We want to expand our effective Interfaith Speakers Bureau program to major urban areas where we have interfaith partners through our Know Your Neighbor--Multifaith Encounters program, with a special focus on developing interfaith engagement on environmental justice issues and on combating Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry. We believe that faith communities can make vital contributions by injecting values into current debates on climate and the environment while at the same time promoting personal contact between people of different faiths that can dispel prejudice and build peace in society.
We have operated an Interfaith Speakers Bureau (IFSB) program in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2007. The IFSB trains speakers (mostly laity) of five major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) to speak in multi-faith panels on various topics concerning their religious identities. The content for IFSB presentations is developed in cooperation with recognized academic scholars of each tradition. The Bureau delivers panel presentations on a dozen different topics to an average of 100 groups a year, including schools, colleges, faith communities, community organizations, and other venues. IFSB panels have demonstrated success in changing audience attitudes toward religions and their adherents and in encouraging interfaith engagement. Audience evaluations of IFSB presentations often contain remarks indicating that the panel has changed a formerly negative view of a particular religious community in a positive direction—for instance, that the respondent now understands that Muslims generally do not support terrorism. Audiences also frequently remark on their surprise that people of different religions can come together in friendship rather than in conflict and argument.
The Bureau in the San Francisco Bay Area currently has about 35 volunteer speakers from the 5 religions mentioned. Panel topics include religion and the environment, separation of church and state, religious pluralism, shared values among faiths, and living the faith (how people live out their religious traditions in the modern world).
We propose to scale the program across the country where we have institutional partners by expanding the content of our environmental presentations, adding calls to action and providing training for regional implementation of the program all across the country.