InterfaithnetWhat is Interfaith?

Interfaith probably has as many definitions as people using the term, however there are 3 main ways it’s used – the first is to describe a kind of dialogue between individuals from different faith traditions, ie “interfaith dialogue”. In that case, the people involved attempt to understand another’s faith tradition (and their experience of that faith tradition) to come to some common ground, through dialogue. Most people who engage in interfaith dialogue say that there’s an unexpected benefit in that they find that their experience of their own faith tradition is deepened through the process.

The second way the term is used is to describe the movement based on interfaith dialogue, the “interfaith movement”, in other words, an active commitment by leaders of faith traditions to engage with other traditions in an organised way – often there’s a particular program or initiative that becomes the vehicle for the process, such as within the United Nations, or individual governments or government bodies.

The third way it’s used is a bit more complex. Most of the people on this blog site’s Directory are called “Interfaith Ministers” because they’ve studied at an interfaith seminary or similar institution (some universities have degrees in divinity, for example, which include subjects in different faith traditions). See this blog’s page “Interfaith Seminaries & Education”.

Like any seminary, ordination as a Minister is the outcome, but the core curriculum is what’s commonly called “comparative religion”, ie all the major faiths are studied and compared, as well as units in pastoral care, counselling, psychology, ceremonies and rites – but it’s a process which is both academic and experiential. The curriculum also includes reflective processes where the student examines her own value systems, ethical dilemmas, responses to the academic material etc and these processes often confront, and usually deepen the student’s experience of their faith tradition. Interfaith seminary students are Hindu, Zen Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Tibetan Buddhist, Sufi…. on and on… and students don’t change their faith, but take their interfaith seminary training back into their faith communities with a deepened experience and heightened sensitivity to other faiths.

In this way, Interfaith becomes a pathway of  justice, compassion and peacemaking.

Interfaithnet posts interfaith, multifaith and spiritually-based events, commentary and activities which celebrate pluralism, diversity and inclusiveness while sharing our common humanity.

16 responses »

    • Thanks Chris, good to hear from you again. I meant to ask the last time we spoke through this site if you’d be good enough to rewrite/correct our section on those identifying as humanist, secular, atheist and such under the page “World Religions & Spiritual Traditions”, subheading “Secular, Non-religious, Agnostic, Atheist “, itself rather a “bucket” of labels. I re-read it after our last dialogue and you’re right, it’s not inclusive enough, or sensitive enough to the experience of breath-inspiration-spirit for millions of people who don’t identify as theist, or even “spiritual” but rather, fully-human.

      We’d be very grateful if you’d rewrite that section and send it to me at and I’ll post it with the appropriate credit.

      Peace always



  1. Peter Warren on 2012/06/07 at 11:55 pm

    Thank you for this very comprehensive response. I am happy with that. I also welcome others’ thoughts.

    One additional concept which I think is important is that the concept of interfaith is in addition to ones existing faith and not a replacement. It doesn’t seek to be a new religion, but can include worship formats that includes elements from a variety of faiths. It can also cater for people without any earlier faith, of course.


    • Submitted on 2012/06/06 at 2:14 pm | In reply to Peter Warren.

      Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. I’ll respond the best I can.

      As described above, Interfaith probably has as many definitions as people using the term but to answer your specific questions about agreed ethical and philosophical tenets, Interfaith seminary training leads to an experience of the Divine through different pathways so there’s a realization that there isn’t only one way to be with the Divine, God, Allah and all the other names – even more, that there’s an experience which is shared by all faith traditions at their core. I guess you’d say this is a mystical experience, of oneness, love and often insight into the nature of human existence – which was felt by the person who started the faith tradition.

      All the people who are Interfaith Ministers share a Code of Ethics based on the principles of integrity, respect, diversity, inclusiveness, understanding, a commitment to self-exploration, etc etc which was developed by the interfaith seminary where they trained. Some Interfaith Ministers choose to become congregational ministers, some chaplains, some sacred activists, artists or musicians, some healers, counsellors, some marriage or funeral celebrants – some continue their secular lives but with a new layer of meaning…

      peace always


      • My name is Peter Warren. I am a pluralist living in Sydney. I like the idea of your website and association.

        I was looking here for what interfaith looks like, e.g. what are the guiding principals that an interfaith practitioner would adhere to? Are any sects or beliefs unacceptable to interfaith? What if any, is the interfaith position regarding e.g. homosexuality, war and the like?

