Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
Although I was raised in a mixed Christian family (Methodist, Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic), I never felt that any of these spoke to my spiritual core. From an early age—perhaps twelve or thirteen—I became enthralled by the fables and tales of various cultures and traditions that I found here and there in the family library or at school. Slowly but surely my interest in other spiritual ideas and worldviews began to grow, and by the time I was in high school I immersed myself in Wiccan lore, high ritual magick and Druidism. Growing up in a rural Appalachian community with Christian roots, it was painfully obvious I was a proverbial black sheep, and not just because I read the Satanic Bible at lunch. This initial feeling of being an outsider within my own culture was the start of a lifelong journey.
My undergraduate years were formative in many ways, as I suspect they are for most who have the privilege to experience them. In my case, the formative insights came from a mix of political activism and religious interactions. Whether spending time learning conflict resolution skills with Christian Peacemakers working in Palestine and Iraq; earnestly engaging fire and brimstone fundamentalist street preachers on the college green; sharing food after sundown in the community mosque while supporting Muslim friends facing post-9/11 harassment; or doing rituals and shamanic journey work with our “tribe” of eclectic pagans in the hills, time and again I experienced firsthand what it meant to build an integrated spiritual community.
In the process of doing this work of community building, especially via social and environmental justice organizing, I learned the importance of interfaith alliances and the need to make spaces for the moral, ethical and religious dialogues which are necessary—but too often difficult to manifest—if we are going to understand difference in an increasingly polarized world. Climate change organizing with diverse faith communities is just one of many examples that comes to mind here.
As someone who identifies with a lifeway and worldview—animism—that is not only completely absent from most people’s frame of reference, but in some ways calls into question basic theological assumptions about the world held by the dominant faith traditions, I understand even more the importance of being able to make space for everyone (human and nonhuman alike) to be heard and involved in decision making about our collective future on this living Earth. The only way we can find these points of religious and ethical commonality is by working together to build strong communities of faith that are not afraid of their differences and who are committed to building on shared values.