"Pluralism leaves nobody fully satisfied because the deal is that identities are in fact in deep contradiction with each other," Patel said. "That's just the deal. Part of what you do when you have multiple identities in a society which invites the expression of those identities is you have to find ways of expressing the dimensions of your identity which build relationship and which are in common with the broader common good. But also you have the right to express dimensions of your identity which might contravene the broader common good, which might not be so popular right now."
Patel decided to shoot for the moon by asking famed religion scholar Martin Marty to "blurb" the book. Instead, Marty insisted on writing the afterword, commending the conspicuous absence of the term "tolerance" as well as Patel's honesty about struggling to build an effective interfaith movement.
"Sacred Ground" is not just a memoir or a history lesson. It's also a how-to guide for anyone who wants to build an interfaith movement without repeating the same mistakes.
Patel's latest project explores pioneers of that movement. In a series of three sermons at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he is preaching about three religious figures and how their relationships with people of other faiths led them to rethink their own.
The series covers the impact of the Holocaust on German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the impact of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and King's impact on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
"There are a couple of distinctly American ways of responding to marginalization," Patel said. "One is you have to stand up for people other than yourself. The other is you have to stand up for broader principles — not just against the discrimination against your own community. It's not about 'Don't hurt Muslims.' It's about 'Don't violate America.' I had long known those things in the abstract. But I don't think I ever felt them so deeply than in this process, because it was a hard-won realization."
Manya Brachear has covered religion for the Chicago Tribune since June 2003.
Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America
By Eboo Patel, Beacon Press, 224 pages, $24.95
Eboo Patel will talk with Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Tribune Tower, 435 N. Michigan Ave.; $15. The event will be preceded by a members-only reception at 6:30 p.m.