The International Summer School on Religion and Public Life provides a laboratory for the practical pedagogy of tolerance and living with difference in a global society. Its goals are to produce new practices and understandings for living together in a world populated by people with very different political ideas, moral beliefs and communal loyalties. Its focus is on religion, as our religious identities are our most exclusive and our religious communities are those to which we devote our greatest loyalties. In our diverse but increasingly interconnected world, we need to find ways to live together. The school takes these very real, critical and defining differences, especially communal and religious differences between people, as the starting point of a publically shared life.
School fellows come from all over the world. A typical year will have participants from; Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Israel, Jordan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States. These may include; high-school teachers and principles, civic leaders, rabbis, imams, priests, professors, attorneys, graduate students and members of the business community. Together, we seek to define and explicate those new capacities, skills and attitudes necessary for sharing a life among those who do not share the same ideology, religion or communal identities and loyalties. Together, fellows define those skill-sets necessary to implement change in their home countries and develop programs towards this end. The school offers a venue to discuss the design and implementation of projects in the fellows’ home communities as well as support for those carrying out these programs.
The school provides a safe arena for its participants to open themselves to the experience of the other. It seeks to break down taken-for-granted assumptions about the other and replace them with a practice informed by the ‘suspension of judgment’, tolerance towards that with which we disagree and a practical, non-ideological set of attitudes based on our tangible experience rather than prior assumptions about worlds we do not share.
It achieves this through intense two week sessions where participants live and learn together. The school combines an academic lecture format with a spirited process of group dynamics and a commitment to particular, local knowledge (through site visits in different countries, practicums and a constantly changing international venue). Participants experience the religious customs and practices of the others, maintain a commitment to a set of specific rules of civic engagement and in general develop those behavioral practices and habits of mind necessary for non-ideological living while not in any way adopting positions of relativism or rejection of their own belief systems.
Globalization has reframed the boundaries of our world. If we are to share this world peaceably, we must parse our differences and assert our identities in new ways. We must complement our new social boundaries with new human capacities. Only by learning how to live together differently, can we live together at all. The ISSRPL is an ongoing, practical experiment in such a life.