Krista Tippett. Photo by Matt M. Johnson/On Being/Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Krista Tippett: Interfaith Relationships Can Open Our Imagination

Krista Tippett is an award winning broadcaster and New York Times bestselling author. In 2014, she received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence. On the air and in print, Ms. Tippett avoids easy answers, embracing complexity and inviting people of all faiths, no faith, and every background to join the conversation.”

In 2007, Krista published her first book, Speaking of Faith, a memoir of religion in our time. Krista is also the author of a radio show and podcast, On Being.

Krista kindly agreed to be interviewed by Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens (curated by AFS Intercultural Programs) and we are delighted to get her views on interfaith dialogue.

What are your experiences with intercultural learning and matters of faith?

Before starting my radio show and the podcast, I used to live in Berlin, Germany, where I viewed the world and lived in it as a global citizen. This inspired the rest of my career. Having a worldwide audience for our podcast impacts how I approach topics.

The origins of my radio work are in an ecumenical (inter-Christian) project, but it was still diverse. While working on this project I started thinking about crossing religious difference, because if you look closely you will see that there are many differences within any one religious tradition, let alone among different traditions.

The gift of our traditions are their particularities, all the different vocabularies and ecosystems of virtues.

What does interfaith dialogue mean for you?

In the 21st Century, religious identity is more chosen than inherited. Even when people deeply claim their tradition, religious identity is still a conscious choice. Today’s world enables us to have a proximity to, and a relationship with, different religious others. Although this is something new, it has become very ordinary.

When we first started talking about differences in the U.S., including religious difference, we adopted ideas such as tolerance and multiculturalism — letting others be others, and us being us. The idea was to create a harmonious society based on this respect. But respect is a cerebral [concept], and this [faith] part of life involves human hearts and guts. So when we hit difficult societal moments, tolerance and respect wear off quickly. We are just beginning to create robust societies where we do more than tolerate each other, where we learn to be at home in our own identities and mine them for the riches that they have.

I am not that interested in what we all have in common. Yes, somewhere these [commonalities or common beliefs] all come down to a similar principle, but that’s very superficial. What is more fascinating is to draw out the depths of each other’s practices, ways of finding meaning and being in the world. The gift of our traditions are their particularities — all the different vocabularies and ecosystems of virtues. Different traditions have preserved ideas of what is sacred and what it means to lead a worthy life. Can we, in the 21st Century, excavate these gifts of traditions and live them faithfully?

Spirituality is necessary in the 21st Century. It’s not enough just knowing what compassion is, for instance. What really counts is how you show compassion throughout your life.

When a profound interfaith relationship develops, you don’t give up who you are. Your imagination opens up, you learn more from and about others, while you also learn about yourself. You become more deeply planted in your own soil. Interfaith dialogue is about constantly learning from each other, and honoring and seeing the beauty in each other.

When profound interfaith relationships develop, you don’t give up who you are. Your imagination opens up, you learn more from and about others, while you also learn about yourself.

What do you wish more young people would understand about interfaith dialogue?

Young people these days are explorers of new territories, especially with digital technologies. They should honor what a bold adventure it is to be alive right now, and that there is more to discover than to know. This has spiritual ramifications, as well. The world is so changeable. And while the lack of constants may be stressful, a time of change also provides a chance to create a new world you want to inhabit. This is true in religious practices and interfaith relationships — you can craft these parts of your life to fit you.

For a few generations, there was a trend in the western world to raise children without religion because of all the “baggage” it brought. Now there are lots of young people with no such “baggage.” They see the world through fresh eyes and are rediscovering how to discuss virtues, knowledge and integrity in a spiritual context. Young people can shape the way religion serves the world.

What are the ethics and morality in learning to live together?

Morality is a word that has suffered from a narrowed definition, while being used as a weapon. Morality has become about rules and private behavior. Instead, I like to think in terms of the “moral imagination” of our societies, which is something more complex, important and interesting. Collectively, we need to develop moral imagination and vocabulary about all kinds of moral issues and concerns, such as the state of the economy or political systems. Just asking questions like “Is it cost efficient?” is not enough. Moral imagination requires asking a different set of questions about why we do what we do.

Religious traditions have encouraged that kind of thinking and questioning across history. But that process has not factored into [public debate.] We have to reinvent how we connect those necessary questions and insights to our public life.

When you send young people into new experiences, empower them to ask more sophisticated and powerful questions.

Faith-related issues are typically addressed in religious institutions and their families, but not so much in schools. Beliefs and practices are often transmitted informally and non-formally. What steps do you recommend AFS take to continue distinguishing itself as an educational organization with respect to religious diversity?

It’s important to engage with differences to really understand other places and other people. This is what AFS does. Moving away from multicultural to intercultural helps people expand their horizons and grapple, in meaningful ways, with what they have to offer to the world. This includes addressing important questions that new generations are asking: What difference do these beliefs make? What effect do they have on the world?

I sense that young people insist on wholeness and how the inner and outer life work together. Spiritual practice can have a key role here. Fortunately, young people are questioning everything, which is a cultural shift. For a long time, religion was about answers and certainties. However, questions are just as powerful and meaningful. So [when organizations] like AFS send people to new experiences — empower young people to ask more sophisticated and powerful questions. Asking good questions is a virtue.


Interview conducted by Milena Miladinovic, Educational Communications Consultant, AFS Intercultural Programs

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