        Are there any published definitions of interfaith?


    • Yes, Peter, quite right. I meant to mention that Interfaith is also inclusive of people who don’t have an existing faith path. That’s why some are introducing the term “interspiritual” but I think that word doesn’t have much meaning. I prefer “inclusive” ie, of everybody, including non-theists, ie, those who don’t believe in God as a separate being.

      Regarding interfaith not being a replacement of an existing faith tradition, yes. The motto of the seminary where I studied was “Never instead of, always in addition to.”


  2. Pingback: Defining Interfaith Ministry | Sacred Imagining

  3. What an inspiring blog! Well done to all involved for your wonderful advocacy work promoting interfaith harmony, tolerance, respect and peaceful coexistence.


    • Dear lillyddavis, thanks so much for your acknowledgement. It’s work done with a deep commitment to what we know interfaith can do in the world… and no small helping of Spirit.

      peace to you



  4. Susan Katz Miller

    Submitted on 2012/11/14 at 12:37 am

    For those of us from interfaith families building intentional interfaith family communities, there is a “fourth definition” (which for us, was the first definition) of interfaith. As people who are intermarried and thus live fulltime in interfaith engagement, or are born into a state of interfaithness by virtue of having parents from two religions, we define interfaith as including the possibility of drawing equally on two (or more) religions. Traditionally, there have been a lot of arguments about why this cannot be done. But we’re doing it, and find it has specific benefits. The idea of “always in addition to” works for me, but it is in addition to my two family religions, not in addition to a singular religion. We realize these ideas challenge the safe “dialogue” rules whereby everyone returns from encounter with the “other” to a singular religion. But we feel that people from interfaith families cultivate strong skills in interfaith communication and should be included in dialogue based on this expertise, rather than excluded because we straddle traditional boundaries.

    This website is tremendously helpful in describing the various interfaith seminaries. Thus far, there has not been much interaction between the interfaith families movement and the “interfaith movement” or interfaith seminaries. In my experience, many people who are drawn to interfaith dialogue are inspired by their own experiences with intermarriage (their own, or their parents, or somewhere in their extended family or close friendships). Yet, they may feel they must downplay this source of inspiration, due to fear of “syncretism.” Going forward, interfaith marriage is on the rise in many religious communities, and we would like to see the perspective of interfaith families represented more fully in the “interfaith movement.”


    • Submitted on 2012/11/20 at 7:37 pm | In reply to Susan Katz Miller.

      Dear Susan, thank you for your thoughtful comments and new perspective. We had indeed left this approach to interfaith out of the discussion and I can only wonder why.

      One of the reasons may be that it is somehow taken for granted but, of course, that’s not good enough. To be honest, aside from living in spiritually based communities in the 1970′s and 80′s, I haven’t had any exposure to intentional interfaith family communities and so I’m very excited to know of their existence. We’d love for you to post something about them, or perhaps write a piece for our Guest Writers’ section of this blog.

      Regarding what you call the “safe” definition of interfaith dialogue where everyone returns from an encounter with the “other” to a singular religion, I may have overstated this in my comments. My experience is that any real encounter with the “other” has a catalytic effect on each person/group and they return to their community transformed after an initiation of profound and sometimes, terrifying beauty. Do this often enough and of course, the spiritual tradition of one’s upbringing can no longer satisfy the soul because once it has expanded to embrace another spiritual reality, it can’t contract again.

      As to the fear of being criticized for syncretism, I’m surprised at this – though the same word is used to describe the form of interfaith practiced by some Interfaith Ministers who draw their inspiration from many religious sources, teachings and scriptures. Some people believe that by picking only part of a religious or spiritual tradition or practice, Interfaith Ministers are not subject to the same rigor that a committed practitioner of one faith tradition is subject to. This can sometimes be true and is one of the reasons why most Interfaith Ministers retain their existing faith tradition and “add” to their experience of that through study and contemplation of others – so that they continue the disciplines of their own tradition, many of which, as you’d know, have been developed and refined over centuries, creating an historical precedent and rich tradition, as well as firm guidelines for development.


  5. Those of All Faiths and non have a common concern for the issue of Global Poverty and debt.
    it would be good to share our resources and actions with your members


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