October 25, 2022

Can poets and storytellers bridge our divides?

Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury College in Vermont, believes there is power in sharing stories of bridgebuilding.

In This Episode...

Laurie Patton collects stories. A scholar of Indian religions and the president of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, Patton looks for narratives that show people building lasting relationships with others. “I think about what stories change people’s minds,” Patton says, particularly stories about shelter, human movement and home.

About Laurie Patton

Dr. Laurie L. Patton is the 17th president of Middlebury College and the first woman to lead the institution in its 222-year history. Patton is an authority on South Asian history, culture, and religion, and religion in the public square. She is the author and editor of ten scholarly books and three books of poems, and has translated the classical Sanskrit text, The Bhagavad Gita. She was president of the American Academy of Religion in 2019 and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018 in two categories, philosophy/religion and education.

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Can poets and storytellers bridge our divides?


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


Eboo Patel: Dr. Laurie Patton is the 17th president of Middlebury College, the first woman to lead the institution in its 222-year history. Laurie is a poet and she is a serious scholar, having written or edited 10 scholarly books and translated the Bhagavad Gita. She was president of the American Academy of Religion and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in two categories. Laurie, so many people know you as the leader of an elite liberal arts college, Middlebury, and they know you as a scholar of religion, both in India and in the American public square. You’re also a poet and you and I have had many conversations about poetry and democracy. Let’s start there. Let’s talk about poetry and democracy. 

Dr. Laurie Patton: For me, it’s what is the role of the poet in society? That means relatedly, how do poets have a voice? How do poets understand their voice? A deep question that’s a corollary to that is what is the relationship between poetry and democracy? That’s an example of the kind of question that I use myself and have myself that I’ll never get tired of asking. Every book I’ve written, every class I’ve taught, and every administrative role I’ve had is inspired by that question. 

As a professor, as a chair of a Religion Department at Emory, as a dean of arts and sciences at Duke, as the director for the first center for faculty development for the whole university at Emory, or as president of Middlebury, that question inspires me every day. There are a lot of corollary questions, but if you’re focused on how is that deepest, most significant voice that everybody has that I think of as a poetic voice coming to life and how can it be heard by others in a way that builds society and builds community, that’s where I want to land. 

Patel: This notion of like, how do we phrase things poetically in ways that affirm individuality and build community and democracy, and that’s the poet’s voice in democracy, right? I remember five or six years ago when there was this huge push towards colleges preparing people for jobs, you had this beautiful poetic turn of phrase. You said, of course, higher education should prepare people for meaningful work so much better than a job. 

Look, I want to ask kind of a personal question which is, you have this fascinating religious history. You were born into one religion, you converted to another and you are a world-renowned expert in a third, Hinduism, you’re a Sanskritist. Can you, in just a couple of minutes, take us through that journey? One of the themes I’d love to keep coming back to is how this personal history, which is about both religious formation and intellectual formation, shapes how you approach the challenge of pluralism, both as a theoretical concept and also in practice. 

Patton: Great question on so many different levels. Being raised as a Unitarian means that you are really open to other religious traditions. We did all of it. We learned about Eid, we did the Hanukkah candles and sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. All of that was what earlier scholars in a generation maybe twenty years earlier than me would– even in my own generation, scholars of religion would mock a little bit and say, that’s a smorgasbord way of looking at the world. 

It is a deeply traditional New England way of looking at the world. It informed Emerson and informed Thoreau, but they’re not wrong. There are many times in which the Unitarian sensibility, as I was growing up, lacked a sense of a depth of calendar, a depth of time, and that depth of time was something that I missed a lot. Even though the progressive liberal outlook on world religions and the basic fact that religions transform you and ground you, those two facts were always a part of my upbringing religiously, spiritually. It’s actually even more complex than the way you put it, although I think that’s a really great crisp way to frame it. 

My journey from Unitarianism move to, I’ve always been drawn to contemplative traditions. I think that’s why I was drawn to the study of India. My involvement in college was always with those contemplative traditions including the Quakers. And in graduate school, I really wanted a sense of liturgy and time. As a result, I became very involved in the Episcopal church. In that journey, I also realized that there was a faith assertion that in the end was hard for me to be genuine in the midst of. What I mean by that is if you put me up against the wall and said, do you think that Jesus was the savior of all humankind and died and was raised again on the third day, I’d say even as a liberal Christian, I would say no. It’s one of the most glorious metaphors and I would love to live my life by it.  

