What is the role of memory in interreligious relations?

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Memories of interreligious strife can make it difficult for people of different faith groups to develop bonds of trust with one another. Histories of anti-Semitism, for example, in Europe and the United States, tended to cause Jews to draw inward and create insular communities for self-protection, in addition to often being forbidden to move outside of set zones or ghetto areas. Indigenous peoples often hold traumatic memories of their faith practices being misunderstood or denigrated as devilish or heathenish. (The Nehiyaw writer Suzanne Methot is a good source on intergenerational Indigenous trauma.) Many of the white Protestants who administered reservations in years past could not understand, for example, that most Indigenous peoples integrate their faith practices into their daily lives. The Protestants did not recognize a faith practice as religious if it did not take place in a designated building (similar to a church) or if it involved a practice, such as dance, that was not part of the Protestant liturgy. Likewise, a long legacy of violence between Hindus and Muslims in India has led to mistrust between the two faith groups.

On the other hand, groups like the Quakers opposed slavery and built interreligious trust with Black American faith groups, who remembered the Quakers' strong support for abolition. Going back even earlier, in founding Pennsylvania, William Penn reached out to other faith groups who were persecuted, such as Anabaptists, offering them land in the colony, and showed respect for Indigenous faith practices, leading to good interreligious relationships as long as Quakers ran the colony.

Because of the strife that has more characteristically marked relationships between faiths, interfaith groups and councils have become an important way for people from different faiths to get to know each other, build bonds of trust, and work together for common purposes. Such groups can help replace a legacy of bad or traumatic memories with a new narrative based on mutual respect.

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