The thesis of Gustav Niebuhr's book could fit on an index card: In order to build a more peaceful world, humans need to move beyond mere tolerance of one another's differences and engage in direct, open-minded acts of interfaith dialogue and understanding. Extending that simple insight over 218 pages is challenge enough. But doing so without lapsing into either ecumenical banality or religious favoritism proves too daunting a task, even for a writer of Niebuhr's talents.
A former religion reporter for the New York Times and The Washington Post, now an associate professor of religion and media at Syracuse University, Niebuhr experienced something of a slow-motion revelation a few months after Sept. 11. Sent to cover what he and many others feared might become a wave of "backlash attacks" against Muslims and brown-skinned people, he slowly realized that something closer to the opposite was taking place.