Eboo Patel

Reshaping the Nature of Interfaith Activity

Eboo Patel speaking at a TEDx talk

As Eboo Patel states on the Interfaith Youth Core website, the core belief is that religion is a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division. Patel also believes that students are leaders, so he launched a movement that has reshaped the nature of interfaith activity in the United States. Instead of clerics and academics at the forefront with interfaith being a heady dialog, the students of IFYC are turning interfaith into a high-energy, service-oriented way of being together as people across the different religions.

As a student at the University of Illinois he was dulled to his family’s Muslim heritage. But his questioning mind about issues of social justice caused him to stumble upon the Catholic Worker House in Champaign where he learned about Dorothy Day. Day’s life and teaching captivated him, for in here there was no gap between belief and radical action. He learned that God was the source of Day’s service of others in love.

Then when he visited his grandmother in India he found a similar radical love in action. His grandmother spent 40 years providing shelter to battered women. Word got out about her and she brought into her home women who traveled long distances for a place of safety. Patel’s grandmother had the same sense of God at the core of her motivation as Dorothy Day. Seeing his grandmother’s Muslim faith in action spurred Patel to a deeper journey of discovery.

Patel believed that diversity, service, and faith were foundational elements for community life, but so few organizations wove them together. So, in dialog with the Christian mystic Wayne Teasdale and blessed by the Dalai Lama, Eboo Patel launched the Interfaith Youth Core with a Jewish friend in 2002, supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. Since then, the organization has stimulated the organizing of interfaith activities on campuses across the U.S. They now have a staff of 30 people with programs in 162 schools around the country.

IFYC’s Better Together program has awards to stimulate and lift up interfaith organizing and service action on campuses. The awards videos give a slice of the kind of creative activity that is sweeping campuses and bringing new vitality to interfaith action.

(The stories of Dorothy Day, the Dalai Lama, and Wayne Teasdale are featured in Interfaith Heroes 2.)

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