Thursday, November 17, 2011

Models of Interreligious Dialogue: The Display Table

The corresponding video can be viewed at:

/17/2011 12:44 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: logs in on 11/17/2011 12:44 pm (et).
11/17/2011 12:44 pm (et) Moderator: logs in on 11/17/2011 12:44 pm (et).
11/17/2011 12:53 pm (et) LaGomez: private message to Moderator: logs in on 11/17/2011 12:53 pm (et).
11/17/2011 12:55 pm (et) Laura S: private message to Moderator: logs in on 11/17/2011 12:55 pm (et).
11/17/2011 12:56 pm (et) Susan: private message to Moderator: logs in on 11/17/2011 12:56 pm (et).
11/17/2011 1:00 pm (et) Moderator: Welcome! This is Rebecca from the InterFaith Conference (IFC) and I will be your moderator. Let me explain how this will work. On the right, you will see a video playing of our current topic to get the conversation going. If you have a comment and/or question send it along to me, the moderator. As long as I deem it appropriate, the comment will be posted to everyone and the speaker will have the opportunity to answer your question.
11/17/2011 1:00 pm (et) Megan: private message to Moderator: logs in on 11/17/2011 1:00 pm (et).
11/17/2011 1:00 pm (et) Moderator: Today, our topic is ‘Methods of Interreligious Dialogue: The Display Table,’ with Tom Wolfe, Quaker member of IFC’s Board and Chair of IFC’s Center for Nurturing Understanding.
11/17/2011 1:00 pm (et) Moderator: As always, I would like to remind you of the rules of our engagement. This is a respectful place where we come together to learn more about the religions of the world. Whether you agree or disagree, we welcome your comments and questions that are posed in a respectful manner. Please no profane or offensive remarks, they will not be posted. Also, this is a place of learning, so please refrain from ‘soapboxing.’ If there are any issues or questions about this, they can be submitted along with the comments pertaining to our topic. I am here to make this a pleasant and educational experience for all, so enjoy and remember there are no stupid questions, just hostile ones!
11/17/2011 1:00 pm (et) Moderator: You can now view the beginning comments on the right. As you listen, please feel free to start sending questions or comments (YES, we want your comments). Also, the video will remain within the sidebar, so feel free to return to it as you wish. Our chat window automatically refreshes to keep the flow going, but if you wish to view the whole of the conversation, just hit the archive button. And lastly, PLEASE do not use double quotes as it leads to some issues.
11/17/2011 1:09 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Your video talks a lot about starting dialogue, do you also have dialogues while there?
11/17/2011 1:10 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: logs in on 11/17/2011 1:10 pm (et).
11/17/2011 1:11 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Hello, one and all Shalom, Salaam, Namaste, Allah abha, Sat Siri Akhal, Hama Zor Bad, Jai Jinendra, and all other InterFaith greetings to you. I hope you enjoyed the video and welcome any comments or questions about how and why we do our InterFaith dispay tables and soon on December 2-3 a poster session for the National Council of Social Studies Teachers.
11/17/2011 1:12 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Hi Clark and welcome...I am glad you are joining us.
11/17/2011 1:12 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Do you have any stats with regard to what percentage of public schools are teaching about religion? Is it mainly on the High School level?
11/17/2011 1:13 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: How many, how often do you have this booth at educational conferences (I assume that's where you do this)?
11/17/2011 1:14 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: So far all I am aware of is the 6th-12 grade levels. As to percentage it is is Utah, California, Texas, Maryalnd and Virginia that I am ware of this teaching happening.
11/17/2011 1:15 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We have done the Maryland Council of Social studies three years running and for the first time we are going to staf the national Council of Social studies on Dec 2-3 in two weeks.
11/17/2011 1:15 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: When people do come up to you, what are the questions they have? How does the whole conversation begin?
11/17/2011 1:16 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: The MCSS has about 300 teachers and they expect 6000 for the National Conference so it is a whole other level for us and will be a learning experience.
11/17/2011 1:16 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: California and Texas are great to have on board with this. These two states typically lead the way in educational reforms - if they do it, the rest are more likely to follow. California represents the liberal, Texas the conservative so it is interesting that both these states are on board with teaching about religion in the schools
11/17/2011 1:17 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Mostly what the teachers ask is how can we use these teaching materials in the classroom and what lesson plans exist to show how the IFC materials are used.
11/17/2011 1:18 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: When you say that a given state is doing this, does that mean it is the norm (or even required) for every (or most) of the public schools to include this teaching in their curriculum? Or is it still on a school by school, or district by district basic to choose to do this or not?
11/17/2011 1:18 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Yes Laura, we are enthusiastic about the big states particularly since it is mandatory in California and Texas to meet the curiccula standards for Teaching about Religion.
11/17/2011 1:19 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: What sort of credentials do the teachers need to teach this information? What if they do not personally know much about the different religions? Are they really equipted personally to teach about them?
11/17/2011 1:19 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: In Maryland and Virginia there are no standards so it is at the discretion of the administration and individual teacher. I am not sure about Utah...Clark do you know?
11/17/2011 1:19 pm (et) Sheaya: private message to Moderator: logs in on 11/17/2011 1:19 pm (et).
11/17/2011 1:20 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: How long (years) has CA and TX had this teaching as a required standard?
11/17/2011 1:20 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Laura, we believe that our books empower the teachers to be qualified since each religion wrote tehir ow version of who they are and what they believe.
11/17/2011 1:20 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: California has been Teaching About Religion the longest of any state. I believe it began in the early 1990's
11/17/2011 1:21 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Most of yoru video was talking about beginning the conversation? Do you have dialogues at the booth as well? (beyond finding out what you can do in the future)
11/17/2011 1:21 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Do your resources also have a suggested reading list for teachers? Perhaps even a suggestion for texts put out by textbook publishers?
11/17/2011 1:22 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: I just found out last week that the Sikh community has been sucessful in joining the mandaroty education in Teaxas but I do not know how long Texas has been requiring Teaching About Religion.
11/17/2011 1:23 pm (et) Moderator: Megan said: You said that this is at high school level? Are all of the schools in California required to teach about religion? I am from California and I do not remember my high school teaching much on religion
11/17/2011 1:23 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Or places (college courses) teachers can take to enhance their own understanding of the religions they will teach about?
11/17/2011 1:24 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: The Maryland Convention usually leads to short 3-5 minute conversations which certainly contain some very interesting dialogues. We presented a 90 minute program at two of the three conventions thus far which led to much deeper dialogue.
11/17/2011 1:24 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Typcially, what percent of a year long Social Studies course is devoted to a unit on religions of the world?
11/17/2011 1:24 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: What sort of content does your 90 minute program consist of?
11/17/2011 1:25 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We are just beginning to reach out to these other school districts in other states to learn of their experience and gather experince from thier lessons.
11/17/2011 1:25 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Yes, much of what you said sounds like a sales pitch so what is involved in getting people into the conversation?
11/17/2011 1:28 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Our 90 minute lesson covers the history of teaching religion in the USA, the journey thus far in the rebirth of this teaching with the example of the other states with some of the exisitng lesson plans and listening to find out what teh reality is for the individual teacher in trying to intergrate the actual lesson into the classrooom.
11/17/2011 1:28 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: how do you convince teachers and administrators that teaching ABOUT religion is, in fact, constitutional? That they do not have to be afraid to teach about or discuss religion in the classroom and, in fact, should not be ignoring it?
11/17/2011 1:29 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Not too much sales type talk actually goes on we tend to let the teachers using the books talk about their experince in the classroom.Mostly at this p
11/17/2011 1:31 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Ahhh Laura that is our major challenge..folks are wary of the challenge of what is a controversial subject. Our books pretty much hqave been well received for the very reason that they make it easy to be fair and confident about teaching the 11 religions in the IFC since the chapters are written by the faith communities themselves.
