This article originally appeared in The Catholic Herald.
Hearing the Call Across Traditions: Readings on Faith and Service, edited by Adam Davis, foreword by Eboo Patel. Skylight Paths Publishing (Woodstock, Vt., 2009) 337 pp., $29.99.
With the separation of church and state that exists in the United States, the role of religion in public society is limited. Except for a few states that allow classes in the Bible or courses in comparative religions, the role of religious thought and values remains absent from the classroom. Unlike in countries such as Ireland, where religion is taught as a required course to all students because of its perceived value to creating an informed citizenship, religious thought in the United States is usually treated as a highly toxic poison which corrodes the mind.
Congratulations then to the Project on Civic Reflection, the Illinois Humanities Council and the Interfaith Youth Core for co-producing the book “Hearing the Call Across Traditions: Readings on Faith and Service.” They have created an inspiring and accessible resource designed to encourage religious and philosophical conversation across faith-erected boundaries.
Although a collection of articles and poems that were mostly written for secular purposes and published by the secular press and not as theological tracts, each work flows from the author’s religious tradition. Eclectic in style, approach and content, each piece is also rich in religious thought and sensibility. The pieces reflect Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Taoism. The selection is generally well balanced.
The organizing principles of the book are the call of faith and the call to service. The articles are grouped into three parts: “Why do I serve?”, “Whom do I serve?” and “How do I serve?” Although designed to encourage discussion, the book is ideal for individual study and reflection as well.
The book opens doorways into the thought and culture of other faiths. Because of cultural differences, a piece’s meaning may not always be immediately clear, but becomes so with familiarity: It is worth the time to reread articles and ponder their meaning.
Each of the three sections begins with a brief explanation of the purpose of the section, what it is designed to accomplish and an introduction of the pieces presented there. Attached to each of the pieces is a brief note about the author. These introductions were not very helpful, more philosophical musings then guides for the reader. While the historical information was valuable, it would have been helpful to have a focusing question or a brief statement from the editor setting the context for the reading. But these are minor quibbles.
In addition to the three sections, the book offers three appendices. The first provides an “Interfaith Youth Core Model for Interfaith Reflection and Service.” The process can be used to organize cross-faith conversations at any age level. Appendix II offers discussion questions to accompany each article: It would have been more convenient to have the questions follow each article. Unfortunately, the questions seem to promote literary criticism rather than reflection, but they are good to have. The final appendix is a helpful guide, grouping the pieces by faith and genre.
I recommend this book without reservations for individual and group use for adolescents and adults. It would be a valuable resource for a high school or college course on interreligious studies or justice, or for adult conversation. Using it to develop interfaith dialogue would be a real blessing.
Mulhall consults, writes and speaks on issues concerning pastoral planning and faith formation. He is co-editor (with Christian Br. Jeffrey Gros) of “The Ecumenical Christian Dialogues and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”