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Examining Interfaith Action in the Post-Factual Era

An increasingly prominent theme in the coverage of current political campaigns, both in the U.S. and in Europe, has been the “post-factual” nature of contemporary politics.

Individual candidates harness nationalist and nativist themes that capture a collective mood, and address its fears, with seeming disregard or outright disdain for empirical data or quaint, old-fashioned facts. In fact – pardon the expression – inverted or corrupted facts are often seized on as truer than any data, precisely because the “counter-fact” speaks directly to a prevailing mood or fear.

Corrupted 'facts' are seized on as truer than any data b/c it speaks directly to fear. Click To Tweet

Such an environment presents a tremendous challenge – and therefore a tremendous opportunity – to practitioners of Interfaith Action. For the sake of brevity, we should consider three interlocking spheres of fear and conflict: the economic, the racial, and the religious.

Broadly speaking: in economic terms, increasing scarcity of resources and jobs, and the spiking of income inequality, have led to the disillusionment and disenfranchisement of vast and powerful segments of the voting populace – segments that see their power on the wane.

This leads, both directly and indirectly, to the sharpening of racial tensions and the retrenchment of the disenfranchised into protective and protectionist stances. The disenfranchised seek redress through nativist and authoritarian candidates and movements which promise, implicitly or otherwise, to restore “law and order” to an unraveling society.

How can interfaith action play a part?

Practitioners of Interfaith Action must be called upon to play leadership roles in addressing the tilt toward authoritarian and nativist movements. Research from the Public Religion Research Institute demonstrates the receptivity in a variety of religious, ethnic, and demographic segments of U.S. society to authoritarian values as expressed parenting practices.

The researchers observed a connection between parental preferencing — of, for example, obedience over creativity, and manners over curiosity — and receptivity to authoritarian political candidates and movements. This is in part because such preferences correlate with a higher fear of oneself or those close to one becoming a victim of terrorism.

Interfaith Action has a unique capacity to contribute, through understanding and collaborative change, to the de-demonization of The Other, and the development of stronger cross-community relationships of the kind that can countermand the stereotyping and demonization that lend strength to authoritarian politics. What’s more, the collaboration of faith communities in dialogue and community initiatives can work to counteract, through concrete action, the forces of disenfranchisement and disillusionment that pave the way for authoritarianism.

Collaboration of and action from faith communities can counteract disenfranchisement. Click To Tweet

To be sure, there are powerful forces at work: globalization, wage stagnation, fundamentalism and terrorism cannot be vanquished by calls for civility or deeper mutual understanding alone. But harnessed to community-building and collaborative efforts for change, Interfaith Action can build partnerships rather than post-factual paranoia, and bridges rather than walls.

Photo credit: © Pressureua | Dreamstime.com

David Gottlieb

David Gottlieb

David Gottlieb is a Ph.D. student in the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where his research focuses on the role played by rabbinic substitutions for ritual sacrifice in the formation of Jewish cultural memory. He received his M.A. in Divinity from the Divinity School in 2010, and his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Amherst College in 1981. Also a student of meditative traditions, he studied Zen Buddhism for many years, and co-authored, with Akiva Tatz, Letters to a Buddhist Jew (Targum Press, 2004), about the allure of meditative traditions to Jewish spiritual seekers. He is co-founder and executive director of Full Circle Communities, Inc., a nonprofit developer of affordable housing and provider of supportive services. He has written for online publications and blogs including Tricycle, Tablet, Zeek, and the New Vilna Review, and for scholarly publications, including the Journal of Religion and the University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought.

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Claremont Lincoln University

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David Gottlieb

David Gottlieb

David Gottlieb is a Ph.D. student in the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where his research focuses on the role played by rabbinic substitutions for ritual sacrifice in the formation of Jewish cultural memory. He received his M.A. in Divinity from the Divinity School in 2010, and his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Amherst College in 1981. Also a student of meditative traditions, he studied Zen Buddhism for many years, and co-authored, with Akiva Tatz, Letters to a Buddhist Jew (Targum Press, 2004), about the allure of meditative traditions to Jewish spiritual seekers. He is co-founder and executive director of Full Circle Communities, Inc., a nonprofit developer of affordable housing and provider of supportive services. He has written for online publications and blogs including Tricycle, Tablet, Zeek, and the New Vilna Review, and for scholarly publications, including the Journal of Religion and the University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought.