Eboo Patel has focused his career onworking with young people to encourage religious cooperation. In 1991, he founded Interfaith Youth Core, an international nonprofit promoting interfaith work. And he wrote the 2007 book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.
Patel says he decided to make building religious cooperation his life’s work in the mid-1990s.
“I made the sudden realization that every time I saw religion on the evening news, it was a story about violence,” he says. “And every time there was a story about religious violence, it was a young person who’s the foot soldier of that violence.”
Eboo, who was born in India and grew up in Chicago, sees a growing emphasis on interfaith issues at universities.
“College campuses are very much talking about becoming models of interfaith cooperation,” he says, “places that start to take the issue of religious diversity seriously and say: What percentage of our students would stand up against religious prejudice? What percentage of our students has a positive experience or relationship with body from a different religion who they can speak clearly about?”
In his 2007 book, Patel writes that religion will be the defining issue of the 21st century. He says that the involvement of religious groups in the 2000 U.S. presidential election and the 9/11 attacks has shaped his thinking.
Besides working with the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, Patel also serves on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He says experience in both has shown him many people of various faiths eager to cooperate with those from other religious backgrounds.
“I really believe that the interfaith service movement can be like the environmental movement or like the human rights movement or like the civil rights movement,” he says, “which is to say something that fires the imagination of a generation.”
The Grawemeyer Foundation at U of L gives awards each year for religion, outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education.