“Our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian. I broaden my Hinduism by loving other religions than my own.”
— Mahatma Gandhi in Sacred Longings by Mary C. Grey
“The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for different traditions.” Abraham Joshua Heschel
• Overview determining readiness and benefits of interfaith dialogue
“Dialogue is when persons of different viewpoints come together and interact. Their ‘coming together’ could be in the form of conversation, sharing a meal, sharing in an experience such as creating art or participating in a religious observance or some other form of engagement.” (Interactive Faith by Bud Heckman and RP Neiss)
Interfaith dialogue has become essential in order to help more people discover, celebrate and promote the reality of pluralism in our community. It is important that people respect and have appreciation for other’s faith traditions. In dialogue we hope to build relationships, identify commonly-held beliefs and enhance the participants’ own faith experience.
“The experience of people who have come into deep dialogue with those of other faiths is that it more deeply enriches one’s sense of oneself.”
“My fundamental belief is that all religious traditions have the same potential to make better human beings, good human beings, sensible human beings, compassionate human beings.” Dali Lama
“All religions are true.” Gandhi
• Guidelines for effective dialogue in a setting of religious pluralism
- Design time so it is most helpful in accomplishing objectives. Ensure the time is experienced as important, eventful and momentous.
- Build liveliness and momentum into the event so people are motivated to participate and share.
- Pull together the event so people know who is doing what by when.
- Design the most effective methods to encourage participation, i.e., facilitated conversation, brainstorming, small-group dialogue, using life experiences as examples.
- Shape the physical environment/space to invite participation and create expectations for effective dialogue. Have people sitting so they can speak to each other rather than to the facilitator.
- Embrace disagreement as a healthy form of exchange and learning when it is done in a civil manner. Do not rush from the conflict, but examine and explore it so learning can occur.
Formula for Sequencing Questions in Dialogue
Sequenced questions help people formulate their thinking as they move from one level of thinking to the next. This leads people through phases of reflection, helping them process their experience as a group. This method enables a group to reflect together on any subject.
Intent: Think through what you hope people will learn and experience.
Context: Decide what to say that sets the stage for the dialogue.
Sequence of Generic Questions:
- Facts Questions:
Listen for specificity in facts and data first.
What did you see/observe?
What words/ideas did you hear?
Where did you grow up?
- Feelings/Experience Questions
Listen for associations, feelings, previous experiences
What is exciting/surprising?
What seems to be difficult?
What are experiences you’ve had?
- Implications Questions
Listen for meaning, point of view, values, common arenas
What are the implications?
What does this mean for us?
What might change because of this?
- Decision Questions
Listen for decision, resolve, responsibility
What have we said?
What are some steps we can take?
What do we need to do now?
Summarize or ask someone in the group to summarize.
Four Levels of Inter-religious Dialogue
- The dialogue of llfe, where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joy and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations.
- The dialogue of action, in which persons of all religions collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people.
- The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.
- The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.
(M. Thomas Thangaraj, The Common Task: A Theology of Christian Mission, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1999, pp. 95, 96.)
Five Types of Inter-religious Dialogue
- Informational: Acquiring of knowledge of the faith partner’s religious history, founding, basic beliefs, scriptures, etc.
- Confessional: Allowing the faith partners to speak for and define themselves in terms of what it means to live as an adherent.
- Experiential: Dialogue with faith partners from within the partner’s tradition, worship and ritual – entering into the feelings of one’s partner and permitting that person’s symbols and stories to guide.
- Relational: Develop friendships with individual persons beyond the “business” of dialogue.
- Practical: Collaborate to promote peace and justice.
Sample Dialogue Exercise: (20 Minutes)
Sample dialogue format that includes specific questions for conversation (for example, practices around prayer, ritual, celebration and grief)
Many everyday things in our lives offer opportunities to engage in conversation
that can lead to dialogue about our personal faith and/or our faith tradition.
Books, family photographs, newspaper articles, restaurant menus, art objects,
popular music and so forth.
We’re going to experiment by dialoguing in pairs using a photographic image (can be a series of pictures of almost anything) to spur our interaction. (Hold up deck of images, show a few, then spread out face down.)
Break up into two’s . . . number off . . . getting as much religious mix-up as possible. Then each group randomly picks a card and finds a spot to talk together.
See where your photographic image takes you . . . like, what feelings it brings up . . . what you associate it with . . . how it speaks to you . . . how could you relate it to your faith or faith tradition.