I realized that one very American way to think about religion and religious conversion was given that there are some prices for converting from one religion to another in America, but compared to other cultures in the world, relatively few, that one criteria for how you might live within a religious tradition is in what religious context are you most yourself and least hypocritical, can you most fulfill the ideals that are at the core of your being? 

I always felt hypocritical being Christian. When I left a job and a marriage from Bard College to be at Emory University, I had nothing. I had twelve nice people in Atlanta and I didn’t even know them very well. When your life at 35 is entirely changed and everything is different than you ever thought except your work, you begin to build again an entirely new way spiritually. 

When I landed in Atlanta, the people who both understood the reasons for my choices gave me imagery to help think it through that felt truly honest and genuine to me, and were temperamentally way more similar to what I was were my Jewish friends. I am a deep believer in the spiritual power and guidance of friendship. That was an interesting moment to me. 

An example, when you go through a divorce, it’s shattering and it’s so every day that people forget how shattering it is. A rabbi said to me, do you know that to have loved at all is an accomplishment? I was like, “I love that. That is such a wonderful way to think about the world.” Jewish ways of being and thinking really began to draw me out in a new way. Their pragmatism, their focus on irony, their scholarly focus, all of that really felt like who I was. It felt like home and you have to accept all the yucky stuff about home. In addition, I could live with the stuff that was hard for me. I went to the Mikveh in 1999 and have been an observant, conservative Jew ever since and absolutely feel that it is home still. 

The two things I would say in relationship I think to the most important question for Interfaith America and the last part of your question around pluralism, couple things. First is the continuity in all of this is a study of Indian religion. That scholarly commitment remained. That is what Frank Clooney, beautiful Jesuit, a thinker in South Asia scholar, calls a second tradition. What is the tradition you’ll embrace for your life that always keeps you honest? So many people have them, and for him it’s Hinduism. For me it’s early India, both Hinduism and Buddhism and contemplative ways of thinking and poetic ways of thinking in early India. 

That was the throughline in a way, the vina or the drone in an Indian ensemble. The thing that was interesting is it launched me into recognition of Jewish practice and Jewish identity as in a Jewish path as the one where I could be most authentically myself, least hypocritical, most genuine, and most honest, and most able to change based on my own self inventory as well as others’ responses to me. 

Patel: There’s so many themes here that I see as I look back into our friendship and our colleagueship is, and this is incidentally an underlying theme of this podcast, it’s Deen and Dunya. It’s how material life connects with spiritual life and what was happening in your personal journey and how Jewish ways of being and Jewish forms of community met you at a place of deep need and fulfill that need. I love the notion of home is going to have some yucky things and you have to decide if you can live with them, but you need a home. 

Also, and I see this over and over again in our seminar where you say, “Stop stereotyping scholars as people who do not care about personal lives.” It occurs to me that probably, that crystallizes for you in this moment when there’s probably a scholarly community of Jews who you feel very at home with at a time of, as you say, that it’s a shattering moment. I just thank you for that. Thank you for sharing that. It’s powerful and it leads into this next question. One of the things that strikes me about your understanding of pluralism, and it’s really powerfully put in your book, Who Owns a Religion, is that every view counts. Every view counts. 

The scholar of religion gets to offer her understanding of the Bhagavad Gita, but conservative Hindus get to offer their understanding too, and neither should be dismissed because one is Western or because another is Neanderthal or whatever. You are just basically like, “This is what it means to live in a diverse world. Welcome to reality.” The way that I put this is diversity is not just the differences you like. You give this a great name, you call it interruptive public space when multiple justified views are in contestation and conflict with each other. Can you elaborate on that? 

Patton: Yes. It was interesting when writing the book, it’s about the conflicts between academic, well-intentioned liberal scholars who write books that usually in some way or other are surprisingly controversial within the communities about which they were written. As a result of that surprise, the space that erupts is one in which the offense, the scandal, the stumbling block to use the deepest sense of the word, scandal, is based on who has the right to represent. It’s an agonistic conversation between the scholar and the person of the community who has the right to represent. 

What’s interesting is each religious tradition has their own understanding of what it means to represent. There’s some really interesting dialogues that take place. Quite frequently, what erupts is a controversy usually on the internet and the controversies I wrote about were all in the early days of the internet. I think the key thing about interruptive public space is that it surprises everybody. There is this idea that people take advantage of it to press their own agenda, whatever it might be. 

