Interfaith probably has as many definitions as people using the term, however there are 3 main ways it’s used – the first is to describe a kind of dialogue between individuals from different faith traditions, ie “interfaith dialogue”. In that case, the people involved attempt to understand another’s faith tradition (and their experience of that faith tradition) to come to some common ground, through dialogue. Most people who engage in interfaith dialogue say that there’s an unexpected benefit in that they find that their experience of their own faith tradition is deepened through the process.
The second way the term is used is to describe the movement based on interfaith dialogue, the “interfaith movement”, in other words, an active commitment by leaders of faith traditions to engage with other traditions in an organised way – often there’s a particular program or initiative that becomes the vehicle for the process, such as within the United Nations, or individual governments or government bodies.
The third way it’s used is a bit more complex. Interfaith Minister are people who have studied at an interfaith seminary or similar institution (some universities have degrees in divinity, for example, which encompass different faith traditions) – such as in UK, Canada and United States. Like any seminary, ordination as a Minister is the outcome, but the core curriculum is what’s commonly called comparative religion, ie all the major faiths are studied and compared, as well as units in pastoral care, counselling, psychology, ceremonies and rites, but it’s a process which is both academic and experiential.
The curriculum also includes a lot of reflective processes where the student examines her own value systems, ethical dilemmas, responses to the academic material etc and these processes often confront, and usually deepen the student’s experience of their own faith tradition. Interfaith seminary students are Hindu, Zen Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, Tibetan Buddhist, Sufi…. on and on… and students don’t change their faith, but take their interfaith seminary training back into their communities.
However, interfaith seminary training experience leads to an experience of the Divine through different pathways, so that there’s a realization that there isn’t only one way to experience the Divine, God, Allah and all the other names and names of divine aspects – even more, that there’s an experience which is shared by all faith traditions at their core. You could say this is a mystical experience, of oneness, love and often insight into the nature of human existence which was felt by the person who started the faith tradition. In this way, interfaith becomes an experience of the Divine in its own right – experience between the faiths – also known as the “perennial philosophy” or “wisdom tradition” often passed on between teacher and student and based on mystical initiations.