Why Religious Diversity is Important

When I began the process of writing my book, I knew it would be tackling religious diversity. This is something that is often overlooked when we hear the word “diversity.” The term “interfaith” is still a word that sometimes brings questioning looks. I had several people ask, “what is that?” when I explained that I was writing an interfaith children’s book. Others, met the idea with excitement. I knew that there were people looking for books that tackle religion and faith in a diverse way. There are publishers out there that specialize in Christian books, or Jewish book, or Buddhist books, but interfaith books are few and far between, especially for children.

Why is this? Interfaith is not necessarily new, but to a large extent it hasn’t caught on in the mainstream. Still, there is growing population of people who identify with more than one faith, or none at all, but who identify as spiritual in some way. We are a diverse society, not just racially or culturally, but also religiously. Religion plays a huge part in many people’s lives. It informs our worldview, and is intertwined with culture and identity. Our world is only getting smaller, we have to learn how to live and work together. When cultures clash, will it inspire learning and growth, or fear and violence? The answer is up to us.

As we have seen time and time again, religion often plays a role in some of the world’s biggest conflicts. Some argue that this is evidence of religion as outdated and dangerous, and that the ideal is a completely secular society. I do agree that we need to curb extremism, but I think the best way to do that is for religious people to be part of the solution. It is unrealistic to expect people of faith to give up something that is tied so closely to their identity and culture. We can however, appeal to our common humanity, and the parts of religion that call for each of us to take responsibility for living a life that benefits the world.

Interfaith education is about really studying and understanding other faiths. There are many differences, and it’s not about making them all the same. Generally though, the things we have in common are the “Big” ones, the most basic expressions of humanity: Love, service to others, a belief in a higher power. They may be expressed in different ways, but they are things that people of all faiths have in common. Besides belief in a higher power, these are also things that people with NO faith have in common. When we start to see the ways that we are the same, we can more easily celebrate our differences. We can find ways to come together on the things that affect all of us, like poverty and human rights.

What do I want to teach my children?

My own journey of faith has obviously played a big role in creating this book. I was lucky to grow up in a family that taught me to have respect for and learn about other faiths. The most important thing for me, is to cultivate a personal relationship with the divine, but not be tied to a strict view of what that looks like.

This was the biggest question for me, “What do I want to teach my children?” It became the catalyst for the creation of Paper Dove Press, and the book series. I want them to know and understand other faiths. I want them to see others as brothers and sisters of the same human race. I want them to love themselves and love others. I want them to not be guided by fear, but by love. I want them to not just tolerate those who are different, but to learn to put themselves in other people’s shoes and to understand that for the most part, we all want the same things: love, relationship, comfort. I want to teach them that peace begins in our own hearts.

I worked closely with illustrator Abi Reid to make sure that the characters in the book showed religious and cultural diversity. Abi also made the suggestion to highlight different socioeconomic realities. I loved this idea, and am so happy that it became a part of the book.

The book is not meant to be a comprehensive look at faith or to be the go-to for answers. I don't want it to be preachy. To me, it’s more of a starting point. It’s the beginning of a conversation that will grow and evolve over time. Just having all those quotes together on the same page is a big deal. It’s opening the door to further discovery, and hopefully opening some hearts as well. That’s what faith is to me, it’s prying open your heart inch by inch every day.

Laurel Nakai, author of The World God Made for Me, available through Paper Dove Press and Amazon.

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The World God Made for Me
By Laurel Nakai