“A Place to Embrace Our Common Humanity” – Dr. Kusumita Pedersen on ICNY’s first 20 years

May 18th,2017 ICNY Interfaith Matters Blogs


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“A Place to Embrace Our Common Humanity”

Reflecting on ICNY’s First Twenty Years Devoted to Turning a City of Strangers into a City of Neighbors

by Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, ICNY Co-Chair

Dr. Pedersen (pictured, center) among Indigenous leaders
at a recent panel discussion on climate change co-sponsored by ICNY

All my life I have been drawn to traditions other than my own, although I was raised in the 1950s and 60s in Connecticut in a very homogeneous community. The very fact that a religion or culture was different and unfamiliar always presented me with an imperative to discover and to understand – and it still does today. This led me to a life of study and teaching about the world’s spiritual traditions and also to decades of involvement in the worldwide interfaith movement.

Understanding ultimately means not only to have deep knowledge but also to establish in-person relationships and empathy. Only when we grow into this understanding can we achieve real peace and a decent life for everyone, based on love and respect for universal human dignity.

The work of The Interfaith Center of New York is focused on this beautiful and indispensable work of getting to know and understand people who might at first seem to be unlike us – but who are all “children of God,” “made in God’s image” or have within them the divine “soul” or the “Buddha-nature,” just as we do. At its heart, a longing to know and understand the so-called “other” is integral to interfaith, as is the aspiration to make a better world that every one of us will share.

At The Interfaith Center of New York we realize our oneness-in-difference by joining together to work on issues that concern us all. These have included immigration, hate speech and hate crimes, child welfare, end-of-life care, financial resiliency in local communities, domestic violence, police-community relations, eco-justice and much more. In the recent Marshall Meyer Retreat on “Hospitality in a Time of Hate,” there was impassioned dialogue on how we can overcome fear and alienation and extend welcome to the stranger and live together as genuine neighbors. While forging partnerships to address our common concerns, we build relationships of trust and friendship.

The Interfaith Center also has outstanding educational programs on religious diversity that provide necessary basic knowledge and skills and dispel stereotypes. The programs also provide direct experience of meeting members of different faith communities and visiting their places of worship. Our institute for K-12 school teachers and ICNY’s training for social workers are long established and well-recognized. Our new film on religious diversity made for the New York City Police Department is now a required part of their training program.

New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It is therefore a place where we can and must embrace our common humanity in a most profound way. The opportunities, challenges and rewards this great city offers to us are extraordinary. I am convinced that here in New York – or in any community – love and acceptance of people unlike ourselves and the establishment of justice and compassion will not be achieved unless we work intentionally and effectively to make this happen. It will come about only if we consciously pursue this goal. Let us redouble our efforts.

At The Interfaith Center of New York this is our mission, and I am proud and grateful to have been a part of it for the last twenty years. Thank you for your support!


In addition to being co-chair of The Interfaith Center of New York, Dr. Kusumita Pedersen is Vice Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and Professor Emerita of Religious Studies, St. Francis College.


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