11/17/2011 1:32 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Do you also provide training for teachers so they know the proper way to teach ABOUT religion in an objective way, even (especially) if they themselves are personally committed to a particular faith tradition (that can be difficult to leave personal bias out of it)
11/17/2011 1:32 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We also have a small group of Social studies administrators who are really behind this project.
11/17/2011 1:32 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: The content of that 90 minute session sounds GREAT! Are the teachings and adminstration surprised by what they learn about the history and hows of teaching religion in the public school?
11/17/2011 1:34 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: The main expert we have acess to about the First Amendment issues and being objective is Charles Hayens of the First Amendment Project of the Fredom Forum. He constantly reminds me of my own bias about the Unity of World religions and keeps me on the straight and narrow about not being biased. This is even more important in the public school systems and the teachers there.
11/17/2011 1:34 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I imagine that IFC offers speakers to come to the classrooms? Do many of the teachers request such speakers in addition to using your books?
11/17/2011 1:35 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Laura, yes they are (and was I) when they find out about the history of Teaching Religion in our great democracy. It has not been all roses to say the least. At least we are bringing the conversation back into the schools.
11/17/2011 1:36 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Clark, do you want to answer the question about speakers?
11/17/2011 1:37 pm (et) Moderator: Rev. Lobenstine just stepped out for a meeting, Tom.
11/17/2011 1:37 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We do offer speakers for each of the 11 faiths, and can provide panels if their is enough interest
11/17/2011 1:37 pm (et) Moderator: Megan said: What surprised you the most about the history of teaching religion in the schools?
11/17/2011 1:38 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Reverend Lobenstine is our director and has more of a history about the speakers we have provided over the last 30 years.
11/17/2011 1:40 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: What surspised me most was the fact that in a democracy as vast as ours the wisdom of the time was to take the whole subject out of the schools in the 1980's rather than deal with what was percieved as a bias for the preffered faith of the majority. This is really changed since then.
11/17/2011 1:40 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Do teachers sometimes have a negative response to your project?
11/17/2011 1:41 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I guess do they continue that streak from the 80's?
11/17/2011 1:41 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: This conversation in our educational system is long overdue so that our kids can learn about how diverse we truly are in religion in this country
11/17/2011 1:41 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I know, from my own study of the history of religion in America, that well into the mid 20th century, religion was included in the schools (in the form of prayers, use of the PROTESTANT KJB Bible and other such things) but this was not the same as teaching ABOUT religionS and when much of this was ended as unconstitutional, there came to be a real fear of doing anything close to religious in the schools.
11/17/2011 1:42 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Oh yes this is a loaded subject and some teachers (though not many) beleive that this will just overwhem their schedules even more...especially if it is not part of the standards of learning in thoer state or district.
11/17/2011 1:43 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Laura, you are absolutely right, We threw the baby out with the bathwater from fear of the subject. My sense is that we are about to see the paradigm almost completely change
11/17/2011 1:44 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Now we have the controversy of including religious ideas of origins in the science classroom, as an alternative to the theory of evolution
11/17/2011 1:44 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: I grew up in North Carolina where they would bring the preachers in to school assemblys in the gym
11/17/2011 1:45 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: How much religion can be included in a general social studies course? Is there an increase in elective courses that focus entirely on religion?
11/17/2011 1:45 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We have not gone on that journey...we are focussed on the Teaching About the faith communities that are part of our Conference.
11/17/2011 1:46 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Do the teachers use the books as a textbook or more of a resource?
11/17/2011 1:47 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We are finding out how much religion can be included. It seems at this point in the non mandatory states to be World History on the one hand and World religions on the other. At this point where it is not manadatory it depends on the enthusiasm of the administrator or individual teacher.
11/17/2011 1:49 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: If a school wants to offer such a course on religion but can't find a teacher who can or wants to teach it, is the IFC able to help locate someone who the school can use to teach the material?
11/17/2011 1:50 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: At this point more as a resource within a specific lesson plan. The texbook is set up by 42 numbered questions which all of the 11 communities answered so it lends itself more to specific topics than as a chapter to chapter reading. I hav used the book with my Quaker middle school Sunday school class with great results topic bu topic. The middle schoolers were particularly interested in the questions about the rights of women.