What I do when I teach this book, and I’ve had the pleasure of teaching it here at Middlebury during the pandemic when I wasn’t traveling so much so I got to teach it, I did with my students a Rorschach test, kind of who do you identify in this controversy? Do you identify with the author, the scholar? Do you identify with the communities who objected? Do you identify with the communities who are sympathetic? Do you identify with the scholars who disagreed with the scholar? Et cetera. There were all these different roles that you could identify with. 

In each case, it was different. Where the majority of the students landed, it was different. It was a wonderful way to say, “Hey look, these plural voices, which are justified are ones that you’re going to identify with differently in each case.” This is also something I think that comes from the Jewish tradition, is one of the ways that you can authentically honor another point of view is not to be pressured to agree with it, but to in fact allow it to be and know where your line is drawn. 

For example, if you take a very tough example like abortion, are there people who would really understand why someone would not want to get an abortion, and also want to protect a woman’s right to choose? That’s a voice that is frequently drowned out, and yet it is a voice that can begin the basis for dialogue. 

Patel: You use a geeky academic concept in your last answer, agonistic pluralism. The short definition of that is, is it’s a recognition that in a diverse society there’s going to be struggle between different views and different groups and it’s simply a recognition of that. I think what is special about you, Laurie, and I think that this is radical in our time, is that you recognize the legitimacy of different views. Right now, in our historical moment, the loudest voices on the diversity discussion are seeking to delegitimize huge populations of people. 

For example, the most obvious one is the loud group of people in Trump world who say things like Mexicans are rapists and Muslims are terrorists, and their views don’t count. In fact, we don’t want them in this country. There is another, a group of people who are closer to us politically on the left, I call them diversity progressives, who say that people with certain forms of “privilege” who are white, male, Christian, straights, cisgender, they never talk about being an American as a privilege or being book smart in a knowledge economy as a privilege. These other things are privileges and that delegitimizes people who hold those identities. 

You are, I think, articulating a third way, which is people have a right to their identity and have a right to their view. The way you have a diverse democracy is when people can express their view in a way that is in dialogue and not in violence. Is that the way you see your understanding of pluralism? 

Patton: I think the reason why I came up with that idea and was drawn to it is two things. One, I’m such a relational person that I can’t bear it if there’s a relationship that gets broken or a human dignity that is not respected in a conversation. I still struggle with that. If I know that I have total trust with a person, I can talk about anything with them and disagree. You and I are perfect example. I disagree with you frequently and you disagree with me frequently, and we know it’s productive and there will always be a relationship underneath it. 

If I think that there is something about that relationship that’s going to be broken, it’s very upsetting to me. I’ve tried to take that energy of always wanting to be in relationship, which could be understood as a weakness as well as a strength, and try to use it as a way of seeing the world, which is how do I find a form even in the public square, even in democratic relationships, where relationships are preserved amongst difference? That is my number one thing that I care about. 

I think that’s how I got to the idea of pragmatic pluralism, and it’s the way I would define it, which is first of all, we need to know what the relationship is. It could be purely transactional one, but still respectful between say a faculty member and an administrator, or a student and a teacher, or a town clerk and a petitioner for a re-zoning law, whatever it might be. Those things, even those transactional relationships are, in my view, have a potential to be transformative. That’s why I really want to preserve them no matter how difference comes into play. That’s incredibly hard and a little utopian, but it is what drives my understanding of religious pluralism. 

Patel: At Interfaith America, we call this the three parts of pluralism. You call it pragmatic pluralism. It’s basically respect for identity, relationships between different communities, and then a commitment to the common good. I think part of what strikes me about you is you take each one of those things so seriously and then you tell these stories where, in your language, one group needs another to be itself. 

You tell this beautiful story of this Muslim who goes to this Catholic choir in Bosnia during the war and sings in this Catholic choir, then slips away afterwards. The choir director at one point says, “I don’t know you at all. You just come, you sing, and you leave. Why do you do this?” The Muslim says, “Your Catholic choir helps me be a better Muslim.” You are looking for these stories in which people are entirely themselves, they’re expressing their identity, and they’re in beautiful relationship with each other and they need each other. 

I want to connect this to the powerful essay you wrote in my book, Out of Many Faiths, the essay about myth. You point out that we’re living in not just fractious times, we’re almost living in different realities. You cite that what we need is a myth that holds a diverse democracy together. A myth has to be highly relatable. It has to be about an everyday ethic of pluralistic behavior. It has to invoke a wider sense of we, it has to have compelling poetic imagery. It has to portray a compelling moment of identity formation.  

