Interfaith Explainer: The Difference Between Intrafaith, Interfaith, Multifaith and Interspirituality
These four words, intrafaith, interfaith, multifaith and interspirituality, mean very different things. Yet, they are sometimes used interchangeably and without distinction. The following definitions should help people discern and understand the differences.
Intrafaith = Within
When someone proposes an intrafaith conversation that means a conversation within said faith or religion. Our January guest blogger, Rev. Susan M. Strouse, wrote eloquently about the importance of having discussions within faith traditions, especially as they relate to the implications of interfaith dialogue.
Interfaith = Between/Among
The term interfaith refers to relations between faiths, spiritual paths, or worldviews (as faith can be defined as “complete trust, confidence or strong belief in someone or something”).
Interfaith work can be about improving relations between people of different faiths (which is our primary goal at Harmony), but it can also be about interacting with people of other faiths in a variety of ways. For example, many interfaith organizations pool their resources and help those who are in need of basic necessities such as food and housing.
However, interfaith has nothing to do with uniformity, conformity, or sacrificing one’s beliefs. As I will explore in an upcoming blog, the goal of most interfaith work is harmonious diversity.
Multifaith = Many
Multifaith is a relatively new term and refers to both multifaith ministers/chaplains—who serve at places such as hospitals and universities—and multifaith spaces—which are popping up all over the world, especially in public areas such as airports and major cities where diversity is the norm, not the exception.
The prefix multi- here means that there is no blending of the faiths in this approach; that all the religions and spiritual paths exist independently side-by-side.
Interspirituality = Exploring the Connection
Interspirituality is a term that has a different connotation. It is born from the idea that the mystics of the world—be they contemplative Christians, Sufis, Yogis, Kabbalists, or those of other traditions engaged in deep experiential spirituality—speak the same language. I explored this concept somewhat in my book, Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion. The most famous proponent of interspirituality is no doubt Brother Wayne Teasdale who successfully merged the spiritual practices of Vedanta with his Catholicism.
As it requires personal practice and depth, interspirituality is for the few, not the many. The approach focuses on exploring the connection between experiential practices such as prayer, meditation, compassion and service.
A Few Words About Interfaith Ministers
I am an Interfaith Minister and often encounter a misconception between the terms interfaith, multifaith, and interspirituality. That’s probably because Interfaith Ministers are not a uniform group and they serve in different capacities.
Some, like myself, place emphasis on improving relations between people of different faiths, others focus on creating interfaith (or multifaith) marriage ceremonies or hosting all-inclusive religious services, while still others borrow liberally from all religious paths in their pursuit of interspirituality.
As a group, we could probably do better in discerning between multifaith, interfaith and interspirituality.
Comprehending the Difference
As you can see, there is ample difference between the four terms. Armed with these simple definitions—on which you are more than welcome to expand in the comment section or at your own leisure—you should be able to distinguish between them with ease.
Rev. Gudjon Bergmann
Founder and Lead Educator at Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Author of Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides
Celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week (February 1-7, 2019)
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Our Vision and Primary Goal
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. To us, the term 'interfaith' means the continual improvement of interrelations between people who strongly believe in different worldviews. Our primary goal is to support and supplement new and ongoing efforts.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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