Courageous Conversations: How to Talk About Faith


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In a recent survey about interfaith discussions, 100% of the respondents said they think it is important to have discussions about faith, provided all those involved in the discussion are open to talking about it. A majority of respondents also indicated that they were extremely comfortable with discussing their own faith. But when it came to discussing others’ faiths, only about 32% of respondents rated their comfort level as “extremely comfortable.”

Of course, the people most likely to fill out a survey concerning religious discussions are probably those who find them important. Nevertheless, it’s significant: of those who find discussing faith important, only 32% are comfortable talking about others’ beliefs. Luckily for those of you who relate, we have some thoughts.

The three of us — Alanna, Caroline, and Anna — sat down to have a conversation about having conversations about faith. We agreed that it is important to talk about religious beliefs with our friends, though we each had different reasons why. Alanna said talking about faith is important especially with friends because it makes you vulnerable, which ultimately brings you closer with your friend. It’s also important in understanding someone else’s perspective. Caroline said talking about religion is important, as you can either get to know a person better or move towards truth. In a philosophical discussion, if your friend has the truth, you want to know what it is, and if they don’t, you want them to know so you can both go find the truth. However, philosophical discussions are not always welcome, so you should be aware of this and try to notice if your friend is becoming uncomfortable. Remember to keep your conversation goals flexible. Anna said that it’s good to talk about faith with close friends as it can be an important part of your lives. Just as you would talk about your favorite activities and anything else you care about with your friends, you want to talk about your core beliefs.

One of the most important things to clarify going into a conversation about faith is what you and your friend expect from the discussion. A person’s faith is often very important to them, so a misunderstanding could lead to your friend feeling hurt or betrayed.  To avoid this, have a preliminary discussion with your friend to set expectations. These expectations could include topics that you or your friend may be uncomfortable talking about or they could just be what both of you hope to get out of the conversation.  Are you having a philosophical discussion, or are you simply looking to understand your friend and their beliefs better? Are you talking about what you believe or why you believe it? If one of you wants to evaluate beliefs, but the other only wants to discuss their religious tradition, you could both end up sowing conflict in your friendship. An important part of this step is to realize when your expectations may be unreasonable and to change them accordingly– or even step out of the conversation altogether if you feel you or your friend will not be able to keep the discussion respectful.

If you still hesitate to talk about faith with friends of different beliefs, here are some practical tips. First, remember that empathy is the most important aspect of this type of discussion. Listen to understand, not to disagree or to only share your views, and in doing so, you will make your friend feel heard and respected. You will also get to know your friend better which, after all, was probably the point of having the discussion in the first place. 

If you feel that your conversations about religion tend to drag on, you can also set a timer at the beginning of your discussion. Decide on a time limit with your friend and, if you want to, agree to continue the conversation later. By previously establishing a time restriction, you don’t need to feel nervous asking your friend to stop the discussion.

Try to find common ground with the person you’re talking to. If your conversation begins to get tense, it can be a helpful strategy to step back and try to shift the conversation to a broader topic that you can agree on. This shouldn’t be too hard because all faiths have something in common.  If finding common ground doesn’t work, take a step back. You can talk later or retire the conversation – decide which is better for your friendship.

The most important thing is to prioritize the human being you’re talking to. Remind yourself and your friend: “Hey, our friendship is more important than this conversation.” If you’re having a discussion about your core beliefs and principle, it’s likely because you really care about your friend and you want to understand each other more fully. So yes, have conversations, ask questions, and share what you believe, while making sure to prioritize friendship first.

Alanna Hyatt ’22, Anna Sheehan ’21, Caroline Reichard ’21,,