The archetypal one you use is the four chaplains moment during World War II. The two Protestants, the Catholic, and a Jew who give their life jackets up to sailors on a ship that’s been hit by a German U-boat. They hold hands and they jump into the ocean together saying their respective last rights. It occurs to me that, Laurie, you are constantly telling the story of a diverse democracy holding together. 

The story of the Muslim in the Catholic choir, that is a myth. The story of the Jew praying as the trucks of bodies leave September 11th, that is a myth that emerges from a religious tradition or is a religious story and that seeks to hold a diverse democracy together. Let me just ask you, do you just do this naturally? Are you just constantly, naturally looking for these stories and then relating them so that we, citizens of a diverse democracy who are right now suspicious of each other, see relationships, see bridge rather than barrier? 

Patton: Yes, I think bridges are really interesting and most people don’t. The great stories that the media search for generally tend to be ones that are dramatic, which usually are about breakage. Stories of bridging are less dramatic by the fact that somebody gets talked down from jumping off a bridge, even. That’s not a dramatic story. It is for the persons involved. What I worry about is that the myths of construction, even the myth of, as you were saying, of the amazing myths of the Christians and Jews, that’s from you, first of all, just make sure who gets credit. 

I’ve learned that story from you. I thought about it a lot. I thought what are the elements there? Even that is dramatic. I’m really interested in the less dramatic stories that are really everyday stories. What’s an interesting challenge is they are myths, they become myths, although they’re real stories as well. I’m thinking about writing a collection of them and just telling those stories. I think they will be really helpful, but whether they gain the status of nationwide myths is a question. That’s an open question for me. 

Am I ever going to be able to– Are we, it’s not a question of I– are we ever going to be able to find a bridging myth that has the power and the drama of the Christians and Jews jumping off together? It’s an interesting question. Yes, for whatever reason, my early work in India was about mythology. I think about stories all the time, I think about what stories change people’s minds all the time. The most important thing about this is that every single one of those stories, and there are ten more that I could tell, are ones that people brought to me. 

People know that I collect them, and so when I started teaching in synagogues, and particularly people say, “Oh, yes, I remember, there was that. There was this other one.” Many of them are funny in the sense of touching and humorous at the same time. Like the Orthodox rabbi and the reformed rabbi, and the Orthodox rabbi’s synagogue burns down. It’s not like I’m telling a joke. The reformed rabbi comes with a check and they hate each other. Everyone knows they hate each other, and the reformed rabbi appears at the door with a check and the Orthodox rabbi says, “What are you doing?” 

He says, “Look, we can’t be reformed if you can’t be Orthodox, so you got to rebuild, there’s no other way.” It’s not an affectionate relationship, and it is still one of profound interdependence and care. It’s a very interesting moment. Are those going to be ones that are going to be more than illustrative stories and foundational for us? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do think that they need to be told over and over and over again. Be the way I would put it. 

Patel: Yes. You’re like a jukebox of stories that bind, and of different kinds. I just think that’s amazing. One of the things that strikes me is that at least all of the stories that I’ve heard you tell, the kind of myths that bind or the stories that bind are religious in nature. I really want to dive into this because religious identity and diversity is something you and I care a great deal about, but it is virtually absent from the mainstream diversity discussion in higher education, and really in the nation. 

My organization, Interfaith America, we do this major study called IDEALS, which is the largest study of religious diversity in higher education and in history. We do it with two professors, Matt Mayhew, and Alyssa Rauckenbach. One of the things we find is that about three-quarters of college students say that they spend a lot of time studying racial identity and different political views. Roughly two-thirds say that they spend time studying different sexualities, but well under 50% say that they spend any time talking about religious diversity. 

Two questions. Why do you think religious diversity gets such short shrift in higher education, especially given so many of our colleges, including our elite colleges, were founded by religious communities for the purpose of training future ministers? Why is it so important for you, obviously, as a scholar of religion, but also as a public intellectual and an administrator, to keep religious diversity stories and modes of thinking at the center of your work? 

Patton: It depends on how you look at the problem. I think your question, though, is based on right now and where diversity energy goes. Around sexuality, around class, around gender, around race, most powerfully right now recently. There are several reasons for it. The first is, whatever is happening right now around the separation of church and state, and that’s for a whole other podcast and for other scholars than me, although I think about it a lot, I think the separation of church and state has been largely a successful project. 

