Teaching respect for other faiths is vital, says Grawemeyer winner

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, won the prize for his 2007 autobiography, “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.” He was selected from among 67 nominations worldwide.

Patel’s organization, based in Chicago, encourages young people of different religions to perform community service, explore common values and build bridges among diverse faiths. The organization is now active on about 75 college campuses.

“Religious extremists all over the world are harnessing adolescent angst for their own ends,” said Susan Garrett, a religion professor who directs the award. “Patel urges us to take advantage of the short window of time in a young person’s life to teach the universal values of cooperation, compassion and mercy.”

Patel was born in India to a Muslim family and immigrated to Chicago as a child. As a teenager, he struggled with what he saw as a lack of religious pluralism in America. His experiences prompted him to launch a movement to build interfaith cooperation by inspiring college students to champion the cause.

He formed Interfaith Youth Core in 1998.

A Rhodes Scholar, he is now a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Religious Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. In October, U.S. News & World Report named him one of America’s Best Leaders in 2009.

Five Grawemeyer Awards are presented annually for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology, education and religion. The University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Seminary jointly award the religion prize.

About Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel’s dream is to build a world where interfaith cooperation is the norm.

As founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, he is working to help young people discover ways to build the religious pluralism he says is vital to the world’s future.

In his Grawemeyer Award-winning book, “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation,” Patel, now 34, tells his own life story as an Indian-born Muslim raised in America. At first, he felt his different identities as Indian, Muslim and American clashed with one another, but later realized that appreciating the common value of pluralism among all three was the key to finding peace.

“Every time we see a teenager kill someone in the name of God,” he writes, “we should picture a pair of shadowy hands behind him, showing him how to make the bomb or point the gun…and then we should ask: ‘Why weren’t the hands of people who care about pluralism shaping that kid instead of the hands of religious totalitarians?”

Earlier this year, Patel won the Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom of Worship Medal. Previously, he was named by Islamica Magazine as “one of 10 young Muslim visionaries shaping Islam in America” and chosen by Harvard’s Kennedy School Review as one of “five future policy leaders to watch.”

A board member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and member of the national committee of the Aga Khan Foundation USA, he also is a Young Global Leader in the World Economic Forum and an Ashoka Fellow, a distinction awarded to a select group of social entrepreneurs.

He has spoken at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minnesota, the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City and the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture at Westminster Abbey in London.

Besides writing a religion blog for the Washington Post, “The Faith Divide,” Patel has written for the Chicago Tribune and Sunday Times of India. He is a regular guest on CNN and National Public Radio.

He holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an undergraduate.

Download a high-resolution photo of Eboo Patel