11/17/2011 1:50 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Maybe the topic of another supplement?
11/17/2011 1:51 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Laura, are you asking about schools nearby or far away. Nearby I am certain we could help.
11/17/2011 1:51 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: OTOH, if there is a teacher who is really enthusiastic about teaching this material but his or her administration is reluctant, what might the IFC be able to do to help make it happen (like perhaps a personal presentation on the local level rather than at these conferences)?
11/17/2011 1:52 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Perhaps, our next supplement is on exclusionary statements...we have assembled a crack team of authors to address the statements tht exclude others.
11/17/2011 1:53 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We have trained 150 socail studies teachers in Maryland. What is OTOH?
11/17/2011 1:53 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: 'exclusionary statements'? Like the Christian statement that 'no one comes to God except through christ'?
11/17/2011 1:54 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: (OTOH = on the other hand)
11/17/2011 1:54 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Yep that would be a big one. So our Protestant and Catholic and Mormon authors will lokk at John 3:16 and attempt to put it in an InterFaith context. it is a major undertaking and we are the ones to do it well.
11/17/2011 1:55 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Ahhh on the other hand...thanks.
11/17/2011 1:55 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: or the idea of Jews as the 'chosen people' (exclusionary)?
11/17/2011 1:55 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Probaly shoul capitalize Christ in that context.
11/17/2011 1:56 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: That sounds like a REAL challenge - for the faith communities to place their exclusionary language within an interfaith context
11/17/2011 1:56 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: might make for an interesting interfaith dialogue
11/17/2011 1:57 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Yes, I spoke yesterday at the American Jewish Committee luncheon and it is definetly time for the idea of the chosen people to be put into context. Seems to me the Jews have been chosen to be a projection magnet for hatred over the centuries.e
11/17/2011 1:57 pm (et) Moderator: Megan said: How will they deal with a situation where an exclusionary statement that is hard to put into an interfaith perspective? Or what if their own communities do not wish for it to be interpreted in such a manner?
11/17/2011 1:58 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We are prepared to deal with objections and patient in out firm belied that this is an idea whose time is now.
11/17/2011 1:59 pm (et) Moderator: Alright everyone, our time today is just about over. I hope everyone has enjoyed the chat (and will be looking for the next supplement)!
11/17/2011 1:59 pm (et) Moderator: Please try to finish any last comments.
11/17/2011 1:59 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We belive we have reached a critical mass wihin our 11 communities that will carry the wary, but time will tell. It is not an easy conversation, but there seemds to be a consensus about the need that it be done or at least begun.
11/17/2011 1:59 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I imagine that people of faith who are already involved with the work of the IFC are more prepared to address these issues of exclusion than those more fundamentalist types who resist interfaith cooperation
11/17/2011 2:00 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: Absolutely
11/17/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: Thank you for your participation today. Next week we will be taking a break in honor of Thanksgiving. We will return the next week, December 1, with ‘Obstacles to Interreligious Dialogue’ with Rev. Clark Lobenstine, Executive Director of IFC. We hope to see you there! If you would like to contact or guest, please contact me at
11/17/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: the idea of 'walking on the fence' to balance interfaith with exclusion
11/17/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: Also, this is a new effort on our part so we welcome your feedback! Any comments will be helpful. If you have any suggestion please feel free to email me at
11/17/2011 2:01 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: We will have awhole lot more experince after the National Council of Social Studies convention on Dec 2-3
11/17/2011 2:01 pm (et) Moderator: This moderated chat room is just one example of the many programs which the InterFaith Conference is doing. If you are able and willing to financially support the InterFaith Conference’s vital year-round work, please donate now using the donate button on our website – You can also find out more about us and sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter.
11/17/2011 2:01 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Tom, one last question: how many years has IFC had this booth at these conferences?
11/17/2011 2:01 pm (et) Tom Wolfe: 3

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