Therefore, what grounded educational institutions in 1800s, and what became part of their curriculum gradually became not part of their curriculum. Middlebury was broken up twice by issues around the Great Awakenings that were happening all over America, particularly in upstate New York, which is literally across the bridge from us. All these interesting ways in which religious identity, they motivated education in the early decades of America, over time, that has become atrophied because of the successful focus on the separation of church and state. 

Particular private institutions had options, and some of them were cultural options rather than religious options, per se. I think that has shifted over time. Not all places have moved in that secular direction, but I think that it would be natural for those institutions to follow the trend. I think that’s number one. Number two, I also feel as if religious identity and ethnic and cultural identity were more fused before the ’90s. Ethnic and cultural identity became their own set of identities. Of course, they were before that too, but much more focused in a certain way. 

Being a Pakistani and being a Muslim, we’re entirely fused in the American imagination, for example. Now, there’s much more separation of religious identities and cultural identities, because of the strong focus on cultural identity and racial identity, and ethnic identity. That’s because of all the scholarly traditions that have emerged. I think the centrality of that, and it’s deeply spiritual grounding. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that racial identity in particular and the racial history of the United States is such a profound spiritual problem for the United States that it takes on the power of religious identity in its own right. 

I think that’s a very important third reason for why traditional religious identities as a function of diversity become less focused on in higher ed today. Those are the three reasons that I would give, and it’s a great question. Your second question, it’s related to the idea that the four areas that I see where interreligious interdependence really engaged in long-term ways is food, mourning, or grief, the arts, and shelter, and it’s shelter. I don’t think there will be a dramatic myth. There might be, but what I do think is number one, there will be dramatic local myths. 

The thing that keeps coming back to me over and over again is the story that was sort of– This is a great added example initially, but another definition of a myth is a story that you keep going back to over and over again, you keep telling it, you don’t know why. The story in Victoria, Texas, where the Muslim and Jewish groups supported each other when the mosque was burned. I love that story on any number of levels and I keep telling it. I’m like, “This is just like just an added example but it was around shelter.” 

I do believe that, particularly now, when questions of home and questions of human movement, and questions of shelter are being rethought as a result of climate change, that local myths around home are going to be the myths that we need to tell to continue to create a transformative interreligious democracy. 

Patel: Yes, that’s so beautiful, and to tell them interdependently, right? 

Patton: Interdependently. 

Patel: It’s not a home with an electrified security fence. It’s a home that we share, protect together. I think that that’s so powerful. 

Patton: Yes. Just because I was thinking about this, I think about what is one of our more transformative town-gown partnerships here at Middlebury. What has exploded around the world as a human movement that everyone gets but is remaining local, Habitat for Humanity. I just looked up and one of the things that Habitat for Humanity has on their website are what matters to people when they’re in their homes, and there are beautiful secular stories. 

Then there’s this beautiful little section on the website that’s about people’s religious and holiday celebrations in their homes once they’ve built them. It’s such a wonderful moment because what a home does is allow you back to one of Interfaith America’s major principles about respect and for religious identity, it allows people to celebrate the secular holiday of Mother Day, or Hanukkah, or Eid, or whatever in a new home. The fact that’s right there on their website really struck me. I think one really interesting project could be how to explore human meaning through the stories that Habitat for Humanity builds every minute as they build houses for other people. 

Patel: I mean, I find that so powerful. First of all, Habitat for Humanity, its way of going about its work has been hugely influential to Interfaith America. Actually, somebody at the National Council of Churches, when I was first starting this organization, said to me, “Don’t use our model of interfaith work. Don’t gather the representatives from X number of religious communities. Use the Habitat for Humanity model. Create an activity that naturally draws people from a range of identities together to do a common project and to share their stories of why that project is important in their own identity or faith and why it’s more powerful and sacred to do it together.” 

You’re underscoring that. I actually do have one final question for you, which is, it’s part of your magic. You just do it naturally. Pulling rabbits out of hats is normal for you. I watch it and marvel at it, which is that I feel you spend the right amount of time on the problem and then you shift to moving forward. It’s the professor administrator in you, right? Professors love to focus on the problem and the administrator’s like, look, we got to pass a budget. We got to figure out who we’re going to tenure here, et cetera, et cetera. 

