Glossary of Interfaith Terms

Bridge-builder: A leader in the interfaith movement who builds bridges among people of different faith backgrounds through his or her action and leadership.

Civic Engagement: Civic engagement is not only a set of actions and efforts, but also a feeling of belonging, of investment and ownership in the local, regional or national communities to which citizens belong. Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.

Common Action for the common good: Common Action for the Common Good is any project or endeavor taken on by a group of diverse individuals that seeks to benefit all people in a community. In order to be truly for the common good, a project’s success must be equally desired and beneficial to all members of a community, regardless of religion, philosophical perspective, race, gender, economic status, or other distinctions. Interfaith service-learning projects and public advocacy around issues of common concern are examples of common action.

Dialogue Facilitation: The goal of dialogue facilitation is to help dialogue participants discover shared values among different religious and moral perspectives, through text, storytelling and action. It should encourage participants to grow their own identities, as well as create a sense of community, cohesion and cooperation with other participants.

Diversity: Diversity is the simple fact of people from different religious, racial, ethnic, gender, geographic, etc., backgrounds living in close proximity to one another in their communities. It should not be used interchangeably with pluralism.

Faith Heroes: Faith Heroes are those people whose lives, work, and commitments embody the cause of religious pluralism in their time and space. Jane Addams, the Dalai Lama, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Badshah Khan, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. are well-known faith heroes, but many people’s faith hero is a teacher who first opened their eyes to new cultures, a youth advisor who empowered them into their first leadership position, or their mother who taught them through her example what it meant to treat others with compassion and dignity.

Faith Line: The faith line is not between Muslims and Christians, or secularists and religious people.  It is between religious totalitarians who believe they have the truth and want to impose it on everyone else, and religious pluralists who believe that people from different faith and cultural backgrounds can, indeed, live together in peace and have positive and proactive relationships.

Hub of a movement: IFYC sees itself as the core of a larger movement of people in the world who are promoting religious pluralism. As the core, our role is to provide resources, network and catalyze the corps of people who are actively engaged in this work in their and to provide a platform to showcase their work to the rest of the world.

Interfaith: Interfaith refers to the cooperative and positive interaction among people of different faith traditions and moral perspectives –religious and secular- at both the individual and institutional level with the aim of deriving a common belief about similarities between faiths, shared values, and commitment to the world. It is not asking people to water down their faith, but promotes understanding between different religions to increase understanding of others.

Interfaith Dialogue: Interfaith dialogue is a conversation between people of distinct religious or philosophical perspectives with the intention of elucidating the commonalities and nuances of their shared values through the exchange of stories. Interfaith dialogue can be a one-time event or a series of conversations; it might span hours, months, years, or a lifetime; it might be structured or unstructured; facilitated by a third party or unfacilitated; preplanned or organic. What characterizes interfaith dialogue is the intention on the part of its participants to better understand conversation partners who hold different religious or philosophical perspectives rather than convincing one another of a particular viewpoint. IFYC encourages people to use storytelling as a method of dialogue.

Interfaith Youth Movement: The interfaith youth movement is the group of people and organizations who look to and empower young people as their hope to live in a world where diverse individuals of many cultures, religions, and philosophies work to create understanding and collaboration through serving their communities together.

Personal narrative: A personal story of religious pluralism is the story of how a person’s understanding of herself and her relationship to those different from her shifted and changed throughout her life. It does not necessarily relate the sequence of events in her life that lead up to this moment. Rather, it focuses on the series of events that led to her decision to work for religious pluralism and what action she took as a result of that decision.

Religious Literacy: Religious literacy doesn’t mean that one need know every historical and theological aspect of every religion. Instead, a religiously literate person is someone who is aware that there are differences among religions on issues such as gender interaction, dietary restrictions, religious holidays, etc.

Religious Pluralism: Religious pluralism describes a community where different individuals or groups respect each other’s distinct religious and philosophical identities and perspectives, seek mutually enriching relationships across lines of difference based on their shared values, and establish active partnerships oriented toward common action for the common good of all. Religious Pluralists don’t have to be particularly religious; secular, agnostic and atheist people can all be religious pluralists.

Public Square: The public square is an area in social life where people can get together and freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence action.

Religious Totalitarians: Religious totalitarians believe they have “the truth” and want to impose it on everyone else. They do not believe in – and often work against – the notion that people possessing different belief systems can live together in harmony and come together for the common good.


Service-Learning (reflective volunteerism): Picking up trash on a riverbank is service. Studying water samples under a microscope is active learning. When science students collect and analyze water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution agency that is service-learning. Service-learning is an educational method that combines experiential education, community service, and reflection. It empowers people to be assets to their communities as they apply academic skills to solving real world issues. When people take one more step and reflect on how their disparate religious and philosophical perspectives call them to serve their communities, it is interfaith service-learning.

Shared values: Shared values are deeply held, widely shared principles that exist within and across all of the world’s religious and philosophical perspectives. Grand values such as compassion, justice, and service, as well as more tangible values such as hospitality, protection of the environment, and care for the poor and/or elderly are among some of the shared values that interfaith youth movement that participants often discover they share.

Skills set: This refers to the skills needed to accomplish a specified task or perform a given function. In interfaith service-learning, some of these skills are: dialogue facilitation, deep listening or an awareness of the political and cultural context in which the participant is working, and building safe space.

Storytelling: Storytelling is an integral part of IFYC’s methodology. Young people are not scholars of religion, but they are scholars of their own experiences of religion. IFYC encourages those engaging in interfaith dialogue to share stories of their own experiences of faith, volunteerism or the stories of their culture that were passed on to them. Storytelling is important because it gives young people agency in conversations that may be complex or controversial.


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