December 13, 2022

Can people who worship differently find common ground?

Harvard professor Diana Eck researches America’s diverse religious landscape and helped inspire an interfaith movement.

In This Episode...

Diana Eck, a professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, leads The Pluralism Project, a research center that explores and interprets the religious dimensions of immigration; the growth of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, and Zoroastrian communities in the United States; and the issues of religious pluralism and American civil society. Nearly 25 years after Eboo cold-called her to discuss his idea for a new interfaith organization, they reflect on their shared commitment to pluralism. 

About Diana L. Eck

Diana L. Eck is a scholar of religious studies who is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, as well as a former faculty dean of Lowell House and the Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard. Eck received the National Humanities Award from President Clinton and the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1998, the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award in 2003, and the Melcher Lifetime Achievement Award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2003. In 2005–06 she served as president of the American Academy of Religion. 

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Can people who worship differently find common ground?​


Eboo Patel: This is the Interfaith America Podcast, and I’m Eboo Patel.


Some people motivate you, some challenge you, and some invite you in. Professor Diana Eck has done all three for me, and as one of the people who laid the foundations for religious pluralism in the 1990s, her work is a pillar that Interfaith America is founded on. Diana Eck is a scholar of religious studies, and professor of comparative religions and Indian studies at Harvard University. She is the founder of The Pluralism Project, and I am so pleased to have a friend, colleague, and really mentor, Professor Diana Eck with me for the Interfaith America Podcast. 

I have to take a moment of personal privilege and just talk about my relationship with Professor Eck. Back in 1999, I was in Boston for a couple of weeks over the summer. The idea of Interfaith Youth Core had hit me some months before that, and it hadn’t really gotten a ton of traction yet. I’d been reading the books of this wonderful professor of Indian Studies and religious diversity at Harvard, Diana Eck, her “Encountering God” was a seminal text in the field over the past 30 years, later a book called “A New Religious America.” On a lark I called her up, and I said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea for an interfaith organization that engages young people, and that centers social action, can I come see you?” 

She had my colleague and me, Jennifer Peace and I over to Lowell House at Harvard for tea with her partner, Dorothy Austin. I remember that moment by moment because of how encouraging Professor Eck was, and how she took the intellectual and civic project of Interfaith Youth Core seriously when it was barely formed, actually barely even born. The encouragement of people you admire early in the formation of something is irreplaceable. Professor Eck provided that for me. It is just very moving to have you on this podcast. Thank you for who you are. Thank you for the way you have shaped this field in so many ways. We live in the world that you imagined and built. Thank you, Diana. 

Diana Eck: Thank you, Eboo. I remember that day very well if I can say just a word about it because, I had been engaged personally in interfaith work, mainly internationally through work with the World Council of Churches unit on dialogue with people of Living Faith, but what I began to feel was that it was mostly all of us older folks. And, uh, we saw each other in various wonderful places where we had interfaith conferences and whatnot, but it was the same people, and I thought, “We need something really new, something that engages young people.” That’s what you imagined, and that’s what you built. It is just a matter of real pride to think that those words of encouragement grew into what you have created. Thank you too. 

Patel: I love the friendship and the partnership. So, let’s in some ways begin at the beginning. How is it that you get interested in religious diversity issues? 

Eck: I grew up in the mountains of Montana. I was in a good, non-abusive Methodist church that had a lot of social action involved, and it was cultural diversity that was the first thing. I hardly knew anyone who wasn’t of one of the Christian stripes at that point. As a Methodist Youth Fellowship, we had a work camp with native people on the Black Feet Reservation where we lived in Teepees, and helped restore a church. We hada work camp where we took an old school bus to Mexico and worked for summer building a silo on a UNESCO development farm. 

These were things that were connected with my faith, but also things that brought me into contact with people who were quite different from the folks I grew up with in Bozeman. I think the real energy came out of the Civil Rights Movement, and I was in college in New England at Smith College, but feeling a little restless, I thought, “I really want to do some sort of study abroad,” and I found a poster that advertised a program in India. I didn’t know much about India at all, but I thought, “This is probably what I want to do.” I applied, I went to India, and that was really the beginning of the rest of the journey, to tell you the truth. 

I was in a very important sacred city in India, the city of Benares at Banaras Hindu University I saw there a level of faith and religious practice that was quite different from my own, and that interested me a great deal. I started learning a bit about Hindu life through the people that I knew, and met there, and through those who made their practice bathing in the Ganges every morning. 

I’m not a person who prays standing waist deep in a river, but I understood partly because of my own faith, what was happening. That really got me interested in the study of India, which takes many lifetimes, I will say, but also particularly the study of Hinduism with so many different branches, and so many different gods, and so many different ways of talking about the divine that I decided I would pursue that. 

I went back to college for my senior year, I switched from political science to religion, and then got a Fulbright to go to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. That was another important moment, because there I really studied history, and sociology, and economics. They didn’t have so much about religion either, but it was a way of confirming that this was an academic field that was worth pursuing, so that was the start. 

Patel: It’s so much fun to hear you narrate that in this way, and, of course, I’m familiar with it because of our friendship over a quarter century, and also because of your book, “Encountering God,” which was, it was just so shaping, and in a lot of ways, my book, Acts of Faith is kind of modeled after that. I remember the details of that book, I remember you walking into a Hindu temple and saying, “You pour yogurt over the gods?” And somebody looking at you and saying, “You don’t take your shoes off in a house of worship?” It’s this beautiful encounter in which people are surprised and delighted indifference right, and I think that delight, and that engagement is at the heart of pluralism. 

Eck: Yes. I had questions for the people I knew who were Hindu, and who honored their gods with yogurt, and saffron, and flowers, and orange juice, et cetera, but they had questions for me too, and that sense of mutual engagement was really important. 

Patel: Yes. Let me switch continents for a moment here, you and I both know plenty of scholars and intellectuals. They get interested in diversity elsewhere, and their mind and heart lives in India, or Northern Africa, et cetera, but you take the lens of interest in religious diversity back here to the United States in the 1990s. Can you tell us the story of how you get interested in religious diversity here in the United States? 

Eck: Yes. I was, like many people, teaching a course on world religions, you might say, at Harvard, and along about ’89, ’90, ’91, I started having a lot of students in that course who were not native-born Americans who parents had come from India, or from Jordan, or other places, and they were also in this class. We began to realize that difference was not just something we looked at around the world in a global sense, but right in our own classroom. That was basically my awakening to the fact that the 1965 Immigration and Nationalities Act had actually brought to the U.S. people who were from the religious communities I had known and studied in India. 

By the 1990s, their kids were in college, and they were enrolled in my classes. I realized that I didn’t know much about how America had changed, and at the same time, I was made aware of the fact that there was a Hindu temple being built in the suburbs of Boston. I had seen lots of Hindu temples in India, I used to say I’d been in more Hindu temples than any living Methodist, but it was news to me that there was a temple going up in Boston really from the ground up. I went out there, I followed the building, and eventually the dedication of that temple, and have been more or less part of that wider temple community ever since, but that got me interested in asking what was going on in the United States. 

I started with a seminar that had divinity students, a few undergraduates, et cetera, where we took as our project to figure out who was who in the Boston area. Students divided into teams, and went to a couple of different Hindu communities. They went to Islamic centers, and there were a lot of them by that time, they went to some of the Cambodian and Vietnamese temples that had been created in makeshift quarters, mostly by refugees. We began to get a picture of what the religious diversity of Boston looked like. Over the years, we did repeat that seminar from time to time, and students really loved the challenge of being on the front lines of research and figuring out what the local scene was like. 

That was the awakening of this. That was in the early 1990s, and I realized that what was happening in Boston was no doubt happening elsewhere. I got a small grant from people at the Lilly Foundation who were mostly interested in the Protestant mainstream, but I seemed to be a Protestant mainstream person. I seemed to be reliable. I used that grant to enable students, because this was really a student-run research project to apply to go to places in their own life, to Oklahoma City, to Minneapolis, to the Bay Area, and do some footwork and research is what was happening there. The student who went to Minneapolis, it had been his hometown. He had lived there all his life, and suddenly he found aspects of Minneapolis that were simply unknown to him. 

This was all, I’d say in the mid-1990s, and we have to remember that Netscape Navigator and all that’s given us access to didn’t even come online until the mid-’90s really. All of this was the work that goes when people ask one another, “Well, are there any other Islamic centers in this area?” It was all word of mouth, but we continued doing that research when we had access to the internet, and when it was easier to figure out who is who. That was the beginning, it was a piece-by-piece summer project that also involved repeated conferences and gatherings of students who had been involved. 

Patel: I have to say a piece here, I was not smart enough to be an undergraduate in one of Professor Eck’s Harvard seminars in the mid-1990s, but I was a student at the time. I was a student at the University of Illinois, and I was the exact student that you are talking about, Diana. My parents were immigrants in the early 1970s to the United States as part of the 1965 Immigration Act. I grew up as an Ismaili Muslim. We’re excellent institution builders, as you well know, from jamatkhanas, to summer camps, to hospitals and universities. I grow up, at least partially, within the civic infrastructure of the Ismaili Muslim community. I get to college, I start to do an awful lot of diversity work in the early mid-1990s at the University of Illinois. 

At some point I realize that it’s all about race, gender, and sexuality, super important things, and where’s religion? Religion was actually an important part of my formation. Religion was clearly an important part in the world. Sam Huntington had just written the “Clash of Civilizations,” et cetera, et cetera, and religion, and now I’m quoting you, is the missing R word in the diversity discussion. You are the person who brings that into diversity work in the 1990s, and you do it so gently, and there’s so many ways in which, again, you have cultivated a field that we, meaning Interfaith America, and lots of other people have built institutions in. 

This notion of curiosity and inquiry rather than judgment. Let’s find out what these folks are up to, and take it seriously, and ask the question. These are the key questions with the Pluralism Project, how is America changing them, and how are they changing America, and how can we be in positive relationship? The other thing that you do is you take campuses and young people and students seriously, and that’s so much about what the Interfaith Youth Core was about in its first 20 years, and still, as Interfaith America, it’s a huge part of what we continue to be about. Campuses can be cathedrals of pluralism. Students can be researchers, can be leaders. 

You are the one who sets so much of that up. I read about all of this in “Encountering God.” Again, it’s fun to be able to talk about this with you, but I want people to know, principally, you to know, Diana, just how influential, how formational this all is in the 1990s, and what it builds towards, and you build an institution. You build a Pluralism Project, which sends student researchers out summer over summer, run seminars, creates resources on diverse religious communities and their institutions across the nation, et cetera, et cetera, and you develop a methodology at the Pluralism Project that I want to dig into a little bit, which is the case study methodology. 

Of course, it’s a methodology used in medical schools, and business schools, but it’s not typically used in diversity work. You bring it into diversity work. One of the things that I love about the case study methodology is that it puts the reader into a position of leadership. It presents a problem, and it says, “What would you do if you encountered this?” Tell us a little bit about the case study methodology, and why it’s important for diversity and religious diversity work. 

Eck: I think the first thing is that I truly believe that diversity work is best done locally. There’s a lot of national and global import that can be given, and certainly, your work, for example, with the religious communities during the Obama administration is an example of that. Most of the things that people will encounter in trying to face the dilemmas of a multi-religious society are quite local. Over the years, partly through our own research, we found a number of those places where the dilemmas of a multi-religious society have been presented to all sorts of civic institutions. 

Literally, every civic institution, from town councils, city councils, zoning boards, university administrations, hospitals, schools, public schools. These are the places where we find problems that we didn’t really know before. I don’t want to focus only on the problems, but the problems are the places where our minds are stretched to try to figure out what to do. The case study method is basically presenting a dilemma that the people, the main interlocutor, the main protagonist has never really thought about before, and so, you have to think in a new way. They give us examples of how this is happening in the society that is as diverse as ours. 

A good example is from the little town, very dense town, immigrant town of Hamtramck in Michigan as part of the wider penumbra of Detroit. A place that had been the home of immigrants one generation after another, had a large Polish Catholic population, and then gradually, Bangladeshi and Yemeni Muslims who came to Hamtramck, and began to grow quite significantly. 

The dilemma is, how does the head of the city council begin to deal with the fact that the Muslim communities would like to have a public audible broadcast of their call to prayer, and something that would happen five times a day, and would gather the Muslim community together? You can’t necessarily do this in a city like Boston because the community is spread out. It wouldn’t make sense to broadcast the call to prayer, but in Hamtramck, it would be exactly what makes sense to let people know this is the time to engage in prayer, or to come to the masjid for prayer. 

There were Polish Catholic women and older and younger immigrants from the Polish community who just couldn’t understand and couldn’t begin to deal with the fact that the name of another God would be sounded into their neighborhood, into their living room, into their ears, and didn’t know how they were going to keep this out. It was really a very delicate and difficult situation. As happens in many of these, the town council met, and they met again, and neighbors came, and they sounded off in all sorts of directions. “What about the church bells? Aren’t they pretty much the same as the call to prayer?” 

These are the questions that the class, not just the head of the city council, but the members of our class have on the table in front of them. They have to figure out what they would do if they were the protagonist in this place, how they would listen to members of the different communities, what might be a proposed solution. In many of these cases, there is no permanent solution. 

These are ongoing issues of relationship, but the example, it gives us a sense that we are in the middle of a dilemma, and it’s our dilemma as well. It may not be Hamtramck, it may be a zoning issue somewhere else where neighbors are not sure about the very seemingly expensive and elaborate Hindu temple that’s going up in a farm not far from them, or where they’re uncertain about what traffic will mean in a city where the Muslim community has put in a bid to buy a former church that had been for sale, or they’re not very sure about what the Native American land-based religion feels like, both to those people for whom land, like Devils Tower in Wyoming, what that means to them. 

Then, you have on the other side, the rock climbers who love Devils Tower because it’s some of the best rock climbing in the United States, and they think of that form of living as their religion. We have a lot of things to learn about one another, but one of the times that we are thrust into the position of learning is when there’s a problem. I say problem, it could say dilemma, something that we haven’t really faced before, but we need to figure out what a good solution would be for everyone.  

Patel: I need to underscore why I love this so much, and it has become the principal paradigm through which I look at diverse democracy. It is how we ought to think about building a multicultural nation. I’ll say a little bit more about that. One is, it’s not samosas and egg rolls diversity, it’s not everything you like. It’s not this kind of elementary school version of diversity work. That’s number one. 

Number two, in the dozens of cases that you and the Pluralism Project have developed, you take great care to take seriously the world views of the disputes, or the participants, or the interlocutors. You don’t dismiss out of hand the mountain climbers whose practice is climbing that mountain. It is not an easy or a straightforward oppressor/oppressed approach where you are immediately allied with one group because it’s so obvious. 

Now, there are plenty of cases like that in the world. There are plenty of diversity cases in which it’s not right versus right, and where there is a profound and ugly power imbalance, but that’s not what you do, that’s not the most interesting part of diversity work. The most interesting part of diversity work is, if you’re a doctor at the bedside of a patient who is near transitioning into the next world and half of the patient’s family is Buddhist, and half of them are evangelical Christian, and the Buddhists are saying, “It is only when the breath stops that the person dies,” and the evangelical Christians are saying something else, what do you do? 

It thrusts, in this case, 19- and 20-year olds into a position of leadership, like medical schools case studies, or business school case studies. What would you do? You are responsible. What do you do if you’re the mayor of Hamtramck? In many cases it’s, how do you shape the conversation? 

Eck: Absolutely. 

Patel: It’s not just what decision you make. It is, how do you shape the conversation? John Courtney Murray, the great Jesuit philosopher says civilization is living and talking together. That is what we do in a pluralist civilization. The challenge is that it is only quite recently that people from different identities have had to live and talk together as relative equals. That’s what the case study method, I think it is the chief methodology we use at Interfaith America. We, of course, credit you with that, and secondly, it is the manner in which I think about diverse democracy. 

I want to actually turn to wider conversations about diverse democracy and how we think about diversity work here. One of the things that you were so successful at in the 1990s was introducing religion into the diversity conversation. It influenced a wide range of people, including myself. In “A New Religious America,” you say something that I now quote ad nauseam, which is the United States is the most religiously diverse nation in human history. That is a stunning fact, and yet in 2022, for all of the DEI workshops that happened from literally kindergarten to Fortune 100 companies, religion is not really a central part for all of my efforts and yours. 

The pendulum could swing again, the paradigm could turn, but in the most religiously diverse nation in human history, at a time of religious tension and conflict around the world, in a nation in which religious communities provide something like half the social capital of the country, quoting your colleague and friend, and one of my mentors, Robert Putnam, there’s relatively little talk about religious identity and diversity in diversity work. I’m curious what you think of that. 

Eck: Well, I think of it what you think of it, Eboo. You give me credit for introducing religion into the diversity conversation, and into the whole notion of E pluribus unum, which is our, out of many one people, not one religion, but one people. I’m disappointed, and it’s one of the things I still find appalling about diversity work now that diversity and belonging has become the buzzword of virtually every institution. But what they don’t address, and what I think they are not able really to address, and perhaps fearful of addressing in the endless workshops and programs about diversity, inclusion, and belonging is the topic of religion. 

For some, it’s because they find it too difficult. It does require a little bit of, I would say knowledge, as well as leadership to be able to bring religious diversity into the scope of diversity training, but what is diversity training if the people who are involved know almost nothing about the Sikh religious tradition, or about Islam and the many forms of Islam, or about what it means to be a refugee, an attempt to put down religious roots in a new place. 

That’s a conversation that I think needs Interfaith America, let’s say Eboo, to begin making inroads, because it is true. Every time I see a diversity workshop at Harvard, I might peek in the door and see what they’re doing, but they do not talk about religion. Religion is part of the lives of our students, and part of the lives of our faculty. At least to a great extent, it is the missing link, and it is missing, of course, and it was one of the things that Madeleine Albright used to say as Secretary of State, it was the missing piece of our diplomacy as well. 

Patel: Right. In a great book called “The Mighty and the Almighty,” she said, famously, in a state department of thousands and thousands of people, I had at least hundreds, maybe thousands of economic experts at my fingertips, but exactly one person who knew anything about religion, the ambassador for religious freedom at a time in which she was dealing with the Balkans, and South Asia, and Northern Ireland, she was like, the things I was dealing with all over the world were religious conflict. 

Eck: Yes. She used to say she’d write in the margins of her notes at meetings, learn more about Islam, of course. John Kerry in that position said if he could go back and do it again, he would’ve majored in the comparative study of religion. It is a good basis for leadership in our society, and yet people are uncertain, I would say that’s part of it, about what it means to bring up this topic, we’re always told, “Well, you just don’t talk about religion.” Many of the leaders involved in diversity work have that anxiety, I would imagine. The other thing is that there hasn’t really been the knowledge of how religiously diverse we are. 