I think for me, amongst the most powerful examples of this is you’ll discuss the context that leads up to the Salem Witch trials, you’ll discuss the horror of those trials, and then you’ll quickly turn to, and here’s how that place healed. Here’s what Joseph Green did. He rearranges the chairs in the key church in Salem so that people are not sitting next to– It feels new to people. I’m curious, Laurie, could you connect your identities, your work, how you think about Deen and Dunya, the world and the sacred, to this perfect balance of let’s understand the problem and then let’s highlight the people finding solutions or find solutions ourselves? My last question. 

Patton: I think there’s so many amazing people out there like that, whether they’re faculty in higher ed, whether faculty or student leaders who do exactly that, or administrators who understand what it means to create a space for thinkers and learners and so on. I would say there are many, many, many folk who I have learned from in this context.  

I would also back to the things I was saying earlier about weakness and strength. I am solution-addicted and it drives my husband crazy and it drives many people crazy because I will never want to finish a sentence and never let one of my colleagues finish the sentence without offering a solution. I’m not sure why that is. I think it’s related to that question of relationality, that being focused on a solution is being focused on relationality, which is really different than what my students share frequently about creating a culture of toxic positivity. I don’t want to do that, but I always want to create a culture of constructive engagement, which is different than toxic positivity. 

I think that balance is because, well, I think there are two reasons for it and it’s a lovely question. One is that, New England tradition, I’m a high rationalist and a high mystic. I have both going on and in tension all the time. Doctrine is not my thing, but high rationalism and high mystical engagement is. I think that tension that allows you to go with the pragmatic and the visionary at the same time. 

The second reason I think is because ultimately, if I were to do another life, it would be only to be creative writer and have the courage just to be that. I tend to identify with artists and makers and writers, people who get what it means to build stuff or create stuff. When you create stuff, you always have to excise the word that you love or the paragraph that you really think is awesome but doesn’t fit or put the punctuation differently because the person doesn’t get it, even though you think it’s brilliant, whatever it is. It’s the same for an artist. It’s the same for every single architect, a sculptor, builder. I think that creativity is what ultimately drives me. 

I’ve always been deeply envious of people who are just committed to their art because they’re in the middle of truly making things. I would only say when I share that with a very dear friend of mine who’s a poet and was the poet laureate of Wales, she’s a deeply wise and lovely person. She said, well, Middlebury’s your poem right now. I thought that was such a great way to say, yes. Even the thankless, often stereotype task of building, and in this case, just purely maintaining a community and keeping it together is a form of creativity and is a form of poetry at the deepest sense. That is what sustains me. I think that’s what gives rise to that combination of things. 

Patel: We are back full circle, right? We began with, or you began with the question, what’s the poetic voice in democracy? You end with the insight that Middlebury is your poem right now. You have said often that administration is a sacred practice. Of course, all the college faculty in our seminar, they sit straight up when you say that because they do not experience their administrators as sacred people. You are inviting them to, and you’re pointing out to these faculty, “Listen, you might be at administration one day and you want to do it as a sacred practice.” By the way, not everybody writes a poem with their college presidency. You’re doing that. 

Patton: I hope so. 

Patel: I just want to underscore like how special you are. In rereading your work and in thinking how the concepts that you articulate, they relate to what I have seen you do, you’re just special. Laurie, thank you for being, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your mentorship, thank you for the gift of this podcast to me and the world. 

Patton: Well, Eboo, I absolutely love working with you and everyone at Interfaith America. It is great nourishment for me because you guys have a sacred pragmatism and a vision for American democracy that I learn from every day. I’m always using your ideas and thoughts and really pushing my own thinking and even this community’s thinking forward with more courage as a result of what you all do. I want to thank you back and appreciate all your words greatly. 

Patel: Sacred pragmatism. Another gem from Laurie Patton to put in my pocket. Thank you, friend. 

Patton: Take care. Thank you, friend. Be well. Bye. 


Patel: I’ve loved this conversation with Laurie Patton, particularly this last question or challenge she leaves us with, which is, what is the local myth that holds your community together? How do you make sure in your particular geography that people of diverse identities and divergent ideologies can find common ground? What are the poetics and the pragmatics of pluralism in your part of the world? What are you doing to create a space where it is easier for people to cooperate? To read more about this conversation and to find resources and stories about bridge building and our religiously diverse democracy, visit our website, interfaithamerica.org. 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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