In 1996, artist Kathleen Peterson and religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack embarked on a project to create a children’s book about world religions. In the early stages of the project they recognized a gap in children’s books on world religions. Those books that included non-Christian faiths would lump together all of the Christian denominations, whereas those that elaborated the various Christian denominations did not represent faiths outside of Christianity. When the two women worked to compile the list of religions that would be represented in A World of Faith, they began by listing faiths that American children might encounter in their school classrooms. From there, they expanded outward seeking to represent faiths from additional nations and cultures. Their final list included 28 world religions from Islam to the Episcopal Church to Baha’i.
Peterson spent over a year researching the religions and creating images to represent them. Each of Peterson’s illustrations includes people of varying ages and genders, as well as a building or structure that is significant to the depicted faith. Later she and Stack worked together to unify the images and text. Opposite each of Peterson’s illustrations are two paragraphs written by Stack which tell the religion’s origin story and elaborate the practices that are unique to that faith.
In the process of studying these various religions, Peterson found good in all of them and beliefs that resonated with her. She says, “I became a convert to each one.” After conducting research on all 28, she found that all the religions she studied had two things in common: 1) Every group believes in a higher power and 2) They all believe in ethical behavior towards others. She notes that what sets these faiths apart is their rules and practices, but the core is the same.
The common elements that are the pulsing heart of religion have a greater power to bring us together than our differences have to divide us. Peterson reflects, “The whole is greater than the one. And the only way we can have a healthy and happy society is to serve each other.” She continues, “Our lives are way more rich, they’re more peaceful, when we have connection and kindness towards each other.”
We, like Peterson, can have an experience of conversion through engaging with the traditions, doctrines, and (most importantly) people of other faiths. We can find strength in our mutual devotion and desire to do good, and we can be enriched by those differences that make us unique.
Written by Elisabeth S. Weagel