Today, different societies and communities in a country like India closely share life—from shopping, studying, working and travelling to living together in both urban and rural areas. They are, however, still very much unfamiliar with the values, cultures, traditions and beliefs of one another. In India, Hindus, Muslims and followers of many other religions have been living together for centuries. They have been caring for and sharing with each other, fulfilling their political, social and national responsibilities in an integrated manner. Nevertheless, they remain largely unaware about the cultural and religious traits of each other.
Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, in his presidential address in 1927 in Indian National Congress in Madras, said:
“The educated Indian is forced by circumstances to study European culture but knows next to nothing about the culture of his fellow-countryman living next-door.”
What is more painful now is the fact that each faith community has developed mistrust and hatred for other. Their knowledge of each other’s traditions is superficial and unauthentic.
Further, the present world, having embarked on a journey of scientific growth and modern technological advancement, has entered a phase in its history where distances and remoteness have come to an end and borders are losing their meaning. This multilateral world has turned into a global society or a single community linked by science, technology, and internet. The interdependence of human beings as in today’s world has probably never been greater. For this, it is necessary for human beings to know and understand various cultures and faith traditions so they may better connect with each other on the basis of shared knowledge and understanding. The more important this subject is, the less it is made out to be. What we are often taught is that religion is a personal affair of an individual and that the religion of others is irrelevant or not important to study. This is truly a sorry state of affairs.
Religion is inextricably linked with values and life of all human beings. This relationship is so deep that even if one denies it, s/he cannot get rid of it. Plutarch (d. 120 AD), a Greek philosopher once said: “We have seen cities without walls and territory, without revenue or arms but never was seen a city without religions”.
When this is the relationship of religion with humanity, it should be studied very seriously. This seriousness towards the study of religion is important because it enables people to develop an understanding of others’ beliefs and cultures and make people learn to live in an atmosphere of mutual peace and harmony. An adequate knowledge of others’ faith traditions makes sense of the diversity of religious traditions in the world and in our own environment, especially in India where most religions of the world were birthed, and ought to co-exist peacefully today. In fact, in Indian subcontinent, all faith practitioners must learn to appreciate their own cultures while at the same time, others’ religions as well. Hence, the communities will bridge the communication gap, reduce a lot of mutual misunderstandings and thus come into better terms with each other.
Therefore, it is a common responsibility of all communities to address this problem and study the common values and ideals underlying the religions of every community. But hardly such opportunities were created and facilitated in the academic arena in India. Not enough effort has been made in this direction. In this background, there was a need of a systematic course which could encapsulate the essence of all religions and cultures in one academic discipline. With a view to achieving and promoting a clear, in-depth and enhanced understanding of all religions—whether they originated in India or deeply influenced the Indian soil—Inter-Faith Studies (IFS) is deeply embedded into the curriculum of MLRC. Further to that, the MLRC introduces a full-fledged academic department on this subject entitled, “The Department of Interfaith Studies”.