Engaging Community Beyond Interfaith Dialogue (1)

Pre-Interfaith Dialogue Initiative – Befriending Each Other

Religious leaders at the Islamic Christian Summit. (AP Photo/Corrado Giambalvo)

The director of Harvard Pluralism project, Professor Diana Eck asserts that global developments have brought together faith communities in new and exciting religious encounters.[1] These encounters vary in each community. What seems to be in vogue and agreed by many scholars of contemporary religion is that the 21st century is the “interfaith dialogue century” and that interfaith dialogue is an encounter that significantly contributes to peaceful coexistence.

Many debut that dialogue, conversation, or mutually respectful discourse is insufficient to uproot faith related problems in the long-run. True. However, sincere conversation embarks journeying beyond dialogue. It enriches and facilitates initiatives in resolving the causative factors of conflicts.

An understanding on the potential resistance towards interfaith dialogues (refer below) [2] is crucial prior to drafting and contextualizing the purpose and the modality of a dialogue.

  1. Religious narratives are often perceived to be incompatible with one another.[3]
  2. Even if religion is not a primary cause of conflict, religious cleavages often reinforce or complicate other causes, such as ethnic-racial identities and/or economic-power differentials.[4]
  3. Religious institutions that proselytize can seriously exacerbate conflicts, especially when they proselytize in polarized countries.[5]
  4. Some groups will simply not engage in interfaith dialogue, either because they believe such encounters are not permitted by their faith or because they hold severe animosity towards other faith groups. [6]
  5. Secular governments, including Western governments, may be nervous about engaging with religious institutions. [7]
  6. Interfaith dialogue and other forms of religious peacemaking may open old wounds.[8]

The challenges listed above indicate the need for preliminary research work and investing time learning and understanding the issues or the conflicts on the ground prior to deriving the purpose of the dialogue.

In addition to this, having a genuine relationship with the members of the community, especially when communal living is foundational to its social values, is important in building friendship, cultivating trust or dispelling fear, two elements that have deeper meanings than accomplishing the tasks at hand.

This effort can be done informally and the extend of its engagement varies according to culture and faith tradition, geography and demography, e.g.from having tea or coffee drinking to hosting home cooked dinner, going to a festivities together, attending weddings, visiting the sick, etc.

In a more structured society, authorization by local leaders or registration of a legal entity as an NGO or semi-government agency is mandatory. Regardless of whether the dialogues are state sponsored or organized among civil activists or grassroots leaders, all legal requirements must be complied prior to approaching or developing collaboration and organizing the dialogue.

Having business lunch or tea, is a common practice as long as such gesture is consistent with the local culture. In a developed and communal society, a polite invitation for the purpose of knowing each other better as such is often highly appreciated.

The greatest achievement in laying the ground work for an interfaith dialogue happens when potential participants feel comfortable and secured to share their affective or personal stories that are at the recesses of their hearts, and to verbally articulate their collective memories and psychology on various faith related incidents, other than discussing cognitive matters related to theology, conflicts and inter-faith initiatives.

The beauty of genuine relationships and meaningful conversations among different faith adherents should not be compartmentalized in formal settings and done only through structured programs. This informal space and time of sharing can also give them a glimpse of expectations and interpretations on various terms and topics that might be relevant to the planned interfaith dialogue session.

Sharing on significant moments and what one likes and dislikes such as food, hobbies, weather, favorite movies and about one’s family is fundamental to human relationships. This treasured moments of friendship strengthens hope. It connects people. It breaks barriers, draws one closer to each other and lessen the resistance towards dialogue on charged faith issues.

Indeed, bonding in an informal setting is a significant process of interaction among people who are committed to strive corporately towards the betterment of their community.


[1] Diana L. Eck, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Now Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 24-25.

[2] Source: United States Institute of Peace http://online.usip.org/interfaith/1_2_1.php (accessed 26th March, 2012)

[3] David R. Smock, “Conclusion,” in Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, ed. David R. Smock (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002), 128.

[4] David R. Smock, “Conclusion,” in Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War, PeaceWorks, no. 55, ed. David R. Smock (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006), 37.

[5] David R. Smock, “Conclusion,” in Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War, PeaceWorks, no. 55, ed. David R. Smock (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006), 37.

[6] David R. Smock, “Conclusion,” in Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, ed. David R. Smock (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002), 131.

[7] David R. Smock, “Conclusion,” in Religious Contributions to Peacemaking: When Religion Brings Peace, Not War, PeaceWorks, no. 55, ed. David R. Smock (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006), 36.

[8] David R. Smock, “Conclusion,” in Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, ed. David R. Smock (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002), 128.

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