What do you get when a Muslim scholar, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Christian theologian enter a classroom together?
I week long of great dialogue, learning, and at some points tension.
I just got back from a week long intensive with more than 50 students from various backgrounds including Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other. Personally, this was such a great experience and a total privilege to be able to learn from the other students and the professor’s who were all wonderful!
I decided to write a reflection. This is not at all meant to be an exhaustive list of what, why and how to do inter-religious dialogue as there are already so many great resources out there, but is meant to highlight the most important take-a-ways for me personally.
It almost goes without saying, but we must first ask why. Why is inter-religious dialogue important and why are we doing it?
There can be multiple answers to this question, but I realized that the aim of inter-religious dialogue is to better understand others.
There are so many false assumptions (e.g. Muslims are violent, all Buddhist are peaceful) that are torn down and stripped away as one listens to others exactly what and why they hold their beliefs – let’s face it, though we live in a very pluralistic culture most of us are still fairly ignorant of most other beliefs…myself included.
It is my personal conviction that violence would be greatly diminished if we better understood others. The fact that there are people from various religions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, other) all working for peace, human flourishing and dignity, and environmental issues has been so encouraging for me!
Not about conversion
Proselytizing has absolutely no place in inter-religious dialogue. If one party is there to try to convert the other, this will make inter-religious dialogue impossible because we will debate instead of dialogue.
- Debate – where one tries to win an argument or convince the other(s) they are wrong – often emotional and heated.
- Dialogue – where one tries to better understand the other, their beliefs and why they hold them. They listen and ask questions without the need to say they are wrong.
Be true to who you are
While inter-religious dialogue cannot happen when one is there to “convert” the other, it is also not productive when the goal is consensus. This was one area that I really grew in. The goal is not to unpack all the areas we agree on alone.
If you think about it this makes sense. If you’re comparing two or more books, yet only compare all the areas they are similar, no one will really see how they are different and unique. In order to better understand others, we must be able to see the areas we disagree or where we see things differently – this is essential and we should not shy away from it. We can still get along and learn from others without agreeing on everything as long as their is mutual respect.
We all have our own lenses
Even when in dialogue, we must realize that we have certain lenses which we see the world through. Some of us have very negative experiences of other religions. Some of us have only positive experiences. Some of us have no experience of other religions or have only read about other religions.
We should be upfront in admitting our own biases and lenses the best we are able (I’m certain we do not see them all) and be open to having those lenses shaped or formed differently.
There is diversity within each religion
The more I have interacted with people of other faiths, the more this has become apparent – it’s true within my religion as well.
Just because one Muslim states their beliefs does not mean that all Muslims think that way. Now, there are some places of crossover, but we must be slow to assume just because we talked to a few Muslims we understand the Islamic tradition in its entirety.
One of my professor’s shared that it’s not enough to know which religions are at the table (i.e. Christians, Jews, Muslims etc), but to know which Christians, which Muslims, and which Jews – there is wide diversity within each…I think this was another major growth for me.
No one person can speak for an entire religion, the best we can do is to speak about our own religious tradition through the lenses we have.
We become better followers of our own religious tradition
As we better understand others, we better understand ourselves. Also, I have often found places of blindness, false assumptions, or areas where a completely different perspective has enhanced my faith journey – if we just talk to those who agree with us we greatly limit ourselves.
Every time we engage in inter-religious dialogue, in formal or informal ways, we gain experience and wisdom. This is both true of dialogue with other religions, but even of those who see differently within one’s own tradition.
Inter-religious dialogue enhances intra-religious dialogue.
By talking with people of other faiths who believe differently than I and who see things from a different perspective, it has helped me talk with people within my own tradition – Christianity.
The majority of my dialogue is within Christianity – I think it’s unfortunate that we polarize so many issues all while trying to kick the other out (I recently had someone tell me I was not a Christian because I did not believe all the things they did in the way they did…they wanted to debate and not dialogue and it also shows how easy it is to become insulated within a small religious sub culture).
I was raised believing a small stream within the Christian river was Christianity – the older I get the more I see that there is vast differences (historical and present) within my own tradition.
These differences include: evolution, whether the Bible is perfect, whether someday God will suck a small select few of people away from the earth, who is saved and what that even means, what heaven and hell actually are, is there truth in other religions and if so to what extent – the list could go on and on.
My interaction with other traditions is still very limited and I am still very ignorant about a great many things, but the more I talk with others, the more open and full of grace I become. It also makes it easier to work with others for what really matters – the healing and peace of the world!
I end with a quote from Richar Rohr,
“The ecumenical character and future of religion is becoming rather obvious. Either religion moves beyond its tribal past or it has no chance of ‘saving the world’!”