“Appreciative Knowledge”: Another Model for Interfaith Vocational Exploration

I read Daniel Meyers’ “Interfaith Vocational Exploration: Proceed with Caution” with interest. I appreciate his recognition that the word and concept of vocation, at least as narrowly construed, comes from a particular and, at least in Western societies, privileged position. As he notes, this implies concomitant need to “proceed with caution,” because other faiths are by necessity having to “translate” and respond to Christianity’s terms, ideas, and paradigms. As a Buddhist at a Lutheran college, I have sometimes had concerns about question-and-answer periods when Buddhist speakers were called on to respond to questions about parallels (or lack thereof) to Christian concepts. I often felt that the short answer demanded in such circumstances distorted ideas about my religious tradition, or missed the main points about my faith. Like Meyers, I think the literature on interfaith dialogue can be a helpful resource in thinking and talking about interfaith vocational exploration. However, I would like to propose a different model.

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Interfaith Vocational Exploration: Proceeding with Caution

Several years ago I found myself in the basement of a hallowed university hall serving as a chaplain’s office intern and flipping pancakes on a griddle for a study break. Students of all backgrounds were descending into the basement to hang out in the cozy space and grab some late-night pancakes in the midst of their studies. I chatted with students as they poured on the syrup or engaged in something I’ve never understood: covering their pancakes in peanut butter.  (Pluralism has its limits!)

Having gone to college at a school with a program for theological education housed in the chaplain’s office, it was natural for me to ask students, “So, what’s your vocation?” 

As if on cue, one of the staff members of the chaplain’s office rolled out of his office and waived the proverbial red flag: he pulled me over and shared with kindness that this was not a question we ask. Given the commitment the office has to a radical interfaith hospitality, asking students to conform their thinking to the terms and ideologies of one tradition was not appropriate. I have reflected upon this in the intervening years, and have been left wondering: Is there an authentic way to create pathways of vocational exploration for people of various faiths and secular identities without simultaneously asking them to accept a Christian construct of vocation?

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