Interfaith education: A new model for today’s interfaith families


With societal changes rapidly transforming cultures that had been largely homogenous, today’s multi-cultural – and in particular interfaith – families need new educational strategies to help them understand their cultural roots and identify and clarify what aspects of their heritages they wish to nurture and transmit to their children. This paper focuses on a new model for religious education, namely non-doctrinaire “dual-faith” education, which the principal author has helped to develop in the United States (US) through the Interfaith Community (IFC), a small, independent non-profit organisation created and led by dual-faith Jewish/Christian families. The model is premised on the notion that families can have two different faiths in one household and that – with respect and education – families can be harmonious, religion can be transmitted, and tolerance broadly nurtured. While the model is particular to the US and to families with Jewish and Christian heritages, its premises and structure have significant potential to be adaptable to other religious combinations and other cultures and countries. After reviewing relevant literature and situating the IFC model in the global and US contexts, the paper sets out to clarify the importance of the concept, describe its elements, and discuss its implications for religious education in this time of changing ethos and demography.


L’éducation interreligieuse: Un nouveau modèle pour les familles interconfessionnelles d’aujourd’hui – Alors que les changements sociétaux transforment rapidement des cultures qui étaient en grande partie homogènes, les familles multiculturelles contemporaines – notamment les familles interconfessionnelles – ont besoin de nouvelles stratégies éducatives pour les aider tant à comprendre leurs racines culturelles qu’à identifier et clarifier les aspects de leur héritage qu’elles souhaitent entretenir et transmettre à leurs enfants. Le présent article met l’accent sur un nouveau modèle d’éducation religieuse, l’éducation « bi-religieuse » non-doctrinaire, que son auteur principal a contribué à créer aux États-Unis au sein de Interfaith Community (IFC), petite organisation indépendante à but non lucratif créée et gérée par des familles bi-religieuses, de confession juive et chrétienne. Ce modèle est fondé sur l’idée que deux religions différentes peuvent coexister dans un même foyer; grâce au respect et à l’éducation, de telles familles peuvent être harmonieuses, transmettre leur foi et promouvoir largement la tolérance. Bien que le modèle soit propre aux États-Unis et aux familles de tradition juive et chrétienne, ses principes et sa structure sont susceptibles d’être adaptés à d’autres combinaisons religieuses, ainsi qu’à d’autres cultures et pays. Après avoir examiné la littérature existante sur ce sujet et replacé le modèle IFC dans les contextes mondial et américain, l’article explicite l’importance du concept, en décrit les composantes et discute de ses implications pour l’éducation religieuse, en cette période de changement spirituel et démographique.

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  1. 1.

    UNESCO distinguishes interfaith education from religious education, clarifying that “religious education … [is] learning about one’s own religion or spiritual practices, or learning about other religions or beliefs” (UNESCO 2006, p. 14). The UNESCO guidelines add that “it is important to note the importance of an interfaith component within Intercultural Education is context specific. As an attitude to spirituality, secularism is arguably a value position on a par to religion, and is the norm in some countries, where the state has promoted the school as a space free from religious symbolism and dogma. In a secular cultural school setting, interfaith education may not carry the same weight and importance as it might in an environment where issues of faith feature heavily in school life” (ibid.).

  2. 2.

    REDCo is an acronym for Religion in Education: A Contributor to Dialogue or a Factor of Conflict in Transforming Societies of European Countries.

  3. 3.

    Sheila Gordon is the co-founder and president of the Interfaith Community and the Jewish spouse in a long-standing dual-faith Jewish/Christian marriage. Benjamin Arenstein, who has one Jewish and one Christian parent, is a consultant for the Interfaith Community.

  4. 4.

    We use the terms interchangeably in this paper.

  5. 5.

    See, for example, the increasing trend towards Buddhist Jewry in the United States as demonstrated by Roger Kamenetz in The Jew and the Lotus (Kamenetz 1995).

  6. 6.

    The Interfaith marriage in India Hinmus page has almost 1,000 members, chatting online about interfaith relationships. See [accessed 26 January 2017]. Dhanak for Humanity, an organisation for inter-faith/inter-caste couples in India, advocates for media attention to the issue of interfaith marriage. For more information, see their website at[accessed 26 January 2017].

