Professor Joe Goldblatt is an academic and writer who serves as chair of Edinburgh Interfaith Association, the oldest organisation of its kind in Scotland.
Humanist Society Scotland got to know Joe and EIA through our work together on the Scottish Government’s recently launched Faith and Belief Engagement Strategy. This will inform policy development and improve systems of communication and engagement with faith and belief groups. We see ourselves as part of a diverse network of belief groups in Scotland and we were delighted that, for the first time, non-religious voices were given a clear role in developing faith and belief strategy.
Below, we talk to Joe about how he became passionate about interfaith work and what humanist and faith communities in Scotland can learn from each other.
Please tell us a bit about your yourself, your background, and how you became involved in the interfaith movement
I serve as chair of Scotland’s oldest Interfaith association. The Edinburgh Interfaith Association was founded by Professor Frank Whaling to being together all faiths and none for education, understanding, respect and love. I was born in the USA (Texas) 70 years ago and have lived in Edinburgh for 15 years. I became involved with interfaith as a teenager when my father would ask me to speak to local churches about Judaism. He knew that it was important for our neighbours to better understand and appreciate the Jewish people. Well it worked. I never directly experienced antisemitism until I left my home community.
How were you involved with the development of the new faith and belief engagement strategy, and why do you think it’s important?
I was asked by Scottish Government civil servants to contribute the ideas of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association and along with our executive director, Iain Stewart, contributed key points that informed the final strategy. We believe it is important because it is the first ever blueprint for the faith community to work together with the Scottish government to create a fair and just society underpinned by mutual respect, compassion, and love.
What do you think people of different faiths can learn from each other and from non-religious people?
The Edinburgh Interfaith Association has always embraced and served folk of all faiths and none, and there is much to learn from one another. Within the faith community we share in each other’s beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, and festivals. For those who do not subscribe to a specific faith or do not embrace faith as a personal value, we can learn from their views in terms of how they value human beings, the environment, and other causes shared by the faith community.
Likewise, what can we as humanists learn from people of faith?
I strongly believe that humanists can learn from people of faith how for thousands of years the world’s religions and faiths have contributed to the advancement of human society through justice, equality, charity, wellbeing and many other shared human values.
What is on the horizon for Edinburgh Interfaith and for you in your life and work more generally?
Annually the Edinburgh Interfaith Association visits dozens of schools with our Faith Road Show programme where we bring half a dozen different faith leaders into primary schools. The pupils learn about the basic values, beliefs, rituals, and ceremonies of different faiths and discover the similarities between all of us. We also produce numerous online programmes featuring folk of faith and no faith discussing current affairs, an annual Peace Walk where we visit numerous places of worship, Holocaust Memorial Day programmes, International Women’s Day programmes, and much more. On the horizon for the Edinburgh Interfaith Association is the future identification of permanent premises for us to continue our important education, exhibition, and broadcasting work, all together under one roof.
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