In a post from 2015 I interacted with an article at State of Formation that discussed the need for measuring transformation in interfaith endeavors. A recent article at The Interfaith Observer builds on this, and I not only support what's being presented there, but I think it bodes well for the kind of multi-faith engagement work we're doing at the Evangelical Chapter of FRD and related efforts like our Multi-faith Matters grant project through the Louisville Institute.
Last week an article Rev. Bud Heckman was published online. It's titled "The Art of Interfaith Cooperation and the Science of Data." This essay is significant on several counts. First, it is written by someone who has "worked for three foundations in the field of interfaith and [who also] convene[s] an interfaith funders group." Second, the piece brings together two aspects involved in interfaith or multi-faith activities, the art and science. Evangelicals will probably want to include another element, theology, but it is important to recognize the place of art (where most of the emphasis is placed, at least in traditional interfaith approaches), as well as science. Following from this is the third significant aspect of this article, and the one I want to emphasize in this blog post, and that is the significance of science to our interfaith and multi-faith endeavors.
In several previous posts I've written about my research in social psychology in application to multi-faith engagement. This has also been supplemented with a little study of social neuroscience, cognitive linguistics, and most recently, by the cognitive science of religion. These scientific disciplines have generated important data that tells us about our foundational moral commitments, how our minds work, the development of human tribalism, and how these things contribute to intergroup conflict where religion is an important part.
Although Heckman does not mention the kinds of studies I mention above, or apply them in the way I have done, he rightly states that scientific data is vitally important to good interfaith work. He also notes that this kind of data needs to be incorporated into more work by interfaith groups, especially given the interest of foundations.
Invariably, these foundations want to see measured outputs and outcomes. Most of those in interfaith-minded nonprofits whom they are seeking to help couldn’t honestly parse between the two, when challenged, because these nonprofits aren’t in the practice of having to demonstrate efficacy through measurement.
Yet one of the things most often demanded by funders and those who seek to scale and legitimize the work of advancing interfaith cooperation is research and data that demonstrates need, efficacy, and outcomes. Interfaith organizations that are getting more resources to conduct their work are those that are adapting to monitoring and evaluation, engaging the academy, and meeting the demands for correlative evidence.
I recognize that many involved in interfaith work, and evangelicals doing peacemaking, may not be used to seeing the importance of scientific data and incorporating it in what we do. But in addition to funders who increasingly want to see such things accounted for, the data can also help us challenge theological assumptions, and put together strategies for transforming human behavior in intergroup conflict. In so doing it promises to facilitate real change in the realization of our hopes as peacemakers and religious diplomats.
In light of Heckman's essay I am optimistic about the research proposal put together by the Multi-faith Matters grant project team for the next phase of our work. It builds on prior research, data gathering and analysis, and the results will be incorporated into practical projects and outcomes. I hope we can see more interest by evangelicals in bringing together art, theology, and science in our multi-faith engagement and peacemaking.