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Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America (The Documents of 20th-century art) Hardcover – July 31, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Niebuhr, the former religion reporter for the New York Times, is now a professor at Syracuse University. This makes his book immensely valuable: he has the careful scholarship of an academic, but the communication expertise of a journalist skilled at getting to the personal heart of a story. Not long after 9/11, Niebuhr set out to find and tell the largely untold stories of those who are involved in interreligious dialogue: why do they do it? what do they gain from it? what do they risk? True dialogue, as the title claims, means moving beyond tolerance, approaching other religious traditions with a desire to learn and, perhaps more important, to make friends. Niebuhr tells memorable stories of people reaching across religious lines, from a group of Cape Cod Congregationalists who gave a Jewish community a historic building, some land and some money to create a synagogue to the energetic individuals who founded Louisville's famous Festival of Faiths. Niebuhr beautifully honors the commitment and care shown by those working on the front lines of interreligious understanding. (Aug. 4)
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" Anyone . . . interested in dialogue among individuals, communities, and nations will benefit from Beyond Tolerance's wisdom and humanity."
" He has the careful scholarship of an academic, but the communication expertise of a journalist skilled at getting to the personal heart of a story."
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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What Makes this a good book?
Niebuhr draws from his personal experiences as a religion writer for the New York Times in order to analyze interfaith dialogue in America. "Beyond Tolerance" is a combination of a personal account and a researched/surveyed academic analysis. This unique perspective makes the book engaging and readable while providing very useful facts, resources and insights as well. Niebuhr's personal opinions are included in "Beyond Tolerance" but he distinguishes them from facts.
It is a short book (only 213 pages) and it is a very easy read. While it has six (6) chapters and a conclusion, the preface, introduction, notes and bibliography are integral to the book. The preface and introduction help set the right expectations for the reader by disclosing Niebuhr's personal and professional background, his personal religious affiliation and his own attitude towards interfaith dialogue. Niebuhr notes that he was raised in an observant Christian home where prayer was a part of his family's dail life. Interestingly but not surprisingly he notes that as part of his religious Christian upbringing he was taught that he
"shared the world with a great variety of religious (and nonreligious) identities, all of which belonged to people who deserved as much respect as we ourselves would want."
The notes and bibliography are wonderful resources for additional reading. This is particularly important for a book on interfaith dialogue. This subject matter is not well represented in many public libraries. Book stores do not carry a lot of titles on interfaith dialogue either. Furthermore, many valuable resources for studying and undrestanding interfaith dialogue are found in periodicals and journals and less in books. The notes and bibliography are useful in highlighting some of these resources.
Many times we wait for seismic changes in the social landscape before we are ready to embrace those who are "other", and we often remain skeptical about whether there is anything to discuss with people who see the world very differently. Niebuhr has written from personal experience--following his own direct experience of the attacks of 9/11--about people who have been quietly working at the local level across the country and world to build bridges across cultural and religious divides. In other words, the dialogue, the responsiveness not only can happen but has been happening around us for decades. Niebuhr speaks with the quiet confidence of one who has traveled around talking with those who work actively to surmount prejudice and fanaticism, to build peaceful community. Speaking religiously, to do this one must be willing to give up the disrespect implied in evangelism--that one's own religious stance is necessarily so superior that it is not worth listening to and conversing seriously with the other. Niebuhr argues convincingly that the dialogue need not lead to any sort of syncretism--one need not surrender one's convictions or dilute one's faith in order to listen seriously and even to witness from one's own stance. Numerous examples illustrate the listening and sharing as they have been and are happening. It needs to be mentioned that Niebuhr speaks as a committed Christian, but he speaks with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs, among others, who have been sharing in the dialogue with one another.
This is a hopeful book that, for the most part, presents the positives to be found in a responsive dialogue and avoids criticism of those who necessarily would disagree with him. The style of writing is conversational and warm, filled with anecdotes. As with his grandfather's theological-sociological position, one reads this book with hope that the disagreements might not so much be defeated as transformed.