Sonja Hagander has led interreligious programs in a variety of settings around the world, including educational travel experiences for professors, clergy and laity. She is also active in local and national interfaith activities and has developed and taught for several years an “Interfaith Scholars” course for college students. But her latest adventure is all about kids.
Hagander, an interim pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in New Brighton, Minn., is co-author of the newest entry in Beaming Books’ “Curious Kid” series, Religion Around the World: A Curious Kid’s Guide to the World’s Great Faiths (2022).
With co-writers Matthew Maruggi and Megan Borgert-Spaniol, Hagander explores the world’s major faiths, making the beliefs, practices and history of each accessible to kids ages 8 to 12. Chester Bentley’s colorful illustrations and infographics are paired with clear text that presents each religion as a rich tradition that has served as a force for human connection and good in the world.
Living Lutheran spoke with Hagander about the new book.
Living Lutheran: How has interreligious work informed your own faith?
Hagander: My Lutheran faith and ministry continue to nurture me to be a better neighbor, especially with all who have different core beliefs. Interreligious ministry has pushed me to explore how my Lutheran faith leads me to be in conversation and in mutual engagement with my neighbor from [another] or no faith tradition.
Kids are very inquisitive and ask the best questions.
It has helped me to be more vulnerable in how I approach caring for the world. Friends from religious traditions other than mine have energized my own sense of wonder and awe in our Creator, giving me a deep respect for various ways to pray, have reminded me of my own vulnerability and need for forgiveness, and have nurtured my own sense of service.
Why is learning about world religions important for the spiritual development of Lutheran kids?
As Lutherans we are called to love God and neighbor, and learning about world religions is part of loving our neighbor. Plus, it’s joyful and life-giving!
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
Kids are very inquisitive and ask the best questions. I hope that readers will delight in the pages and pictures so that they will explore more. Maybe they will seek out holy places, help or stand up for a friend from another religious tradition, be jazzed to ask even more questions.
I hope congregation leaders consider including this book in a church education program or vacation Bible school, or adding an interfaith series for the neighborhood. I hope it encourages them to seek out who lives in their neighborhood. And, of course, I hope it leads them back into God’s love experienced in Jesus Christ and [telling] their own story of faith.