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Message from Peter Laugharn: The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue in Today's World

By Peter Laugharn, April 11, 2018

Conrad Hilton once said, “Each of the great religions and philosophies of the world shares the same principle of goodwill among men.” At the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, we’re grateful that our founder possessed an openness to interfaith collaboration that was quite unique for his time.

Conrad Hilton took this belief in goodwill and turned it into action. In the 1930s, during the height of the Great Depression, he funded “tolerance trios.” These were traveling groups consisting of a priest, a rabbi and a pastor, who worked to encourage understanding and interfaith dialogue.

It is this openness that also allowed Conrad to be part of the first-ever National Prayer Breakfast in 1953. President Eisenhower wanted to convene the first-ever Prayer Breakfast, yet could not find a space large enough for the expected audience.

To ensure a space was available for such an important gathering, Conrad graciously provided his ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., for this breakfast. Since then, the National Prayer Breakfast has become a lasting tradition in the nation’s capital.

This year, on January 31, 2018 – 65 years after the first Prayer Breakfast – the Hilton Foundation along with Council on Foundations and Interfaith Youth Core convened a national discussion aimed at sparking solutions to address a new era of religious diversity in America.

Entitled “This American Moment: Bridging Religious Divides,” the half-day symposium acknowledged the current climate of polarization in the United States and explored the role philanthropy can play in building unity. Held at the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute in Washington, D.C., the meeting was attended by more than 120 of the nation’s leading practitioners, foundations and experts.

Against a backdrop of growing partisanship, polarization and religious bigotry, the conversation surfaced important new thinking about the role philanthropy can play in fostering productive dialogue across religious divides in the United States and its impact on society.

Best-selling author and New York Times columnist David Brooks traced the roots of our polarized, deeply divided cultural moment, and encouraged the audience to replace partisanship with “an ethos of commitment.“

David Brooks, best-selling author and New York Times columnist, delivers the closing keynote at This American Moment: Bridging Religious Divides. Photo courtesy of Interfaith Youth Core.

Founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel, highlighted the need for a religiously diverse America, stating “just because diversity is present, doesn’t mean the bridges get built.” He urged us to bear the great responsibility of building these bridges across faith communities, which are inspired to do good.

Eboo Patel, Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core, delivers the opening keynote at This American Moment: Bridging Religious Divides. Photo courtesy of Interfaith Youth Core.

As we continue to facilitate and encourage interfaith dialogues that bring us close to a collective understanding, we thank Conrad Hilton for being an early promoter of dialogue across all types of societal divides. Were he alive today, he would undoubtedly be looking for bridges of understanding among those of all faiths.

Peter Laugharn Twitter

President and CEO

Peter Laugharn Twitter

President and CEO

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