Free Speech and Religion

Bridging Differences and Imagining a Better Future Through Faith: Religious Perspectives on the Narratives of America

June 17, 2024  • Religion & Society Program

In a time when our communities feel more fractured than ever before, how can our country find common ground and join together in building a future where respect, collaboration, and equity are centered in our relationships and society? This question is at the heart of a new project entitled Religious Perspectives on the Narratives of America: The Search for Just, Honest, Inclusive, and Forward-Looking Tellings. The compilation of essays, created through the Aspen Institute’s Religion & Society Program’s Racial Justice and Religion Collective and the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs, gather perspectives that span faith, culture, and geography to knit together a vision for connection and understanding. 

Rather than trying to offer specific solutions, the selected works examine how narratives can be powerful tools to create meaning and purpose, shape identity, and forge connections. Contributors were asked to examine topics such as overcoming past trauma and injustices, how faith-based perspectives can expand upon our founding ideals, and how this lens can provide a framework to understand our diverse experiences and narratives across the country. 

The project poses a fundamental question to its contributors: What vision of America do they aspire to invite us into?

Each author adds their unique perspective, informed by their faith and community. Take, for example, Simran Jeet Singh whose faith celebrates the divinity of us all, and as a result approaches each person with compassion and respect:

“At a time when we struggle to deal with the differences among us and all around us, Sikh offers a model for creating a more open, inclusive, and loving culture. The Sikh philosophical system is built on the idea of oneness and connection. If we are truly interested in transforming ourselves and transforming our shared narrative, we have to challenge ourselves to see divinity in all people, even when difficult, and even when they do not see ours.” – Simran Jeet Singh

In reflecting on the erasure of her Indigenous culture, Kaitlin Curtice sees broader lessons on storytelling as a critical tool in decolonization: 

“I come from a family that was silenced about being Potawatomi, raised within a framework of assimilation and erasure as I grew up asking what it means to be a young Indigenous woman. Reclaiming my own story has meant learning the stories of my own people, telling the truth, and making sure I find my way to others who are reclaiming their stories…Religious perspectives should reinforce care for the vulnerable and the wisdom of the oppressed, which means decolonization should often be a goal of worldwide religions and spiritual leaders, fueled by the power of storytelling and story-sharing.” – Kaitlin Curtice

James Samami Farr uses his Baha’i faith as both a model and active facilitator for dialogue in his community. Through casual and frequent conversations with neighbors around literature and world events, they build civility and shared meaning: 

In whatever community they reside, Baha’is have been charged with building, shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbors, with patterns of community life based on the creative elaboration of spiritual principles. Several times a week, I welcome small groups of friends, some Baha’i, some not, into my home…We have exploratory conversations about sacred writings, current events, and social change. We often disagree. But slowly, the more we gather, we feel a shared sense of purpose begin to bubble up among us — one that feels distinctly contrapuntal to the forces of division, polarization, and hatred that have come to characterize so much of our public discourse. Over the course of these gatherings, a most liberating possibility has struck me: It is not for me on my own to define the content of a constructive American narrative. But through a process of opening my home to my neighbors and friends and beginning to articulate a collective vision, I can begin to see the outline of a sentence that we might contribute to that story. – James Samimi Farr

Across faith, cultural, and political values, contributors’ spiritual foundations offer a way to understand the world and one another. 

Ultimately, Religious Perspectives on the Narratives of America represents a bold step towards reimagining the stories we tell about our nation and the future we work together to build. By embracing diverse religious perspectives and fostering constructive dialogue, it strives to create a more inclusive and forward-looking narrative that reflects the rich tapestry of American identity. 

Read the stories here.