Now, I give people credit for their ignorance, but I do say that when the Pluralism Project and our students were out over the 20 years in which we were actively doing research along with professors at other universities, et cetera, we were going out to actually look for the places that were becoming the new nodes of religious energy in our society. The mosques and Islamic centers, the Hindu temples, the Buddhist communities, the Sikh communities, the Baháʼí, et cetera. We wanted to find them, and they often were not in places that you would notice if you were just driving right by. They were in an old mattress factory in Northridge, California, or in a U-Haul dealership in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. 

There was a sense of not being aware, and gradually, as people became aware, a lot of them didn’t like it, and we see that today too. Although, I remember writing a op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times back in the ’90s about where we might see the flag on the 4th of July. I talked about places in Florida, and Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere at that point. I got quite a lot of response from people who said, “I didn’t know all these people were here. How did they get here? I don’t like it. I think they should go home.” 

Patel: The same way your ancestors got here, in many cases. 

Eck: In some cases that is exactly what happened. They simply don’t know, and when they do know, they’re not sure about it at all. Then we have a very different take on our civic life, which is basically the rise of white Christian nationalism, which is probably the most difficult diversity issue that we face today, because it is the calling card of people who don’t like the diversity that the new immigration has brought, and have what you and I both know is a rather flawed understanding of our constitutional commitment to religious freedom, and the free exercise of religion. 

Patel: One of the things that I’ve been writing about recently, and I’m an optimist, I think we share this, and so I’m constantly, not only do I see the glass half full, but I’m constantly trying to find ways to fill it all the way up. One of the things that I’m very aware of is that the white Christian nationalist movement of 100 years ago, the most visible part of that is the KKK, but there’s many other forms of white Christian nationalism of the 1920s. It’s anti-Catholic, it’s anti-Black, it’s antisemitic, it’s anti-immigration and anti-diversity, et cetera. 

Is the response to that, the interfaith response in the form of the NCCJ, the National Conference for Christians and Jews formed in the late 1920s, really as a response to the KKK, that that creates a better paradigm, as you would say, a wider sense of we, and they run civic projects in the same way that the Pluralism Project does, and Interfaith America does, but perhaps most importantly, they came up with a new paradigm. 

They virtually invented a term, and that term is Judeo-Christian. People think that Judeo-Christian was written on Plymouth Rock when the pilgrims arrived. It was actually invented in the 1930s, not as a theological or historical construction, because that would be inaccurate, but as a civic invention, basically, as a way to welcome Jews and Catholics into the United States, and part of what I think is lost, although it has a great book called “Tri-Faith America” by Kevin Schultz, which tells the story, is that alongside the labor movement of the mid 20th century, probably the single most important civic movement from 1930 to 1955 in the United States is the interfaith movement alongside the labor movement. 

It actually in some ways helps till the soil for the Civil Rights movement, which takes off an earnest in the early 1950s, and, of course, lasts and defines America for the latter half of the 20th century. Part of what we hope for at Interfaith America, and why we changed the name of the organization to Interfaith America is that the combination of the growing religious diversity of the nation. You say this in “New Religious America.” By the way, the funny thing is, Diana, I didn’t even go back and review your books in preparation for this. I just know them. They’re like embedded in me. 

But you write about, there are almost as many Muslims in America as Methodists, and the median age of Muslims is like 20 years younger. You have a growing religious diversity. You have this ugly emergence of white Christian nationalism. Could a paradigm-shifting moment happen today where we oppose white Christian nationalism, embrace diversity, widen our sense of we, and start to think of ourselves as the chapter beyond Judeo-Christian, which we at the organization, Interfaith America, are calling the paradigm Interfaith America. 

Eck: I think absolutely. I think that’s what needs to happen. It’s one of the things that interested me most when I started the Pluralism project. At that point, there was a research project going on basically at the University of Chicago, a very important one, on fundamentalism, the Fundamentalism Project. 

Patel: Martin Marty and Scott Appleby. 

