizing, or attempting to convert others. ...

Interfaith dialogue can be an excellent way to heal divisions in society.

Social science research indicates that having a positive, meaningful relationship with someone of a different background and learning about their identity correlates to viewing that person’s entire group more favorably. The same logic applies with interfaith conversations. If we as Americans pursue interfaith dialogue while attempting to address the challenges described above, we can break down stereotypes and find more areas of common ground.

In the process, we can reinforce our national motto of E Pluribus Unum, the idea that our similarities as Americans are greater than our differences.

Aamir Hussain, January 2014

The drive for peace

Psalm 34:15 (in Christian Bibles, it is Psalm 34:14) reads:

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. …

The first role … that religious communities have to play in pursuing peace is in promoting their unique visions, in the plural, of peace. …

Interfaith activities allow us to meet one another to share our concerns. …

Our collective interfaith contribution is to foster debate about peace beyond the discourses of strategic advantage, trade benefits and rational calculation, that is to recognize that there is a possibility of peace at all. Not just the peace we seek — the mere end of hostilities — but to pursue a peace that endures and generates alternative ways of dealing with violence and dissention as they arise. ... We need to remind each other of our visions of peace.

Paul Morris, address at National Inter-Faith Forum, Wellington, Feb. 2006