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Discussion Guide: Interfaith Leadership in Times of Crisis

A discussion guide for addressing terrorist attacks within an interfaith group.

Discussion Guide: Interfaith Leadership in Times of Crisis


Interfaith leaders need to hold up the value of interfaith cooperation and help their communities process these questions in a way that promotes engagement, not division. This discussion guide, centered on Eboo Patel’s short essay, “A Common Life Together,” focuses on the question of how we respond to violence in a way that protects our future as a diverse community. Consider using it to facilitate a conversation amongst your interfaith student group, in a class, or for broader dialogues across your campus community. The following outline gives some guidance for planning, facilitating, and following up after your discussion.

Planning Your Discussion

Consider Your Campus Context. Each campus is different; a few campuses might be currently dealing with religious tension while others might have vibrant interfaith groups that can help address this issue in a productive manner. Some campuses might have students who have not engaged with these types of issues much, or at all. With this in mind, think about what works for your situation. Is a panel group or a dialogue the best way to start? Who are the most appropriate people to involve? Given the sensitive nature of these conversations, consider starting with an established group consisting of members who know and trust one another (like your fellow interfaith student group members).

Articulate Your Goals. You’ll be especially effective if you are clear on what your goals are for the discussion. It is unlikely that the discussion is going to lead to everyone agreeing on the variety of questions brought up by these events, but the group should aim to achieve a shared sense of purpose despite ongoing and deep disagreements. Another goal could simply be to build relationships and provide a space for people to process what’s happening. Remember that this is only one discussion and you don’t have to (and just can’t) achieve world peace in 90 minutes.

Prepare the Group. As a student leader committed to interfaith cooperation, it is crucial to be aware of both the practical details of this event and the greater context of terrorist attacks. Social media is not the same as accurate media, so take some time to step away from social media and read articles and pieces from places like the New York Times or the BBC News Service. They won’t provide the whole story, but they do deliver a good basis for understanding the events. Send out the essay beforehand so that people have a chance to read and think about the themes of the piece. Ask participants to come to the discussion with questions to share with others. You can also ask them to send their questions to you before you meet as group so you have a better understanding of what people are thinking about.

Facilitating the Discussion

Setting the Space. Before jumping into the conversation, dedicate some time to building a safe conversational space. Essentially, what commitments do all participants need to have a constructive and engaging conversation? For a more detailed look at how to set up a safe space, check out this IFYC facilitation guide.

Discuss the Reading. Having a core reading to work off of with fellow students is a helpful way to organize your questions. In “A Common Life Together,” Eboo Patel outlines one way to respond to religious violence across the world. Here are some discussion questions to frame the conversation:

  • In this piece, Eboo Patel writes about creating a common life together. What does he mean by this? What does a “common life together” mean to you? To your campus?
  • The article states that “building societies where people from different identities live in equal dignity is one of the greatest challenges of our time.” Why do you think this goal is such a challenge? What resources do people need to meet this challenge?
  • Were you aware of the facts and historical moments that Patel mentioned in his piece? How do you think knowledge, or lack thereof, affects an individual’s attitudes towards a group of people?
  • The events of and the reaction to terrorist attacks seem to promote one narrative about religion. Patel writes about the “power of pluralism.” How does pluralism present a different narrative? Are there practical ways to promote pluralism and engagement on your campus?
  • As Patel discusses the kinds of stories we might lift up during times like these, he writes “…just as ugliness begets ugliness, so might beauty inspire beauty.” What stories of beauty have your campus community (or your group) already experienced that you could reiterate or amplify as a way to inspire more beauty?

After the Discussion

Share Knowledge and Values. Interfaith leadership is grounded in appreciative knowledge and shared values. Identifying the values that you share with people of different backgrounds also helps sustain and build relationships in the face of events that seek to tear you apart. What values do you share as an interfaith group that can unite your fellow students? Think about the pieces of constructive and relatable knowledge you can share with other students similar to the information Patel shared in his piece. Resources like IFYC’s Shared Values Guide can provide further insights into how to facilitate this discussion.Tell Your Stories. Much of the media, social and otherwise, want to make these events a story of clashes. Bleak and unenlightening dichotomies like these only serve to describe tensions, not address them. That is why it is important to share your stories. What actions have you or your interfaith group taken at your school to engage religious difference? How has your campus promoted cooperation over conflict? How have the people you’ve known— your family, your friends, your classmates—built bridges of cooperation? Personal blogs, college newspapers, and campus events are all different forums for telling stories of unity over division.