This profile was last updated in 2008
The Festival of Faiths in Kansas City was a two week series of events that aimed to “discover, recognize, celebrate, and promote the reality of pluralism in Kansas City through listening, learning, understanding and experience — the exercise of acceptance.” Kansas City was thought to be a diverse metropolis representing many religions. As such, it was seen as an ideal venue for local religious dialogue as well as a notable model for future national and international dialogue. Behind this vision was the assumption that dialogue amongst different religions does not lead to a new “interfaith religion” or the weakening of one’s faith. Rather, exploring the faiths of others stimulates renewed exploration of one’s own faith.
In the fall of 2005, a Kansas City volunteer committee formed to create a dynamic event advancing inter-religious understanding. Over a six month period, the committee began to contact and build relationships with religious organizations and leaders on the local, national, and international level. Diana Eck, director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, urged the committee to look towards Louisville, Kentucky’s Festival of Faiths as a model of a successful interfaith event. Inspired by what they found, the committee soon developed a plan to launch the first annual Festival of Faiths in Kansas City in November 2007. Seed funding was provided by the Village Presbyterian Church Endowment Trust.
The Festival of Faiths in Kansas City was organized by various volunteer interfaith committees. The Leadership Planning Committee was comprised of the chairs of each of the eight festival event committees. More than seventy five religious organizations provided support and donations, along with countless individuals. Major support also came from the Jewish Community Foundation. The various event committees were comprised of local religious and civic leaders, drawn from such organizations as the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, Crescent Peace Society and the Center for Religious Experience and Study, among others.
The festival began with a lunch benefiting the Kansas City Interfaith Council and ended with a Thanksgiving Dinner at the Immanuel Lutheran Church fellowship hall. In between these large gatherings, major events included a film festival, a play performance, a concert, and a keynote speaker event. With close to 1,000 people in attendance, the speaker program rivaled the festival kick-off luncheon as the most popular event. The panel featured Dr. Judea Pearl and Dr. Akbar Ahmed. Judea Pearl is the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which he co-founded in April 2002 to continue Daniel’s life-work of dialogue and understanding. Dr. Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC and is “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” according to the BBC. The film festival, Open Circle, showcased several provocative films as well as panel discussions with the filmmakers. While the film festival provoked deep thought, the Harmony Interfaith Concert inspired celebration of the sacred gift of song. The original play, The Hindu and The Cowboy, based on 80 interviews with Kansas City locals, dramatized diverse faith experiences.
Janet Burton, the Festival of Faiths Co-Chair, felt the general attitude of the community towards the Festival was positive, as shown by the number of religious and interfaith organizations that lent their support and by the extensive press coverage. By all accounts, the work of the Festival did not end with the closing ceremony. Newly formed friendships and partnerships will continue to strengthen the “exercise of acceptance.” In the coming months, a volunteer Committee will form to decide plans for the Festival’s future.