Ethics and Interfaith Learning and Dialogue

Why Ethics Education is important for promoting interfaith learning and dialogue

Ethics education promotes interfaith learning and dialogue in many direct and indirect ways. Perhaps most importantly, because the content of ethics has so much to do with individual or group understanding of responsibilities to and relationships with other people, ethics education encourages our children and youth to think about these relationships at a time in their lives when they are open to and curious about other people, and eager to work out how to relate to them.

Ethics education begins in the family. From an early age children informally learn their basic values, and this learning helps teach children who they are and what the values are that are central to their families and traditions and cultures. Grounded in the family, the world of the child expands from the family and broadens in concentric circles as the child grows in understanding and experiences. Ethics education which draws from the wisdom and experience of various faith and philosophical traditions, helps children (and their parents) navigate their values in the form of responsibilities and relationships, as they move from life within the family to school to community and to wider world, and thus very importantly ethics education helps guide children as they encounter and interact with people who may be quite different from them in a variety of ways. These relationships can be among the most challenging kinds of relationships. Happily, children can usually learn to cross what to adults may be difficult boundaries with relative ease and see quickly the basic ways in which people who seem so different from each other are really quite similar in many ways.

While children know that they come from different religious backgrounds with religious practices and beliefs which can be quite different from each other, with ethics education they quickly discover that the ethical ideals and values that flow from these religions are often very similar across traditions. Thus ethics education, because it is grounded in the collected wisdom from a variety of traditions, is education which is able to build on basic moral similarities. These moral similarities enable children to see the many, many ethical ideals and values that they share with people from other traditions. This helps bring individuals and groups together; helps them form bonds of cooperation and friendship; and helps them engage in activities together based on values they share. Thus children can act together on basic values across religious or philosophical divisions in ways appropriate to their age, by doing such activities as feeding the hungry or caring for the natural environment, or many other similar kinds of activities grounded in the shared values of their distinct traditions.

Surely these experiences and this confluence of values and action is just what will help our children thrive as moral people with so much to contribute to our diverse and plural world.