The Interfaith Sustainability Bus Tour: Promoting acceptance through dialogue

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In its 2009 resolution, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations recognized “the importance of intercultural, interreligious and intrareligious dialogue in promoting tolerance in matters related to religion or belief.” This acknowledgment supports the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions in encouraging harmony and cooperation within the process of overcoming global challenges.

Since this convening interfaith dialogue, conversations regarding collective and mutual understanding amongst different cultures and beliefs have been at the forefront of discussions.  “Global forums of interfaith dialogue and others like them provide strong foundations for a greater understanding of different religions in an effort to promote peace” (Inter-Religious Studies, 2009). However, these discussions can be facilitated on a much smaller scale. By focusing on local initiatives which enhance dialogue and promote mutual understanding and empowerment, communities can foster connections that result in stronger cohesion and unity.

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Understanding the importance of creating spaces in which these conversations can be cultivated, the Toronto Global Shapers Hub, Faith and the Common Good and TakingITGlobal’s Explore150 program collaboratively held an Interfaith Sustainability Bus Tour. This group set out to explore a variety of faith based sites in order to understand better cultures and faiths outside of their own personal experiences.

Based on the premise that misunderstandings, intolerance and prejudice occur when groups do not have contact and meaningful interactions with each other, the tour saw people from diverse backgrounds come together to share and to learn about our common environment and how different faiths orient themselves toward ecological issues.

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Together, the group decided to explore faith sites across the Toronto community that are often only visited when people travel and experience new cultures. The intention of this exploration was to connect an interfaith conversation around how community and ecology interact in different faith traditions, to how this can improve our understanding and bonds across different traditions and cultures as a whole.

The tour took participants to visit five different sites: Hare Krishna Hindu, the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre, St. Gabriel’s Parish, the Shoresh Kavanah Gardens and Jaffari Islamic Community Centre to explore dialogue between religious practises and sustainability initiatives championed at each of these locations.

To help participants learn more and to reflect on their experiences throughout the process, the organizers also used the Explore150 Platform to create an Interfaith Adventure, adding a digital layer to the sites visited.

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At all of the locations, the group was introduced to unique environments and experiences, which gave each participant the opportunity to reflect on the differences, but also the commonalities that each faith shares. The experience at every site emphasized the importance of community and interconnectedness within and between various cultures and faiths.

As an example, one site, the Shoresh Kavanah Gardens, provided multi-lingual signs which encouraged interactions with plants such as touching, smelling and tasting. This approach was an interesting way to bring experiential learning into the space. While at another site, the Jaffari Islamic Community Centre, participants were introduced to a group of young women from the community who have started an initiative to promote recycling and re-usable plates for events taking place in the facility. Starting with a small group of dedicated environmental advocates, the initiative to cut down on the amount of waste produced at community feasts through disposable cutlery and serving plates, has since spread to become a common practise across the community.

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During the tour one of the participants, Gael, commented: “Though I have seen environmental activism from religious groups before, I’ve always thought of the link between faith and living green to be incidental at best, especially when it came to the Abrahamic branch. This tour has enabled me to see the presented religions in a new light; the speakers have sure put a new spin on their respective doctrine, explaining how religious texts can be used as a guide to how we should all treat the environment. As stated by other participants, interfaith programs like this one can also be useful in dispelling a few myths perpetuated by mainstream media regarding some religions, and in facilitating dialogue as well. “

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During the Interfaith Sustainability Bus tour, engaging with a spectrum of faiths and cultures across the Greater Toronto Area helped each participant come to a better understanding of our common responsibility to come together across lines of faith and culture to agree upon future initiatives.  This experience provided a space for dialogue around how we can serve the greater good by fostering a sense of social connectedness in and across various communities.