A radical Muslim activist from the UK, organizer of anti-Israel demonstrations and Relief for Gaza convoys, calls home in dismay when she finds herself participating in a program with Zionists—and then sums it up after two weeks saying, “I learned I could be friends with people I hate.” (2009)
A conservative Catholic priest from Africa feels deep personal and theological chagrin when he has to confront intensely pious transgendered Muslims in Indonesia—and then returns home to organize just such encounters with difference in his home country. (2012)
An Italian teacher spends two weeks with Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Jews in Bulgaria—and on her return to Rome begins a campaign to reform the multicultural education in her school: to stop sweeping difference under the carpet and allow the school’s many families to encounter the varied and different communities they actually are. (2013)
In 2003, operating as the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life, CEDAR launched its first school in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, creating a unique model for people with divergent religious identities to live with, recognize, and learn about “the other” together. It has since met annually in countries ranging from Bulgaria to Britain, Israel to Indonesia—drawing more than 400 students, professionals, and religious and civic leaders from 50 countries.
“People with significant differences can meet honestly, [but] it takes more time and commitment than we usually give it.”
Unlike other interfaith and intercommunal programs, which play down fundamental dissimilarities between people in favor of emphasizing what they have in common, CEDAR places difference squarely at the top of the agenda. In fact, the key to CEDAR’s approach is the requirement that participants, known as fellows, confront one another’s differences—and then learn how to live with them anyway. In two intensive weeks of combined lectures, site visits, and hands-on learning, these fellows experience unfamiliar religious customs, grapple with beliefs that contradict their own, reexamine lifelong assumptions, and figure out how to share time and space.
CEDAR’s program creates new social and interpersonal spaces, broadening the range of possibilities to present a new way of “living together differently.” We don’t seek to build a new community in which everyone agrees and shares the same assumptions, but rather to teach people how to live with their different understandings of home, life, faith, worlds of meaning, and belonging. In short, we model the reality of how to live in our existing communities with people who are not like us—whether these differences are religious, national, tribal, linguistic, or sexual.
Engaging with the “other” in practical and constructive ways prepares CEDAR fellows to apply their experiences in their home communities around the world when the school is over. In recent years a number of alumni have been inspired to develop affiliates using CEDAR’s model in eastern and southern Africa, Canada, and the Balkans. As a result, CEDAR is fast becoming a pioneering global network. The task now before us is to find ways to implement the CEDAR approach as widely as possible.