Eck: They produced some wonderful volumes, et cetera, and they wanted me to get involved a bit. I thought, well, the thing I’m most interested in is not the fundamentalist. I’m more interested in the people who are reaching out to create something with their neighbors in the United States, but elsewhere as well. Looking for those places where people were, as you say in your new book, that building something together, and the energies of the interfaith movement were really beginning at that time, local, maybe just Christian Jews and Muslims, and a few Baháʼís or something, but they were starting, and they have continued to grow. 

That part of our research has been to look at the ways in which the interfaith movement in the United States has expanded. It is diverse. Like any movement, it has a direction toward a new paradigm, but not a particular center. But it really is an important aspect of American religious life. It’s the interfaith people who were standing up in protest when some of the hate crimes, and slurs, and attacks on religious minorities happen. 

Patel: Absolutely. 

Eck: These are the people who come out. I remember, you’re going, I hear to the 10th anniversary of the shooting at the Gurdwara in Wisconsin. 

Patel: There’s a delegation from Interfaith America going. 

Eck: I remember when that happened, and in Boston, there was such a huge outcry of religious people from congregations of all stripes all over the city. Everyone crowded into Trinity Church in Copley Square, that great big cathedral of an Episcopal church wearing an orange head covering basically in solidarity with the Sikh community. That was an interfaith response to this. 

But I do think that the challenge of Christian nationalism is one that deserves addressing today in its new form, not in its KKK form, but in it’s three-piece suit and tie form that includes a number of people in our government, and senators, et cetera. 

Patel: There’s plenty of pitchforks involved in Christian nationalism these days. We saw it on January 6th. 

Eck: We sure did. The other thing I would say here is that one of the case studies I continue to work around in my head is the plan for the Smithsonian to have a Festival of Faiths as the main theme next year, a year from now, of their summer festival on the mall. When there will be a display of people from various religious communities doing what they do, and showing what they show, and saying what they say, and cooking what they cook, and painting what they– a whole display of who America is on the National Mall. 

At the same time when we’ve seen the National Mall put to such other purposes, and I am thinking, “Is this going to be a festival? Is it going to be a confrontation? Is it going to be a train wreck?” It’s a real question. It’s the public question of who America is. 

Patel: Diana, I think that that’s a beautiful place to leave this, because the National Mall was a place of violent, anti-democratic insurrection on January 6th, 2021, and in the summer of 2023, as you say, it’s going to be what I like to call the American potluck. It’s a place in which the distinctive identities of diverse people are welcomed as contributions. You don’t have a potluck unless people bring a dish. It’s not an interesting potluck of, everybody’s the same and brings the same dish, and the wonderful thing about a potluck is that it’s not a mayor, or a general, or a president who commands it. It’s people who do it. 

Eck: People who do it, right. 

Patel: There’s a million ways for it to go wrong, but it almost never goes wrong. It’s the ultimate kind of civic form of diversity, and we’re going to see that on the National Mall. You and I are on that advisory committee. We’re going to see that, inshallah, in 2023, and maybe that will reintroduce religious diversity, and the attendant paradigm, mutual inquiry, a back and forth around identity, a good faith approach to the dilemmas of diversity, and a sense of seeing the beauty in one another’s difference. 

Hopefully, it reintroduces that into the American conversation, and I just want to say in closing, Diana, you for me, and for literally thousands of others, you began the conversation for us. I can’t thank you enough, not just for what you did, but for who you are, really. Thank you. 

Eck: Thank you, Eboo. 

Patel: How do we bring religion and religious diversity more towards the center of the multicultural conversation? It’s such an important identity to so many people in the United States, and it’s so crucial to our social fabric. To read more about this conversation, and to find resources and stories about bridge building in our religiously diverse nation, visit our website, I’m Eboo Patel. 


Intro/outro music provided by Mysterylab Music and composed by Mott Jordan.

Credit music provided by Die Hard Productions.

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