Take five or six minutes to converse, then come back together as a group.
- What was your photograph?
- What did you talk about?
- Did you click on any common thread?
- What did your partner say that was a new or different idea/perception than yours?
- What would you like to talk about if you had more time?
- What are the ‘fruit’s of this kind of interchange?
- What does this exercise have to tell us about interfaith dialogue?
Sample Dialogue on a particular topic:
- What is the topic, concern or issue of dialogue?
- What objective facts are important to know about this topic?
- How do you experience this topic in your family/your own life?
- What do your faith tradition’s values have to say about this topic?
- How are our values similar in this arena?
- How are we challenged with different (or nuanced) values and/or experiences in this arena?
- Why does this topic merit our discussion? What is at stake?
- How can we use today’s experience to make a difference?
Random palette of possible questions to choose from:
- What is one thing you remember Jon Meacham said (or other input, reading, speech, film, etc.)…words/phrases?
- What intrigued you about his topics?
- How did this relate to your family/your own life?
- What do your faith tradition’s values have to say about this?
- How are we expanding the views of the Founding Fathers on inclusion and tolerance?
- Is America the most open society for freedom of faith or can we learn fro other cultures, or countries?
- What are examples you see?
- How should others learn about your faith?
- What are ways that you practice your faith that are important to you?
- What is the most important faith experience of your life?
- What is your most important faith holiday, and why?
- How can we continue to listen to and learn from those of other faiths?
- What questions do you have about other faiths?
- What does it mean for your tradition to be true?
- We can say with Gandhi:
“All religions are true.” Or we can say:
All religions are true, and mine is the truest.
Only my religion is true, and all others are false.
Which view did you grow up with? Which view seems valid to you today? If your view has changed, how did that change come about?
- What experiences have you had with other faiths?
- When and how have new avenues of understanding opened for you?
- What do you believe about God intervening in history and rewarding or punishing people/nations for their behavior?
- What would you describe as the world’s greatest problem?
- How would you define “truth” as applies to your faith?
Is “clinging” to religion a weakness or a strength?
- What does it look like for you to live out your faith…what actions are there?
- How does your faith approach making changes?
- What is your faith response to the hungry in the world? (Darfur, etc.)
- What does it mean to live a life of faith in your understanding?
- Would you share a time you felt closest to God?
- What is your religion’s view of forgiveness?
- What is the meaning of loving one’s neighbor as oneself in your faith?
- “What would you do if your faith tradition were forbidden?”
- How do we re-imagine a world of our understanding each other?
- How does your faith influence the important decisions of your life?
- What is it about your faith that gives you strength and solace in times of trouble?
- How do you think about the impact of pluralism on your faith?
Links to library resources (books, magazines, websites).
Interfaith Resources compiled by the Johnson County Library, are available at:http://www.jocolibrary.org/templates/JCL_InfoPage.aspx?id=3965
Beyond tolerance : Searching for interfaith understanding in America, Niebuhr, Gustav.
A New Religious America by Diana L. Eck
Mapping Dialogue: Essential Tools for Social Change, by Marianne Mille Bojer, Heiko Rodhl, Marianne Knuth, Colleen Magner
What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue e-book on dialogue at www.interfaithdialogue.com
InterActive Faith, The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook, Edited by Rev. Bud Heckman with Rori Picker Neiss.
20,000 Dialogues at – www.20000dialogues.org/
Interfaith Resources: www.interfaithresources.com/
United States Institute of Peace: www.usip.org
Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion at Harvard University. www.pluralism.org
The Pew Forum [survey] underscores the fact that America is the most religious pluralistic nation in the world…. 68 percent of religious Americans believe there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their own scriptures. Most Americans understand that our country was settled by people from different parts of the world who embrace different religious beliefs. That diversity should be celebrated, not feared. ~Welton Gaddy, post “Pluralism Is a Strength Not a Weakness,” washingtonpost.com 7/7/08
Beliefnet.com is a guide and authority for online interfaith dialogue
From Rev. Joseph Lowrey’s Benediction at President Barack Obama’s inauguration:
“We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right. Let all who do justice and love mercy say amen and say amen.”
Adapted from a prayer of the Corrymeela Community, Ireland in Prayers Encircling the World
God, Allah, Holy One,
Be with us as learn. . .
To see one another with new eyes,
Hear one another with new hearts,
And treat one another in a new way.