  7. 7.

    According to the most recent study we found, the ratio of inter-religious marriages in Canada rose from 15 per cent to 19 per cent between 1981 and 2001 (Clark 2006, p. 17).

  8. 8.

    In an e-mail to the president of the Interfaith Community, Ferrò wrote: “In Italy multiculturality and religious pluralism has been growing and so are the interreligious families. Many observers feel that we need ways to manage this new situation we were not used to. This is why I think experience and know-how of your Interfaith Community could be very useful in Italy: Italian context is very different from America, of course. It's not a matter of just “importing” your initiative, but – may be – of adapting it to Italian’s reality” (personal communication, 23 March 2016).

  9. 9.

    For more information about Groupe des Foyers Islamo Chretiens (GFIC; Group of Islam Christians), see their website at [accessed 26 January 2017].

  10. 10.

    The IFMN website is at, and their Facebook page is at [both accessed 26 January 2017].

  11. 11.

    According to its own website, the Pew Research Center “is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts” ([accessed 26 January 2017]).

  12. 12.

    Jews were early immigrants to the relatively tolerant American colonies, and their co-religionists continued the path – all tending to marry other Jews. In fact, through the immediate post-World War II period, intermarriage was virtually taboo in some parts of the Jewish community, with those who “married out” often shunned by family members. This was particularly true among Jews whose families emigrated from Eastern Europe between the 1880s and World War I by the 1960s, however, they had experienced three generations of adaptation, along with broad social and cultural changes. Part II of Mixed Blessings (Cowan and Cowan 1987) provides an excellent overview of the American historical backdrop.

  13. 13. statistics (IFF 2011); Millennial Children of Intermarriage (Sasson et al. 2015); The Interfaith Family Guidebook (Hawxhurst 1998); Celebrating Our Differences (Rosenbaum and Rosenbaum 1994); Raising Interfaith Children (Schaper 1999); and Making Our Way to Shore (Smith 2004).

  14. 14.

    IFC has developed the educational model, which is the primary focus of this paper. It is a New York City-based non-profit organisation, which develops programming and curriculum for interfaith families and has generated research reports (e.g., a Member Survey [IFC 2006]) and a number of other publications (e.g., Educating Interfaith Families: A Conversation Among Jewish-Christian Families and Professionals [IFC 2007]). In addition, staff have conducted in-depth interviews with over 100 couples since 2002 and overseen at least two dozen formal interfaith couples’ workshops and numerous seminars and formal discussion groups. IFC’s website is at

  15. 15.

    Many families seeking a neutral setting choose Unitarian Universalism (, whose churches are not Christian in theology and draw on all major religious traditions. With a central focus on ethics and social justice, these churches are a comfortable option for some interfaith families. They do not, however, resonate with families who seek to retain the richness and particularities of Judaism and Christianity.

  16. 16.

    For more information about the Chicago Family School, see [accessed 26 January 2016].

  17. 17.

    For more information about the Interfaith Families Project, see [accessed 26 January 2017].

  18. 18.

    The outline of the curriculum is available on their website, at [accessed 26 January 2017].

  19. 19.

    Union Theological Seminary (UTSNYC), which is affiliated with Columbia University, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA).

  20. 20.

    She does this throughout her book, but particularly in chapter 2, “A Grassroots Social Movement” (ibid., pp. 20–39).

  21. 21.

    Both are historic and prominent seminaries located in New York City by the Columbia University campus, in close proximity to IFC headquarters. Union is a liberal Protestant institution. JTS is the center of the Conservative Jewish denomination.

  22. 22.

    E.g., service booklets and guides for Holy Week/Easter (IFC 2005), Passover Seder (IFC 2014) and Rosh Hashanah (IFC 2003).


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Gordon, S.C., Arenstein, B. Interfaith education: A new model for today’s interfaith families. Int Rev Educ 63, 169–195 (2017).

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  • Inter-religious/interfaith family
  • Lifelong learning
  • Multi-cultural education
  • New model
  • Dual faith, religious education